Nokia 6.1 Plus review: this Nokia phone deserves to sell in big numbers

Nokia 6.1 Plus gets Android Pie update

Rating: 7.6/10

Yay:

  • Small and compact design
  • Dependable performance
  • Stock Android makes it even more desirable
  • Great call quality
  • Good front camera and rear camera performance in daylight

Nay:

  • Underpowered speaker
  • The display could’ve been brighter
  • The rear camera is a disappointment in low light

Introduction

When Nokia launched the X6 in China a couple of months ago, the entire internet went into a tizzy.  It was completely unexpected from Nokia to introduce a phone with a notch; and that too in the lower mid-range segment. In fact, I was shocked at the launch price of the phone in China. We immediately got comments from everywhere asking us to find out if the Nokia X6 is launching any time soon in India. The hype-machine was warming up and growing to gargantuan proportions. 

Nokia 6.1 Plus 9

And finally…it looks like Nokia decided to oblige. The moment the company launched the Nokia X6 as a rebranded Nokia 6.1 Plus for the global markets, most of us knew that it was coming to India soon. Now that it is here, was all that hype worth it? Or, is it better to stick to competing phones like the Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro, Mi A2, ASUS ZenFone Max Pro (M1), or the Realme 1? 

Read on, as I attempt to answer these questions and more in my full review. 

Nokia 6.1 Plus design: petite and premium

The moment I fished the Nokia 6.1 Plus out of the box, I was immediately impressed at how small it was. Most of the phones I’ve reviewed in the recent past have all been monstrous and not very easy to handle with one hand. That’s not the case with the Nokia 6.1 Plus. It is a petite phone that makes great use of space by including a notch on the screen. And I say this once again – despite hating the notch – it makes the most sense in budget and mid-range phones. Why? Because all the R&D money to displace the notch and create a completely bezel-less experience — like the Vivo Nex and the OPPO Find X — is now reserved for the flagships. 

Talking about flagships, the Nokia 6.1 Plus’ design is no less than a flagship phone. The glass sandwich design with an aluminium frame makes this cost-effective phone look and feel very premium. What I like about the aluminium frame is that it has chamfered edges and a soft touch. This kind of precision engineering can be pulled off only by Nokia. Compared to other glass back phones in this price range, like the Moto G6 and the Honor 9N, I really like the design and the feel of the Nokia 6.1 Plus. Actually, the more I look at the Nokia 6.1 Plus I am reminded of the iPhone X albeit with a smaller notch, a centrally-aligned vertical camera module on the rear, and a bigger chin at the bottom. The camera module houses two camera sensors and the dual-LED dual-tone flash. 

Nokia 6.1 Plus 2

Below this module is the fingerprint scanner. This scanner is not the fastest around, but it is not very slow either. As for other security features, you have Android Oreo’s Face Unlock hidden deep in the settings. Don’t bother with this because it is pretty pointless. So yeah, you only get a fingerprint scanner and no bespoke face scanning mechanism. But, that could also because the Nokia 6.1 Plus is an Android One phone. 

However, I have to nitpick a bit. The fingers attached to my big, pudgy hands find it difficult to reach the scanner with ease. In my time with the phone, I would end up tapping on the camera module more often than not. I had to adjust my grip constantly. But, not everyone is a fat Yokozuna like me. 

Nokia 6.1 Plus 10

Another small issue I had with the design is the volume rocker and the power button are both very mushy. I would have preferred a better tactile response. Also, since the Nokia 6.1 Plus is made of glass it attracts a lot of smudges easily. On the flipside, the Nokia 6.1 Plus comes with a USB Type-C port at the bottom and a 3.5mm jack. So, that’s definitely an advantage. 

If I have to find an analogy to describe the Nokia 6.1 Plus’ design. It is equivalent to the suave gentleman in a suit who enters a party fashionably late, orders his drink of shaken and stirred Martini, woos the most beautiful girl there, and leaves a long-lasting impression on everyone. In short, the Nokia 6.1 Plus is the James Bond among mere mortals in its price range. 

Nokia 6.1 Plus display: adequately crisp, inadequately bright

Coming to that 5.8-inch display up front. It is an IPS LCD panel with a display resolution of 1080 x 2280 pixels and a 19:9 aspect ratio. This means that you get a pixel density of 432 PPI, which is plenty crisp for most text and multimedia consumption. The colours are accurate and the tuning is slightly on the cooler side. However, the display doesn’t get too bright and therefore viewing the screen in bright sunlight is not easy. I had no problem with the viewing angles though. 

Nokia 6.1 Plus 7

Oh, and Nokia lets you hide the notch with a great symmetry like Huawei. So, that’s insane. 

Nokia 6.1 Plus software: Android One is Android No. 1

Okay, I have said it many times already…stock Android is the best version of Android. Yeah, it is not feature-rich but it is so darn fast and easy to optimise with its minimalistic approach. I like the freedom that you get with stock Android. In fact, it is one of the reasons why I moved from an iPhone to the Android camp in 2018. Yes, Android Oreo lacks gestures right now but with two assured upgrades, you know that you will get gestures with Android P for sure on the Nokia 6.1 Plus. 

Nokia 6.1 Plus 5

There’s no better software experience than stock Android right now. Maybe, Oxygen OS on OnePlus phones comes close to some extent. But, let it be known that Oxygen OS has always been optimised for flagship-grade hardware on OnePlus phones. So, stock is still better in my opinion. 

And, Android One is “Ek Number (No. 1).”

Nokia 6.1 Plus 6

Nokia 6.1 Plus camera: good but not the best

The Nokia 6.1 Plus comes with a 16MP primary camera has a 1-micron pixel size sensor attached to a f/2.0 aperture lens. There’s a secondary 5MP depth camera attached to a f/2.4 lens. On the front you get a large 16MP primary camera, which has a 1-micron pixel size sensor. Let’s talk about the camera app first.

Nokia 6.1 Plus 4

You get a simple and plain camera app, with well laid-out controls. As for the modes, you get a Manual mode, Portrait mode, Panorama, Beauty Mode, PIP, Dual Sight mode (earlier called Bothie), and a paltry collection of stickers. I mostly use only the Manual and Portrait modes. The others are not very useful to me. 

Coming to the actual performance of the camera, the first thing I noticed is that the Nokia 6.1 Plus is a slow shooter compared to the Mi A2 or the Redmi Note 5 Pro. Therefore, you have to be slightly patient to get good shots. But when you do get a stable shot with great focus, the phone can stun you with details in good lighting conditions. Especially in close quarters, I got some great shots of flora. Even the HDR shots look pretty awesome. In fact, you get auto-HDR on both, the front and the rear cameras. The wide shots retain a good amount of detail but the Mi A2 offers far more details in comparison. 

 

The colours are slightly boosted to look good but the camera struggles to identify reds accurately and botches it up entirely. The Portrait mode on the Nokia 6.1 Plus is pretty good too. The camera app gives you the option to choose the level of the blur as well. And, my test sample offered a decent cut out too.

In low light situations, the Nokia 6.1 Plus struggles really badly. I’d suggest not using it in low light at all. From focussing problems to lens flare, the Nokia 6.1 Plus’ rear camera couldn’t take good upload-worthy images. The phone can also capture 4K video, which is great, but you get EIS only in the 1080p 30fps video. I found the EIS to be okay at best. But, the image quality was good. 

 

The 16MP front camera on the Nokia 6.1 Plus is actually a revelation. It captures some of the best selfies that I’ve seen from a phone in this price range. There’s no unnecessary beautification or smoothening out of details. It looks pretty natural. 

 

Nokia 6.1 Plus performance: does just about everything right

The Nokia 6.1 Plus comes with a mid-range Snapdragon 636 SoC, 4 gigs of RAM, and 64GB of internal storage. You can upgrade the storage to up to 400GB using the microSD card slot on the phone. Unfortunately, since this is a hybrid slot, you will have to sacrifice one of the Nano-SIM cards if you want to add more space. Although, quite a few folks conflicted between the Nokia 6.1 Plus and the Mi A2 will prefer the additional storage space on the former and find it to be an advantage. 

Now for the bigger question, how much is the performance difference between the SD636 and the SD660? Honestly, not much for you to notice in day-to-day usage. In fact, I found the RAM management to be far better on the Nokia 6.1 Plus. Maybe the SD660 inside the Mi A2 will open and load games faster, but it is not very perceptible. If you want to know the benchmark score differences, the SD 636 scored 1,15,393 in AnTuTu whereas the SD 660 scored 1,32,532 in AnTuTu. As for 3DMark (Sling Shot test): I managed a score of 1461 on the Nokia 6.1 Plus compared to 1632 on the Mi A2. So as you see, the scores are not too far apart. 

Nokia 6.1 Plus 8

However, PUBG has become a great tool to test the capability of a phone. It defaults to Low settings on the SD636, whereas it switches to Medium on the SD660. Thankfully, you can still crank up the graphics to Medium on the SD636, with only a slight drop in frame rates. I managed to play Asphalt 9 also with ease. In fact, I loved playing Asphalt 9 on this phone. Honestly, I have no complaints with the performance on the Nokia 6.1 Plus. 

As for the multimedia performance, the Nokia 6.1 Plus managed to play back a 4K video but with a little stutter. The single downward firing speaker, however, is a let down. It offers low volume levels and sounds thin too. On the other hand, the sound quality through the 3.5mm jack is pretty good. Unlike the Mi A2, it cannot drive 600 ohm headphones but regular 32ohm headphones, it does just fine. However, the sound signature is as good as any mid-range phone can offer. The Mi A2, obviously, does better

The earpiece on the Nokia 6.1 Plus, in typical Nokia fashion, offers a great sound in calls as well. So, no worries there. In fact, the radios on the Nokia are so good that I didn’t face a call drop inside a lift, which happens normally otherwise. 

Nokia 6.1 Plus 3

So how long does the 3060mAh battery lasts? Good question. It lasts a lot longer than the Mi A2 and that’s a major relief. I got 5+ hours of average screen on time on more than a couple of occasions on super heavy usage. And, I literally tax my phones. I am talking approximately: 2 hours of PUBG, 30 minutes of calls, 4 hours of music, 1 hour of social media, and more. These are great numbers, honestly. The phone comes with a 5V 2A charger inside the box but it supports fast charging. Using the bundled charger, I managed a charging time of 2 hours and 17 mins from 0 to 100. 

Should you buy the Nokia 6.1 Plus?

I would easily recommend the Nokia 6.1 Plus to many folks, but the competition is fierce. At the time of writing this review, the only indication of Nokia 6.1 Plus’ price is the box. On our box, the phone has a price tag of Rs 17,600. Say Nokia prices it lower than that, it is still operating in the same price range of a few other great phones by Xiaomi, ASUS, and Honor. 

Let’s take a look at the merits and demerits of all the phones that I think are great under Rs 20,000, starting with the Nokia 6.1 Plus.

  1. Nokia 6.1 Plus has the most appealing design of any phone in this price range. Also, it doesn’t hurt that the phone is compact and perfect for one-handed usage. With Snapdragon 636 and stock Android, you also get a smooth, lag-free performance. The battery life is good and the rear camera is great for shots in good lighting conditions. Also, the fact that it has expandable storage works in its favour. But, let it be known that the rear camera struggles in low light.

  2. Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro is still a great smartphone with kickass cameras and a great, great battery life. Also, MIUI is a unique feature-rich software that has a lot of takers. You need to love MIUI for this experience. 

  3. Xiaomi Mi A2’s calling card is its cameras. It has the best cameras in this price range and a great audio performance too thanks to the 10V amp. But, the phone suffers from poor battery life and the display could’ve been tuned better. 

  4. Honor Play is a beast. Sincerely, it is underpriced for all that it offers. But, the Honor Play costs exactly Rs 20,000, so you will have to save some more money to buy one. 

  5. ASUS ZenFone Max Pro M1 (6GB) is yet another stock Android experience (not Android One), and it has a stunning battery life too. The best in this price range. That said, the Snapdragon camera app is a major letdown. 

Now that I have laid it down for you guys, which one would you pick? I still have a soft corner for Nokia phones because of the reliability. However, if I were to pick one, I’d go for the Mi A2 primarily because I love great cameras and good sound. But that means I will have to compromise on the battery. Similarly, you can figure out what is the best for you. 

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Ershad Kaleebullah
ershad.kaleebullah@u2opiamobile.com

When Ershad isn't writing, he spends time killing virtual zombies on his PS4. Having worked with a slew of renowned publications like PCWorld, Channelworld, CIO, NDTV Gadgets (now Gadgets360), MySmartPrice, The Inquistr, and 91Mobiles, Ershad brings a whole world of experience to Mr. Phone. He is trying hard to convert all the team members into Apple fans but is facing a lot of resistance. Is anyone willing to help?