It has not been an easy comeback trail for Nokia. Ever since its HMD-fueled return, the brand has launched a number of smartphones, but has often found itself taking flak for its pricing. In an era when it is possible to get a full HD+ device with a mid-segment processor and dual cameras for a price tag in the vicinity of Rs 10,000-12,000, many of Nokia’s devices seemed to be priced on the higher side – even the well received Nokia 7 Plus was praised for its performance and design but lost out on the pricing side of the equation.
The Nokia 6.1 Plus changes that. And sees Nokia finally – about time too – come to the budget smartphone party. Oh, and the notch one too, although the company itself did not say much about it at the launch. It delivers a fair bit. And perhaps for the first time on its comeback trail, does so at a price that will have the likes of Xiaomi and Honor getting just a little nervy.
For, let’s get one thing straight: the Nokia 6.1 Plus is pretty much unlike any Nokia we have seen. The device thoroughly steps away from the “carved from a block of aluminium” script that so many mid- and high-segment Nokia phones have followed since the brand made its comeback. If anything, it borrows a page from the most premium device that has been released on that comeback path – the Nokia 8 Sirocco Edition. No, it does not look at all like that – it has well defined sides which curve out slightly and is not as sharp edged – but like it, it comes encased in glass, front and back, with a metal frame in the middle giving it solidity. At a time when phones are getting bigger, the 6.1 Plus is refreshingly hand-fitting, courtesy its relatively smaller 5.8 inch display, which as we mentioned before does come with a notch, and some severe bezel trimming. It is just 147.2 mm tall, is impressively slim at 7.99 mm (8.59 mm if you consider the slightly jutting out rear cameras) and tips the scales at 151 grams. Yes, we cannot deny that it will pick up smudges and even the odd scratch from time to time, but neither can be deny that it is surprisingly compact and very good looking.
More importantly, the 6.1 Plus comes with hardware that can hold its own against most of the competition at its price point. The display is a full HD+ one and powering the phone is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 processor – yes, the same in the highly acclaimed Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro and the Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1 – paired with 4 GB RAM and 64 GB storage, which is expandable to 400 GB if you are ready to give up one of the dual SIM card slots on the device. There are dual cameras (16 and 5 megapixels) on the rear and a 16 megapixel front facing snapper for the selfie loving crowd. Top that off with a 3060 mAh battery, and stock Android (8.1) with assured updates (it is part of the Android One initiative) and you can see the Nokia 6.1 Plus is a formidable proposition. Unlike the 6, which scored on design but was a bit of a let down in the spec sheet and performance department, the 6.1 Plus ticks almost all the spec sheet boxes you would want.
The big question, of course, is whether it ticks them in the performance section too. And there the answer gets, well, interesting. First things first: if it is a smooth performing device that you want and your work generally revolves around regular tasks like web browsing, mail, messaging, social networks and the odd hectic casual gaming session, then the 6.1 Plus will not let you down. The display of the device is reasonably and although I felt that colours seemed just a little washed out at times, the general viewing experience was good. I do not think any brand has managed to handle stock Android with the sort of smoothness that Nokia has – something so reminiscent of the early Moto G days – and as long as you do not push the Nokia 6.1 Plus too far into HD territory, the phone just holds up fine. Call reception and handling is very good indeed, and sound quality is good on both the loudspeaker and headphones (there are no headphones in the box, but hooray, there is a 3.5 mm audio jack!). And the battery will get through a day of use easily.
It is however, when you step beyond the routine that cracks start to appear is the 6.1 Plus proposition. No, there are no deal breakers here, but the presence of competition in the same range has moulded consumer expectations, and the 6.1 Plus does not always come out on top in comparative terms. The camera is a great example. The dual cameras on the 6.1 Plus are decent performers and as long as light conditions remain good, will deliver good (if slightly oversaturated) colours and reasonable detail. The portrait mode does let you mess around with bokeh, even thought the camera app is not really in the league of what we are seeing from the likes of Huawei/Honor and Xiaomi. Selfies are good as well, and you will get decent 4K video too.
So where are those cracks I mentioned? Well, just that while the cameras on the 6.1 Plus are good, they are not quite in the league of what we have seen from the Redmi Note 5 Pro or the Mi A2 (Xiaomi’s latest Android One device) in terms of detail and clarity. They will deliver images that are “good enough” in most cases, but are not really up there with the best in the price category so to speak – even the more modestly specced cameras of the Honor 9N give them a run for their money, as do those on the Moto G6 and the Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1’s 6GB avatar. It is the same when it comes to battery life. The 6.1 Plus will see off a day of normal to heavy use. Not bad at all and perfectly acceptable. The problem? The 4000 mAh battery on the Redmi Note 5, the Note 5 Pro and the 5000 mAh one on the Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1, have pretty much made us expect a day and a half to even two days of battery life. And then there is the matter of the notch – while it exists, face unlock is rather basic on the device (the same as seen on stock Android, which can be foiled with closed eyes and even pictures), and not as efficient as on some competing ones.
So should you be investing Rs 15,999 in the Nokia 6.1 Plus? Well, the answer really depends on how you use your phone. The 6.1 Plus is a steady rather than spectacular performer and if you covet a good design and overall consistent performance, then it is definitely the device for you. However, if you are the type that is looking for a bit more in areas like gaming, cameras and even battery life, then its alternatives start looking tempting. The Redmi Note 5 Pro, for instance, might not look as good as the Nokia 6.1 Plus but it bosses it in the camera and battery departments. Similarly the slightly more expensive Mi A2 has much better cameras and also is part of Android One, although its lack of expandable memory might put off some. And the presence of high-end devices like the Poco F1 and the Honor Play, both of which sport unabashedly high level processors, at Rs 19,999, will surely tempt many. There is not too much the Nokia 6.1 Plus does wrong, but neither does it do enough to really outclass its competition. I can see Nokia loyalists flocking to it but am not so sure the Xiaomi/Honor fan club will be as easily swayed.
Still, the 6.1 Plus sees Nokia finally become a contender in one of the most tightly contested segments of the smartphone market. It does not do enough to dominate it, but it will turn up on the radar of anyone and everyone who is looking for a good phone with a budget in and around Rs 15,000-16,000. Unlike its predecessors, the 6.1 Plus relies not just on sentiment but on one of Nokia’s core values. Good old value for money!
And that is definitely a huge step forward for the brand on its journey.
Photos by Raj Rout