Phones

Nokia 6.1 Plus: Handsome mid-range phone is good value

The Nokia 6.1 Plus takes photos with good details in daylight.
The Nokia 6.1 Plus takes photos with good details in daylight.PHOTO: NOKIA

The Nokia 6.1 Plus is compact and light at 151g. It also boasts a clean Android interface and prompt updates

HMD Global is the latest smartphone maker to join the display notch trend.

Its Nokia 6.1 Plus is the first device from the Finnish custodian of the Nokia brand to have a display cutout at the top of its screen for the front camera.

Probably because it was originally built for the China market and marketed as the Nokia X6, it has a more contemporary design reminiscent of the smartphones released by Chinese brands like Huawei and Oppo.

For instance, instead of going for a full metal chassis of older Nokia smartphones like the Nokia 6 and Nokia 7 Plus, the 6.1 Plus is mostly glass - front and back - and relies on a metal frame to impart some solidity.

Its 5.8-inch in-plane switching (IPS) screen also sports a trendy 19:9 aspect ratio that, coupled with its slim bezels, makes the Nokia phone feel narrower than older models. As a result, I found it compact and easy to use with one hand. It also helps that it is relatively light at just 151g.

More importantly, it looks handsome in black - it is also available in dark blue or white - and, thanks to its glass back, feels more expensive than its price tag of $399.

But as with most mid-range phones, the 6.1 Plus lacks some features found in top models. For instance, it does not have NFC (near-field communication) support for mobile payments. There is no wireless charging or waterproofing.

  • SPECS

  • PRICE: $399

    PROCESSOR: Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 (Octa-core 1.8GHz)

    DISPLAY: 5.8-inch, IPS LCD, 2,280 x 1,080 pixels, 432 ppi pixel density

    OPERATING SYSTEM: Android 8.1

    MEMORY: 64GB (microSD expandable to 400GB), 4GB RAM

    REAR CAMERA: 16MP (f/2.0) and 5MP (f/2.4)

    FRONT CAMERA: 16MP (f/2.0)

    BATTERY: Non-removable 3,060mAh

  • RATING

  • FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 5/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 3/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

Its rear fingerprint scanner also takes a fraction longer to unlock the device compared to higher-end models, which may be attributed to its mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 processor.

Its 64GB internal storage uses the older and slower eMMC storage type. The storage capacity, though, can be increased to 400GB using a microSD card.

And while it has Corning Gorilla Glass protection for its front and rear, it is the older Gorilla Glass 3 first introduced in 2013.

But the biggest disparity between a mid-range smartphone and a flagship one is often the quality of the cameras. In this aspect, the Nokia 6.1 Plus does a competent job, especially in daylight. Its dual-camera system consists of a 16-megapixel primary camera and a 5-megapixel camera to capture depth information for portrait shots with background blur, or the bokeh effect.

The amount of background blur for this bokeh effect can be adjusted in real time in the camera app before taking the photo. It works reasonably well.

It exhibits little shutter lag and with its high-dynamic-range (HDR) feature enabled, produces crisp shots with good details. However, low-light photos predictably turn out soft and grainy with plenty of noise.

The front camera produced images with some noise, especially in the darker areas of the photo. But skin tones looked natural. It has a beautification mode that can be turned on or off.

I found the Bothie feature that captures videos from both the front and rear cameras at the same time rather gimmicky, though it may have its fans among the younger crowd. New, too, are a handful of photo filters that add animated masks to a subject's face.

Software-wise, it, like other Nokia smartphones, is part of the Android One program. This means it runs on stock Android (version 8.1) and is likely to get updates, including the latest Android 9 Pie, earlier than most Android devices.

It also means there is practically no bloatware in the Nokia 6.1 Plus. The only non-stock app is probably the camera app, with Google apps like Gmail, Photos and Google's Gboard keyboard app among the default apps.

You can expect it to last about a day on a single charge with its 3,060mAh battery. In the video-loop battery test, it managed 8.5 hours, in the average range.

At $399, the Nokia 6.1 Plus is a direct rival to the Xiaomi Mi A2 ($369). Both are Android One devices that offer good value for money. The Nokia has a headphone jack and microSD card support unlike the A2. But the Xiaomi has a slightly faster processor and, on paper, a better camera, too.

• Verdict: Nokia's first smartphone to have a display notch keeps up with current design trends. But the top draw for this mid-range model is probably the clean Android interface and prompt updates.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2018, with the headline 'Handsome mid-range phone is good value'. Print Edition | Subscribe