Nokia 6 (2018) review: Solid Android phone with one problem
Last year, HMD Global revived the Nokia brand and launched a few phones to set the base. This year is all about expanding the company's portfolio. To do this, the company launched the Nokia 8110, Nokia 1, Nokia 8 Sirocco, Nokia 7 Plus and a new Nokia 6 at MWC 2018. Notably, the latter three introduce a more mature and confident look compared to last year, which also tells us that HMD is serious in its aim to become one of the top players in the market. One of the biggest highlights this time around is that the Nokia 6 (2018) along with the Nokia 7 Plus and Nokia 8 Sirocco are all part of Google's Android One program.
For most of the new phones announced, HMD has taken design cues from last year's phones and has built on it. This can especially be said for the Nokia 6 (2018) which is a refreshed version of last year's Nokia 6 and is priced at Rs 16,999. Not only does the new version bring some familiar design elements, but it also adds a touch of something more along with updated specs under-the-hood along with the promise of a smoother Android experience. I tried the phone for over a week and here's what I thought.
Talking about the design first, the Nokia 6 (2018) does come with a few noticeable visual changes compared to last year's model. The fingerprint sensor has been moved to the back, which means the new Nokia 6 does not feature a home button. You'll also notice copper accents outlining the chamfered edges, buttons, fingerprint sensor and rear camera module. The accents here are a lot more subtle and minimal compared to the Nokia 7 Plus. The phone comes in three colour options - Black/Copper, White/Iron and Blue/Gold. It still has a boxy look, but in general the ergonomics of the device does give it a premium look, which is not a bad thing considering its price tag.
I have to say, I do like the dual-tone design as it makes the phone look quite appealing. In a segment where most other phones deliver standard metal unibody designs, the new Nokia 6 with copper trimmings does add to the flair and provides for a little more premium finish. The phone is machined out of Series 6000 aluminium, similar to last year's Nokia 6, and you can feel the rock solid build the moment you hold it. What HMD has managed to do is not sacrifice the build quality of the device to make it look premium. If you were to keep the Nokia 6 (2018) next to the Redmi Note 5 Pro, the former would definitely catch your attention. Yes, the Note 5 Pro does have an 18:9 display that makes it look more up-to-date with the times, but just in terms of looks, the new Nokia 6 does stand out from the crowd.
The Nokia 6 (2018) has a classy look and feel to it, although there are a few places where the design could have been better. The sharp edges and block-like build make the phone a bit difficult to hold and the rear fingerprint sensor is placed a little too low for my liking, making it uncomfortable to naturally reach with my finger. There were times when I accidentally touched the flash instead to unlock the phone. I feel the rear camera module could have been in a smaller pill-shaped form like on the Nokia 7 Plus, which would have also allowed the fingerprint sensor to be placed a little higher up. But these are quibbles which a lot of people may just ignore.
Around the frame, you'll find the volume controls and power button on the right, a headphone jack on the top, a single speaker grille on the bottom next to a USB Type-C port. On the left side you'll find a SIM tray where you will have to choose between a secondary SIM or microSD card.
The phone brings a 5.5-inch Full HD IPS LCD display with a traditional 16:9 aspect ratio and a 2.5D Gorilla Glass on top. This might raise a few eyebrows since we're seeing more and more low-end phones adopt tall 18:9 displays, and here's the Nokia 6 (2018) with noticeable bezels on the top and bottom. The full HD display is pretty good, and one is not likely to complain about that too much. The display is sharp and has good viewing angles. Brightness levels are good but not great. You should be able to view the display with outdoors under sunlight provided the brightness is on max. At mid levels, the display looks dull, but it should work just fine indoors.
Here's the thing, the display on the new Nokia 6 is good, but I feel HMD missed the boat by not going with a full-screen display. The phone will go up against the likes of the Redmi Note 5 Pro which does offer a bright 18:9 display. That being said, if you're not too bothered about getting a phone with an edge-to-edge display, the Nokia 6 (2018) should do just fine. It's one of the better displays to be found in this segment.
Performance and software
A notable upgrade under-the-hood is the chipset with the new one getting a Snapdragon 630 processor compared to the Snapdragon 430 chip that was powering the original Nokia 6. This is coupled with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage, expandable up to 128GB via microSD card. So it's safe to say that you're going to see a noticeable difference in performance compared to the older Nokia 6. But when compared to the Redmi Note 5 Pro, it might still sound a bit underwhelming on paper and may look weak in benchmark performance. However, real-world usage is a whole different story and the new Nokia 6 performs impressively. In my time browsing through the UI and apps, I found it to be fast and snappy with no noticeable lag.
Now the reason the chipset works so well is largely thanks to the software as well, and the latter is really what makes the new Nokia phones stand out. The Nokia 7 Plus, Nokia 8 Sirocco and Nokia 6 (2018) are Android One phones which means they offer stock Android with no bloatware. The phone ships with Android 8.0 Oreo and thanks to the Android One program, you will get timely security updates for at least 2 years. While testing the phone, the company released Android 8.1 Oreo with the security patch for April. So that's a check on fast and timely updates.
The new Nokia 6 offers a pure Android experience and this works as smoothly as the Nokia 7 Plus. Opening, closing and switching between apps were handled with ease without any lag or slow down and the experience is generally consistent. The combination of SD630 and Android One seems to have paid off as the phone as the phone is fast and snappy. I also found the fingerprint sensor to unlock the phone a bit faster on the Nokia 6 (2018) compared to the Nokia 7 Plus, but its accuracy is questionable.
Browsing through social media apps like Facebook and Twitter was generally a breeze and I didn't find much stuttering during my time with the device. Similarly, the phone handles games like Crossy Road extremely well while more graphic intensive games like Asphalt 8 are also handled well although I did run into occasional drops in frame rate. I'm a little disappointed that the earpiece doesn't double up as a speaker as was the case with last year's Nokia 6. That being said, the single bottom firing speaker is as clear and loud as on the Nokia 7 Plus. However, the placement of the speaker on the Nokia 6 is not that convenient as my palm would often cover the grille while watching videos or playing games.
As far as optics are concerned, the Nokia 6 comes with a 16-megapixel rear camera with ZEISS optics, f/2.0 aperture and dual-tone flash, and an 8-megapixel front-facing camera. The configuration is similar to its predecessor, with the added support of Bothie this time. Now, while HMD has managed to nail the design to some extent, and has impressed us with a pure Android and a snappy processor, the company has just not been able to get the cameras right. In my review of the Nokia 7 Plus, I said that the cameras on the phone were its biggest issue, and sadly the same goes for the Nokia 6 (2018) as well.
Outdoor captures under bright light via the rear camera aren't great. There's a lot of oversaturation and the colours don't look natural. The pictures look overprocessed and they lack detail. When you inevitably compare the camera to the Redmi Note 5 Pro, the new Nokia 6 comes nowhere close. The Redmi Note 5 Pro with dual rear cameras captures some pretty clear and detailed photos and we think it's one of the best, if not the best camera phone under Rs 20,000 right now. The Nokia 6 (2018) disappoints even further in low-light. While the Nokia 7 Plus was pretty poor at capturing clear, noise-free photos at night, the Nokia 6 (2018) fares even worse. The camera isn't able to focus on subject clearly and photos often come out quite dark and grainy. Indoor shots are noisy as well and colours look just plain dull.
The front camera isn't any better. Selfies captured under adequate lighting look soft rather then sharp and detailed and are just passable if you're not much of a selfie enthusiast. In low-light, things get even worse. Selfies are mostly going to be hazy and soft with a good amount of noise. Having a Pro Mode doesn't do much to help either, but the feature is there for you to play around which is good to see. Meanwhile, recording videos isn't great as well and with no OIS or EIS, you will have to make sure your hands are absolutely steady. Now the rear camera can shoot in 4K HDR, which does manage to look pretty detailed but again the lack of any stabilisation really puts you off.
The new Nokia 6 retains the 3,000mAh battery from last year, and let me just say that the battery life is pretty great if not better than ever. The phone comes with a USB Type-C with support for fast charging which is good to see at this price and something we expect from more phones in 2018. It even helps get an edge over the Redmi Note 5 Pro which sadly comes with a micro-USB port. The Nokia 6 (2018) takes about an hour and a half to charge from zero to full.
If there's one thing that's been really impressive with the Nokia 7 Plus and the new Nokia 6 is that they both offer great battery life. Now, the battery inside the Nokia 6 (2018) is smaller compared to the 7 Plus, but the difference between them isn't too great. The Nokia 6 managed to last a full day on above average usage and standby time is excellent as well. You should get over a day of battery life on average usage which includes messaging, calls, browsing through social media apps and occasional media streaming. On an average, you should get about 4-5 hours of screen on time, which is not bad at all.
Should you buy the Nokia 6 (2018)?
Last year, the Nokia 6 was launched at Rs 14,999, but the new Nokia 6 has been priced a notch higher at Rs 16,999. And a lot of people are going to find the price a bit on the higher side of things, and I do agree to an extent. In a year where people now expect 18:9 display as a standard along with dual rear cameras, both of these are missing on the new Nokia 6. As a refreshed version of last year's phone, adding these two elements would have made a lot of difference. In my opinion, HMD should have brought a Nokia 7 Plus-like design to the Nokia 6 (2018) that would have really given it an edge. It is still a very good-looking device, but some features are definitely missed. At this price, the phone squarely takes on the Redmi Note 5 Pro and having a good-looking design and stock Android may not be enough.
The Redmi Note 5 Pro not only brings an 18:9 display, but it also comes with far better cameras, a slightly better chipset and more storage and memory, all at a starting price of Rs 13,999. This is Rs 3,000 less than the Nokia 6 (2018), which is quite significant in the price segment.
That's not to say the Nokia 6 (2018) isn't a worthy challenger. The phone impresses with a snappy performance with pure Android Oreo, attractive design, solid build quality and with the phone part of the Android One program there is a wonderful guarantee that you will get the latest security updates and Android P and Q in the future. Not a lot of phones can boast of that. The Redmi Note 5 Pro definitely cannot, and even the Mi A1 is not likely to get Android Q. However, with rumours of the Mi A2 now doing the rounds, the Nokia 6 (2018) could see a definite threat from Xiaomi's upcoming Android One phone. Xiaomi has also excelled with its cameras in recent times and the Nokia 6 (2018) sadly comes with underwhelming optics and in today's day and age that is enough to break a smartphone.