HMD Global’s Nokia announced its comeback into the budget smartphone space in 2018 with the launch of the Nokia 7 Plus. The smartphone looked gorgeous, had a great camera and performed well regardless of what we threw at it. The Nokia 6.1, however, was the exact opposite. It was boring and didn't leave much of an impression, which is probably why Nokia took the excellent X6 and renamed it to 6.1 Plus. And the deception may have been worth it, though. The Nokia 6.1 Plus looks and feels every bit like a smartphone from 2018, but with a sprinkle of Nokia magic thrown in. It's priced at Rs 15,999 for the 4 + 64 GB option and includes Android One support, and of course, the notch that defines 2018's smartphones.
At first glance, the phone seems to offer nothing truly spectacular. It's beauty, however, lies in its simplicity. But that doesn't matter. The real question on everyone's mind is simply this: Is the Nokia 6.1 Plus better than the Redmi Note 5 Pro?
Yes. It most certainly is.
Build and Design: 8.5/10
We received the Black variant of the Nokia 6.1 Plus for review, and boy does it look good.
Having recently reviewed the Honor 9N, I was a bit disappointed that the phone looked very similar (because of that notch). When I picked up and took a closer look, however, I was smitten. Nokia's clearly put in a lot of effort into the design of the phone and I think it looks and feels like it's worth twice the price.
We have the same sandwiched glass and metal design that we saw on the Honor 9N, but the muted use of silver to outline the camera setup and the fingerprint scanner just adds an extra touch of elegance that evades other phones in this range. Even the volume and power buttons on the right side have a silver outline, which adds to the phone’s good looks.
The antenna bands have also been managed very well as they are of the same colour as the matte black metal sides. The attention to detail here is so fine that even the SIM tray which sits on the left side has been finished in a manner which makes it difficult to spot.
The 6.1 Plus is also comfortable for one-handed. At 159 g, it's also quite light. The rounded edges help with the grip but the glass design also makes it less durable in comparison to metal-backed phones like the Redmi Note 5 Pro or the Asus ZenFone Max Pro M1.
Surprisingly, Nokia has also thrown in some sort of coating on the glass panels which helps reduce fingerprints and smudges. We're yet to confirm whether this is an oleophobic coating, but regardless of that, this is a black smartphone and you still will notice smudges if you have sweaty fingers like I do.
You get a 3.5 mm headphone jack and a USB-C port for charging and transferring data.
The Nokia 6.1 Plus is an upgrade over the 6.1 released earlier this year not just in terms of looks and design but also in terms of internals. The new phone sports a 5.84-inch IPS LCD display running at a resolution of 1080 x 2280 pixels in a 19:9 aspect ratio.
Under the hood, there’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 SoC paired with an Adreno 509 GPU for graphics-intensive tasks. This is the same chip you would find on the Redmi Note 5 Pro and the Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1.
In terms of storage, the Nokia 6.1 Plus has been launched in the country in a single variant with 4 GB RAM and 64 GB of internal storage, which is further expandable via a microSD card. The phone also runs on Android 8.1 Oreo with a clean, unmodified Android experience courtesy of its Android One certification.
In the camera department, the phone has a dual-camera setup featuring a 16 MP sensor and a 5 MP depth-sensing camera. The front camera is a 16 MP unit. There is also a rear-placed fingerprint sensor just above the Nokia branding on the back of the phone. In terms of connectivity, the phone has a hybrid dual-SIM slot, both of which supports 4G VoLTE.
The phone is powered by a 3,060 mAh battery which is, technically, an upgrade over the 3,000 mAh unit on the Nokia 6.1.
LCD displays on budget smartphones are getting better by the day and the Nokia 6.1 Plus too sports a great panel. With a notch in the mix, the phone sports a 5.84-inch IPS LCD panel which sports a resolution of 1080 x 2280 pixels.
With a density of 432 ppi, the panel is plenty sharp. Be it photographs, video or reading text of PDF files, I had no issues with viewing content on the phone. Colours are adequately punchy and true to life, peak brightness levels were good-enough and the viewing angles were also great. I also watched hours of Netflix on the phone and can vouch for the fact that the contrast levels were great as well.
The blacks may not be inky enough to hide the notch when it's not being used (while playing games or watching movies, for instance), but overall, this is certainly one of the better LCD displays you will get under Rs 20,000.
The only minor niggle I had was with the overall white balance, which tends to be on the cooler/bluish side. Phones with custom Android skins usually give you the option to adjust white balance, but since it's not a feature in Android One, it's not available for the Nokia 6.1 Plus.
I found an unconventional hack of sorts to fix this problem, and that is to switch on the night mode and use the intensity slider to make the whites warmer.
Ever since Nokia decided to enrol all its smartphones under the Android One program, the software is fast becoming one of the biggest plus points of the series. The 6.1 Plus is no different.
With a stock interface and Android Oreo 8.1 on board, the phone runs buttery smooth and without any hiccups. The animations are minimal and in line with what you have come to expect with Android One powered phones.
If there is one Android One feature that I love, then it has to be the theme changing from a standard white to stealthy black when you change to a darker wallpaper. Navigating through the settings menu is also quite convenient as everything is better organised.
Nokia has thrown in a few of their own customisations as well, which includes the ability to swipe down on the fingerprint reader to drop down the notifications tray, and gestures such as double-tap-to-wake. Nokia also allows you to double press the lock button to quick launch the camera.
That said, there were instances of minor stuttering while swiping left to access the Google Now cards or while exiting certain apps while in split-screen mode. It's not much of a deal-breaker given the performance in other tasks, but there is certainly room for improvement. MIUI and ZenUI on the previously mentioned Redmi Note 5 Pro and ZenFone Max Pro M1 don't have these issues.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 chip in the 6.1 Plus is increasingly common in this price range and you'll find it on a great many phones today. Given how common it is, we've grown to expect a certain degree of performance from the chip. The Nokia 6.1 Plus, unfortunately, lags behind its competition in this regard.
While under a regular load — social media apps, email, Netflix and light games — the Snapdragon 636 inside the 6.1 Plus did not break a sweat. It's when you start piling on the apps and start playing heavier games that you see the lag.
This was quite shocking since most of the heavier games that I played on the phone, like Asphalt 9 and PUBG Mobile, immediately switched to low graphics settings and were still dropping frames. This certainly wasn’t the case with the ZenFone Max Pro M1 or the Redmi Note 5 Pro, both of which run the same hardware.
Gaming aside, audio quality through the headphones was great, with the bass being slightly on the lower side. The speaker, on the other hand, is not too loud and also gets tinny when at full tilt. Voice quality was on par with competition when using both VoLTE and standard 4G networks, but as far as the earpiece is concerned, I had the same issue that I had with the Honor 9N. The smaller earpiece, because of the notch, makes it difficult to take calls because even a slight movement can cause a misalignment between your ear and the speaker, making it impossible to hear the other person.
The Nokia 6.1 Plus sports a dual-camera setup on the rear which comprises of a 16 MP f/2.0 (1.0-micron size) primary sensor with PDAF and a 5 MP f/2.4 secondary (1.12 micron) depth-sensor. On the front, we get a 16 MP f/2.0 (1.0 micron) sensor for selfies.
If there is one area where the Redmi Note 5 Pro has come out victorious time and again when pitted against phones of the segment, then it has to be the camera.
In broad daylight, the results through the primary setup are formidable. Images are crisp, colours true to life and focusing speeds are super fast. The sharpness levels are maintained throughout the images and (thankfully) the post-processing is not excessive, which seems to be the case for most smartphones in the segment.
Having HDR selected does result in better images, but you do need to be super steady while taking the shots. If you shoot high-rise buildings, then they do appear to be leaning inwards, which suggests that there is a fair amount of barrel distortion in play.
As for portrait mode shots, the phone did a good job in not only having the subject in focus but also in nailing the skin tones and colours. The images look natural and the edge detection is as good as it gets in the segment.
Considering that there is no fancy AI assistance in helping with separation, the depth sensor does a good job of dealing with the subject in focus.
Selfies turned out to be quite pleasing as well, even in artificially lit, office lighting conditions (refer to images in the Flickr album below). In bokeh mode, edge detection with the single lens is not as good as it is with two lenses, but it gets the job done.
I would have preferred a wider-angled lens here for group selfies, but you're left with little choice.
It's at night, however, when most budget cameras show their true colours (or not) and while the Nokia 6.1 Plus does not shoot bad images at night, it does really struggle.
The result? A much-decreased shutter-speed which results in blurry images even when you have enough time to compose your shot.
Colours are true-to-life even in low light and noise levels are surprisingly low, which suggests that the camera tries to keep the ISO low by reducing the shutter speed as much as possible. Long story short, you need to be steady if you want usable images.
The video output is quite poor. You get steady video only if you are shooting in 1080p, when the electronic image stabilisation kicks in and helps to some extent.
There is a noticeable drop in frames while panning, though focusing is steady for the most part. If you are shooting in 2160p, ensure that you are steady as image stabilisation just doesn't work here.
The battery life on the 6.1 Plus is good enough to last a working day. A phone charged at 9 am in the morning would still have around 18-25 percent battery by midnight.
A regular day’s usage for me involves managing two email accounts on sync, a very active Telegram feed, WhatsApp, Slack and two Instagram accounts. Toss into this mix 20 mins or so I spend gaming and about an hour of Netflix.
On lighter days such as on weekends, the Nokia 6.1 Plus would easily last a day and a half. Thanks to QuickCharge 3.0 support on the Snapdragon 636 chip, the phone charges from 0-100 in around 80-90 minutes.
Price and Verdict in India
Priced at Rs 15,999, the Nokia 6.1 Plus does not necessarily steal away all of Xiaomi's thunder, but it certainly makes both the Redmi Note 5 Pro and the Mi A2 feel dated. Barring the slightly below-par camera performance, the Nokia 6.1 Plus checks all the right boxes, easily making it one of the best value phones in the market.
If you are planning to buy a smartphone for gaming, then I do suggest you look elsewhere. Neither the Nokia 6 nor its Snapdragon 636 chip are good enough for this. For gaming, the Snapdragon 660-toting Mi A2 is the far better, if slightly more expensive, option. If you can stretch your budget to an Honor Play, that's an even better choice for gaming.
For photographers, the Redmi Note 5 Pro is still the better option.
If it's style and substance on a budget that you seek, however, the Nokia 6.1 Plus is the one you want.