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Lifewire / Jordan Provost
Pro-level camera features
Android One support
Budget-level battery performance
Touchy fingerprint sensor
With impressive picture and video capabilities, full Android One support, and solid mid-range performance, the Nokia 6.1 strikes a rare and wonderful balance between power and affordability.
Nokia has been focused on producing affordable smartphones with high-end cameras, and the 6.1 is a continuation of that trend. This device features a beefier Qualcomm Snapdragon processor than its predecessor, the Nokia 6, as well as an attractive two-tone design and more modern on-screen home keys. The 1080p, 16:9 LCD screen delivers a satisfying movie streaming experience, and with Android One support we easily updated to the new Android 9 OS with all its fancy AI-learning features.
The main allure of the Nokia 6.1, however, is the impressive 16 MP double-lens rear camera and 8 MP front camera with their plethora of advanced features and a new Zeiss optics lens for higher-quality zoom. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better camera phone for under $250.
We instantly fell in love with this phone’s design. It has an anodized copper accent borders framing a black aluminum unibody (molded out of a single block of series 6000 aluminum), which makes the Nokia 6.1 pop in all the right ways without being distractingly flashy. The rear is smooth but not slippery, and the phone feels surprisingly durable despite its 0.34-inch-thick frame.
The 6.1 features a single bottom speaker and USB Type-C charging port (an update from the 6’s micro USB), a 3.5mm audio jack on the top, and a single volume button on the right as well as a power button. The buttons are smooth and easy to press, though we did experience some frustrating issues with the rear fingerprint sensor. The camera lens and flash take up a lot of vertical space on the rear, which pushed the fingerprint sensor far lower than we would have liked—it was positioned down near the middle of the phone. That made it somewhat difficult to use, and it often took us a few tries before the phone recognized our fingerprint.
It has a strong camera, gorgeous exterior, and Android One support, all of which make it a great deal for the asking price.
Transferring our AT&T SIM card data from our previous Android phone was a painless process, allowing us to pick and choose which apps to carry over and suggesting the full menu of Google apps such as Google Pay, Google Drive, and Google Maps.
Android One support means that our Nokia 6.1 updated to the new Android 9 right out of the box—after a 1.4 GB update. We then had to install several security patch updates, each of which required a phone restart. All of the updates installed relatively quickly on our Wi-Fi network, and Android 9 was as easy and clean to navigate as previous editions.
The Nokia 6.1 includes a more advanced processor than the 6. The 6.1 has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 630, featuring eight cores at 2.2 GHz and an Adrena 508 GPU. It’s geared more toward multitasking, web browsing, and camera use rather than processing 3D games. But we were satisfied with the score of 4,964 on the PC Mark Work 2.0 performance test, which makes the Nokia 6.1 comparable to the Google Pixel 3 and LG V40 ThinQ. The 3 GB of RAM allowed us to quickly open and close apps and browse websites, and Nokia offers an even speedier version with 4 GB of RAM.
The GFX Benchmark tests weren’t quite as impressive. The T-Rex test produced an acceptable 31 frame per second, but the Nokia 6.1 couldn’t keep up with the advanced Car Chase 2.0 test, clocking in at under 6 fps. We tested popular mobile shooter PUBG Mobile, which identified our phone settings as “low” quality. Despite a few connection issues, we were able to play PUBG on the low setting with minimal stuttering or texture pop-ins.
The Ookla Speedtest app produced average-to-high marks for network connectivity on 4G LTE. In outdoor areas, over 20 miles away from the nearest city, we achieved download speeds up to 20 Mbps and uploads of up to 10 Mbps. But indoor speeds dropped off pretty steeply, barely scraping by with 2 Mbps down and less than 2 Mbps up, which could result in slower web browsing when a Wi-Fi connection isn’t available.
The 5.5-inch screen puts the Nokia 6.1 firmly in the average range of display sizes for this price point. We were disappointed that the bottom half-inch of the phone body wasn’t used to squeeze in a little more screen, but it still looks good. The 1080p resolution features vivid colors and clear text, even outside in bright light, and the adaptive brightness settings allow for customizable changes to the screen intensity. There’s also an optional night mode that dims the screen for less eye strain.
The Nokia 6.1 has a single speaker located on the bottom of the phone and it gets the job done, producing loud, clear audio from phone calls, music, and other media. We could take our music up to pretty high volumes, but we noticed that movies on Netflix were considerably quieter, even when turned up all the way. That being said, we never experienced any audio distortion or sound issues.
We particularly enjoyed the onscreen UI for volume. A quick press of the volume button displays a volume bar on the right side of the screen, along with easy options to enter sound settings or set the phone to silent/vibrate with the touch of a button.
Nokia pays special attention to its cameras, and the Nokia 6.1 is no exception. The 6.1 utilizes a powerful lens from world-renowned German optics manufacturer Zeiss. When combined with Android One support, you’ll enjoy a powerful camera full of neat features, like a beauty filter to smooth out facial features, selfie bokeh, Google Lens, a Dual-Sight Mode for taking pictures or videos with rear and front cameras simultaneously, and a Pro mode that lets you manually fiddle with camera settings (not unlike a full DSLR camera).
Note that picture resolution defaults to a square 4:3 format. The 6.1 can take wider 16:9 shots, but at a significant quality downgrade of 8 MP.
The Pro mode should satisfy a lot of picture-taking junkies who don’t want to shell out hundreds of dollars for a separate camera device (or a more powerful phone). With an intuitive icon-dragging UI, we could easily alter various elements like the light exposure level, manual focus, and auto white balance. Some of these produced Instagram-like filters even before we snapped the picture.
The 6.1 is also capable of recording video up to 4K resolution and utilizes Nokia’s OZO audio to capture more lifelike audio using two microphones.
Nokia pays special attention to its cameras, and the Nokia 6.1 is no exception.
Many of the Nokia 6.1’s features are impressive, but the battery is not one of them. The 3,000 mAh battery isn’t totally terrible, but it’s comparable to phones that cost half as much. Fortunately, the Nokia 6.1 does charge fairly quickly with the USB 2.0 charger, and we were able to get about 50% charge after only 45 minutes.
Android 9 adds a new Adaptive Battery feature, which is designed to limit the amount of battery power that apps can. It learns which apps you don’t use as often and can delay any notifications and updates, and you can also blacklist any apps to completely shut them off from background usage. It sounds great on paper, but we were unable to see any noticeable changes in battery life during our testing.
Nokia and Android go together like peanut butter and chocolate. The included Android One support means the Nokia 6.1 gets guaranteed OS updates and security patches for the next two years, doesn’t load any unnecessary apps, and maintains a clear, easy-to-navigate UI. Google Pay comes pre-installed to get you up and running with the phone’s NFC support, an uncommon feature in budget phones.
A major feature of Android 9 is adaptive AI that learns your phone usage and routine, making certain apps faster to open at certain times of the day and restricting the background power use of others to conserve battery life.
None of these features are easily tested while reviewing a phone over the course of a few days, but the new Digital Wellbeing section in the settings tracks exactly how much time you spend on your phone every day and breaks it down by app. An additional Wind Down feature darkens the screen, activates grayscale, and mutes sounds and notifications.
Retailing for $239, the Nokia 6.1 is in the upper range of budget phones. This is a great place to be, because, in many ways, the Nokia 6.1 has some serious advantages over other budget phones for a relatively small uptick in price. It has a strong camera, gorgeous exterior, and Android One support, all of which make it a great deal for the asking price.
When it comes to budget smartphones, the competition is fierce around the $200 price point. The Moto G6 (MSRP $249, though often listed for under $200) features a slightly bigger screen size and ultra-widescreen display ratio for better movie streaming, but it trades for a slightly weaker processor and camera. The G6 also does not yet have Android 9, but it should arrive sometime in the first half of 2019.
Clocking in at about $200 is the Honor 7X, which combines a similarly-powerful camera with a huge screen size of nearly six inches with 18:9 ratio. It also has a bigger battery. The Honor 7X initially launched with Android 7 and has since been upgraded to Android 8, but currently has no plans to support Android 9.
A phone that punches far above its weight class.
The Nokia 6.1 is worth expanding your budget a bit above the $200 range. It looks great, the camera has lots of advanced features, Android One ensures it will keep the software end up to date, and all but the most hardcore mobile gamers will come away impressed with its overall performance.