The Nokia 6 launched in China, breaking records for pre-orders and instantly putting HMD Global on the back foot. With demand outstripping supply, you could say the Nokia 6 got off to a solid start as a JD.com exclusive.
As guardians of the Nokia brand in phones, HMD faces a challenge: resurrecting one of mobile phone's icons, without becoming generic. It's perhaps ironic, then, that there's little about the Nokia 6 that makes it stand-out from other Android phones.
It's a pure Android experience, it follows many of the norms for smartphone design that we're seeing across the board and the specs don't elevate this smartphone to be anything special. Yet there's a certain je ne sais quoi about Nokia's new handset. Perhaps it's nostalgia, perhaps HMD has just got it right.
Nokia 6 preview: Design
- 154 x 75.8 x 7.85-8.4mm
- Solid 6000 series aluminium build
- Sculpted Gorilla Glass
Nokia's biggest selling point is build. When the Nokia 6 first launched, it was perhaps surprising that HMD put so much emphasis on the manufacturing process. This is the sort of language that Apple or HTC uses for its smartphones that cost more than double, but craftsmanship has become the new smartphone trend.
The Nokia 6 starts life as a solid block of aluminium. So serious is HMD about this process, that it was the first thing that we were handed when we sat down with Juho Sarvikas, chief product officer at HMD, and Florian Seiche, president of HMD, to meet the new phones. There's no stamping of sheet metal: this phone is machined from a solid block of 6000 series aluminium, anodised and polished, as Sarvikas said, to "go beyond the specification."
The result is a phone that feels very solid. Metal phones aren't anything new and they are even plentiful in the mid-range from the likes of Huawei. But the Nokia 6 doesn't feel like it is metal to tick a box on a spec sheet, it feels like it's been built to last. Durability is an important factor, it seems, in carrying Nokia smartphones to a new level.
The Nokia 6 is slim, but has a slightly curved back to help this 5.5-inch phone settle into your hand. The glass of the display flows into the edges for an almost seamless finish, but the exposed diamond cut chamfer that meets it is deliberately evident to again hammer home the message of solidity.
The Nokia 6 might not have the immediate sex appeal of the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge, it's perhaps not as iconically designed as the iPhone 7, but there's huge value in that understated Nokia branding on the rear. Avoiding the plastics and the colours that typified the Lumia family, this new Nokia identity helps throw off the spectre of the Windows Phone past.
While the "tempered blue" colour will remind you of that old 3310 that you loved, the real story is about the Arte Black special edition (pictured here). This carries a glossy black finish, aping the iPhone 7's Jet Black. This special edition phone has a more lustworthy finish, even if it adds some €60 to the asking price. When the regular Nokia 6 costs just €229, that's a price we suspect many will be happy to pay.
Nokia 6 preview: Display and hardware
- 5.5-inch, 1920 x 1080 pixels, 403ppi, IPS LCD
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 430, 3GB RAM, 32GB storage, microSD
- Art Black gets 4GB RAM, 64GB storage
- 3000mAh battery, Micro-USB
Sitting atop the Nokia 6 is a 5.5-inch full HD display. This is where the mid-range story really starts, as the 6 offers a 1920 x 1080 pixel display. That might not offer the detail that you'll find crammed into the likes of many flagships, but form what we've seen, this is a great display.
We've not had the chance to really put it through its tests in a range of environments, but at first glance it's bright and vibrant, with Nokia saying its rated at 450 nits.
The core hardware also tells a mid-range story. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 chipset sits at the heart of this phone, with 3GB RAM in the regular model, or 4GB RAM in the Art Black special edition. The Snapdragon 400 series chipsets are a common feature of mid-range handsets and in many cases provide plenty of power for a smooth day-to-day experience.
We've not had the chance to fully assess the power and performance, but we know from previous devices that things like social media, browsing and email crunching will be perfectly fast. Limitations are likely to come in on some games, video capture and other power hungry tasks.
The positive point is usually that these chipsets are less power hungry than some of the top-tier models, so the 3000mAh battery should put in a respectable performance, although we're sure that there will be some who question why the Nokia 6 doesn't step up a level, at least to match the Moto G4's Snapdragon 617.
One of the features that's perhaps missing is USB Type-C: this phone carries the older Micro-USB connection, but it does have a 3.5 socket for your headphones, along with claims of being able to produce Dolby Atmos audio, something we'll need to investigate further.
Nokia 6 preview: Cameras
- Back: 16-megapixel, 1µm pixels, f/2.0, phase detection AF
- Front: 8-megapixel, 1.12µm pixels, f/2.0, wide angle autofocus camera
Nokia is known for its cameras. From the 808 PureView to the Lumia 1020, camera power was at the forefront. There were big sensors offering crop zooming, optical image stabilisation and Zeiss lenses. Nokia became synonymous with quality camera offerings.
We've not had the chance to fully test the new camera on the Nokia 6, but you may have to temper your excitement a little when it comes to the camera. In paper, at least, this is a fairly standard offering, eschewing some of those previous highlights. There's no premium lens branding and the pixels themselves (at 1µm) are rather small compared to some 1.5µm rivals.
Without testing the camera, however, there's no telling how it performs. The camera app is the one thing on the software side that Nokia has changed, making a few tweaks, but on first glance, it all appears to be fairly standard stuff.
The front camera is an 8-megapixel sensor and interestingly it offers autofocus, which is a little more advanced than many fixed focus offerings. This should lead to nice sharp selfies from this wide-angle lens, but again, it needs a good testing before we can really call out the Nokia 6 on camera performance.
Nokia 6 preview: Unsullied Android Nougat
- Android Nougat
- No bloatware
- Monthly security updates
When it comes to software, many will be happy to hear that Nokia isn't following the party line with its Android phones. Many are bundling in apps and services, reworking menus and changing a whole load of features, but Nokia is doing nothing.
We've mentioned the camera app, but that's the only change that Nokia will be making to the software experience. "We're happy with what Google is doing," says Sarvikas and we're fans of that experience. There's no blaming the manufacturer for destroying the experience though software: the Nokia 6 is designed to be as close to the Google Pixel, that pure Android experience, as it can be.
The phones that we photographed weren't final software, but we were happy to discover a lot of features familiar from the Pixel. We were invited to sign into Google Assistant, there's pop-up app shortcuts and otherwise a Nougat experience that's unsullied. Whether or not the Pixel launcher ends up on this phone remains to be seen, but we like the purity.
Nokia has also promised that that means monthly security updates as you get on Pixel phones and it should mean a rapid turn around on updates. We'll wait to see what happens on that front: Motorola made the same promise and that hasn't always rung true.
The Nokia 6 isn't a flagship phone and that will disappoint many who wanted Nokia to come out swinging and take the fight to the big Android brands. At the same time, Nokia is following a strategy that it attempted with the Lumia brand: it's going mass market, punching into the cheaper segment with a quality product. It's lower level Sony and Samsung phones that should be worried, because Nokia has the product and the brand to make this a success.
Like the Moto G series, Nokia's new phones - the 6, 5 and 3 - present options for those who can't afford to spend €700 on the latest flagship. The aim, it seems, is to capture this section of the global market, and we're told that this is a starting point, suggesting the rumoured Nokia 8 could still be a going concern.
There's a lot for us to still discover about the Nokia 6: the camera, the performance and the battery life are important elements we can't yet judge. Whether this phone has the grunt to take on the Moto G is the real question, something we'll investigate closer to launch.
The Nokia 6 is launching globally, available in Q2. Local prices are still to be determined.