Nokia 6.1 Reviewed: A better budget Nokia
The Nokia 6.1 is the second generation of the Nokia 6 budget phone line-up, and it’s pretty good. It’s almost everything I could want in a sub-R4k budget phone, including not looking or feeling like one, being powered by Android Oreo 8.1, and being adorned with a beautiful screen with slightly curved edges.
In short, it’s a lot of phone for the asking price, and good value for South African phone fans who want more for their money. With some caveats, however.
First impressions are very good: it has machined metal edges with a plastic back that doesn’t feel too plasticky, a Corning Gorilla Glass 3 screen, a camera bump, and a fingerprint sensor. Bezels are on show here, a minor step backwards for phone design to my mind, but it works – they surround a delightfully old-school 5.5-inch 16:9 1080p screen, and are thick enough that I didn’t touch the touch screen by accident like I do my stupid Galaxy S8’s curved edge.
It’s heavy, too – a sign of quality, to my mind, and that’s just Nokia all over. This company loves showing off its engineering chops, and it’s on display here in a big way.
There’s nothing to dislike about the phone’s physical construction – not even the location of the fingerprint sensor that I’ve seen people moaning about online. Like anything new, it’s just a matter of getting used to its location, is all. At the bottom of the phone is a USB Type-C connector, just like all modern phones use.
And yes, the rear cover does attract fingerprints so you will want to wipe it with a cloth every now and then.
The strangest decision to me was the location of the power button and volume rocker, which were both on the phone’s right edge – there’s nothing to press on the phone’s left edge at all. Probably because there’s where the SIM/SD card slot is located – another odd choice as the more typical location for this is the top of the phone.
Still, it works, and the buttons themselves have a lovely high-quality feel to them, so it all works out in the end.
The screen looks pretty good, too: I saw no pixels, it was nice and bright, and viewing angles were fine. It was even mostly visible in bright sunlight.
Performance-wise, the WiFi hit speeds of 23mbps on the office’s 100mbps fibre connection, which is exactly the same as what my S8 achieves, and cellular connectivity on Vodacom’s network yielded a speedtest of a fairly impressive 70mbps here in Dunkeld West, also the same as my S8, so no problems with its wireless comms.
It’s hard to tell just how much of that performance is down to the phone itself, and how much is the result of the network itself, but 70mbps is pretty darn quick so I’m happy.
On the other hand, I found the Android Oreo 8.1 interface to be a bit juddery, as the phone hiccupped and stuttered every now and then, and AnTuTu only spat out a score of 86664 (versus, say, the Galaxy S8’s 200879) and the benchmark was a slideshow.
I also fired up some Angry Birds Evolution as it’s a fairly demanding 3D mobile game, and while the Nokia 6.1 handled it fairly well overall, it still juddered occasionally and skipped some frames entirely.
To be clear, though, the game itself is highly playable, the experience just isn’t silky smooth all the time.
This lack of performance was made all the more surprising for the Nokia 6.1’s status as an “Android One” phone – it belongs to Google’s special programme that requires phones run stock Android, a requirement that theoretically makes it easier for manufacturers to make phones.
Maybe it does that, but I’d have thought that would also mean the phone would be faster than it is, as there’s no unnecessary extras on top of the OS to slow it down. Guess not. Guess the Snapdragon 630 chipset is just too middle-of-the-road, and 3GB of RAM is only just enough for stock Android Oreo.
For someone on a budget , however, the Nokia 6.1 is more than quick enough for day-to-day use – calls, emails, surfing, 9gag, games. It has 32GB of internal storage, too, which is quite a lot, plus it can be expanded with an SD card.
So don’t go in expecting blazing performance from the Nokia 6.1, and you won’t be disappointed; it’s only “okay” overall if you’re a power user, but to be fair it’s also quite good when you consider its price tag.
I am pleased to say I easily got a full day out of the phone’s 3000mAh battery, even when watching YouTube clips, streaming audio, surfing 9gag on the loo and checking emails all day. On average I still had around 30% of battery left by the time bedtime rolled around.
The Nokia 6.1 has an 8MP front-facing camera, and a 16MP rear camera. Neither one is incredible, despite the fact that once again Carl Zeiss has partnered with Nokia on their phone cameras. The average phone user should find they do the job adequately, if not spectacularly.
Overall, the phone’s camera performance is a mixed bag of mediocre-to-good results, depending on lighting conditions. Disappointingly, the much-touted automatic HDR feature didn’t do a great job of balancing out lighting conditions, and some elements of my shots came out darker than I believe they should have. Your mileage will vary, of course, depending on your own expectations.
Low-light shooting wasn’t great either, with too much pixelation and not enough detail coming through in some shots. In bright areas, and on bright – but not too sunny days – results were pretty good. Selfies in particular weren’t wonderful, though, with washed out colours and less detail than I’d have liked in the default mode. Some tweaking will be required to get them looking the way you want them to.
The really good news on the camera front, though, is that the Nokia 6.1 can capture video at 4K and 60fps. That’s a resolution of 3840 x 2160 and a nice high frame rate, and I am pleased to sayt that the videos I shot with it looked fantastic on a 4K TV when played back.
I’ve long liked Nokia as a brand thanks to their clear commitment to making handsets that feel really good to hold, so the fact that this phone appeals to me is not much of a surprise. I had hoped for more, though, when it came to performance.
So is this a great phone? No – it doesn’t have enough RAM or CPU power for the smoothness I am looking for. Its graphics processor is likewise a bit underpowered so 3D mobile games like Angry Birds Evolution aren’t super-smooth (although admittedly they are still playable). But it is fast enough in general operations for a budget phone, and that’s what we had hoped for.
Ultimately, the Nokia 6.1 is a rock-solid mid-range phone that looks and feels fantastic, but with middling performance. On the other hand, it doesn’t cost a lot and offers quite a bit for the cash, and that’s important when buying on a budget.