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printed December 14, 2017
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Review: Nokia 6 with Amazon Prime Exclusive Ads

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Aug 21, 2017, 6:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   @phonescooper

HMD Global's first significant handset is the Android-powered Nokia 6. This device straddles the border between entry-level and mid-range smartphones thanks to its refined design but outdated specs. Consumers can pick it up from Amazon for $50 under retail as long as they agree to view lock screen ads. Here are Phone Scoop's thoughts on the Nokia 6 from HMD Global.

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Hardware 

Is It Your Type?

The Nokia 6 is an elegant slab that represents a tentative first step in Nokia's long road to rebirth. It is an unlocked, inexpensive Android smartphone that might be a good option for travelers or those pining for the days when Nokia was the cellphone king. The Amazon Prime Exclusive variant, which we reviewed, has a lower price tag thanks to some Amazon tie-ins.

Body

Simplicity has virtue. As much as I appreciate the high design of curvy handsets such as the Samsung Galaxy S8, there's something to be said for the clean lines that form the Nokia 6. It's a metal and glass slab from (essentially) an upstart company that puts some seasoned phone makers to shame.

The Nokia 6 is not designed nor is it made by Nokia, at least not the company you remember. A small Finnish company called HMD Global — launched by former Nokia employees — designed the phone. It's manufactured by a Chinese company. HMD Global is the sole licensee of the Nokia brand. I point this out because I want it to be clear that the Nokia 6 is nothing like the Lumia series devices from the old Nokia; it's an entirely new endeavor. HMD hopes to capitalize on the Nokia brand name in regions where it was popular, particularly across Europe and Asia.

The phone has a fine aluminum frame that's paired with a metal rear plate and a 2.5D curved glass panel. The frame is painted dark gray, but polished chamfers along the edges give it some chrome-y sparkle. The rear panel is mostly flat and tucks into the frame with slight curves that mirror those of the opposing piece of glass on front. I like the flat-edged design of the outer metal frame, which gives the Nokia 6 a sharp profile. The chamfers really help define the phone's shape.

It's a tall piece of hardware. At more than 6 inches long and 3 inches wide, it'll be a handful for those with smaller hands. I could just barely get away with using the phone one-handed; my guess is many people will need both hands to really operate the Nokia 6 comfortably. It's slender at just 7.8mm thick, but the metal build puts the weight at a hefty 6 ounces. The flat rear panel and flat edges do make the phone less comfortable to grip than a handset with a more rounded design. The phone will fit in most pockets, but the sharp edges dig into your leg from time to time. It may wear out your pocket lining quickly.

HMD Global and its manufacturing partner did an excellent job selecting materials and assembling the phone. The metal construction is far classier than anything Nokia itself produced under the Lumia brand. All of the components are fitted together perfectly, all the seams are tight, and the phone conveys a feeling of quality and strength.

Nokia 6  

The Nokia 6's face is stark simplicity. A huge piece of glass covers the entirety of the front with subtle curves sloping into the frame. The large slit for the earpiece is the most visible element of the phone's face. The Nokia logo, painted under the glass, is just barely visible to the right of the earpiece. HMD was able to keep the side bezels in check, but the forehead and chin bezels are each thicker than I care to see.

The chin holds a slim fingerprint reader that doubles as a home button. It is indented ever-so-slightly which helps your thumb find it by feel. The capacitive back and app-switcher buttons flank it on either side. All three are positioned about as close to the bottom edge of the phone as possible, which sometimes makes them awkward to reach.

You'll find the SIM card tray near the top of the phone's left edge. The tray accommodates one SIM card and one microSD memory card, or two SIM cards. HMD stuck the screen lock button and volume toggle on the phone's right edge. The screen lock button is the lower of the two. It's small, but it has a really good profile and excellent travel and feedback. The volume toggle also has a good profile and feedback. Both buttons have a smooth texture.

The 3.5mm headset jack is on top and the microUSB port is on the bottom. I'm disappointed to see microUSB rather than USB-C, though I'm not all that surprised. Many budget phone makers have so far eschewed USB-C. Two small slits in the bottom edge signify the location of the speakerphone.

Black paint covers the rear metal panel. The paint has a matte, gritty look to it that I rather like. The blue color option is really appealing. Other than the camera module, the rear panel is mostly a blank slate. The camera module is a long, raised oval with the lens at one end and the LED flash at the other. The module is framed by a chrome finish that sets it apart visually. The Nokia logo is etched into the metal and coated with a glossy black paint so it stands out a bit. The rear cover (and battery) cannot be removed.

The phone is not rugged, waterproof, nor water resistant at all.

HMD Global designed and manufactured a fine piece of hardware in the Nokia 6. It's not for everyone, and it doesn't necessarily have the presence of Nokia's Lumia handsets, but this no-frills phone is a breath of fresh air.

Screen

The Nokia 6 has a fairly typical screen. It measures 5.5 inches across the diagonal and offers full HD (1080p) resolution. It's an LCD panel and sticks to the traditional 16:9 aspect ratio. The pixel density is good enough that spotting individual pixels is more or less impossible, but it wouldn't be great for VR. Text, graphics, and icons on the display are smooth around the edges. The LCD panel pushes out a significant amount of light. You won't have any trouble using the phone indoors or out, at least as far as luminosity is concerned. The display is prone to collecting fingerprints, which obscure the screen under a sunny sky. Viewing angles are good for an LCD, with only a small amount of obvious blue shift when the phone is tilted to and fro.

Signal

Here's where things start to get a little dicey. The Nokia 6 supports LTE Bands 2, 3, 4, 7, 12, 17, and 28. The important ones here are Bands 2, 4, and 12, which are used by AT&T and T-Mobile in the U.S. While it's good that the Nokia 6 supports these bands, it provides limited service from both carriers as it ignores their newer LTE bands, such as 5, 29, 30, and 66.

I tested the phone on AT&T's network in the NYC area and wasn't that impressed. To start, the phone stayed on AT&T's HSPA 3.5G network most of the time. In fact, I can't remember a moment when it displayed the "4G" or "LTE" indicators on the screen. This means slow data speeds when out and about. It was noticeably slower than branded AT&T phones tested in the same areas. The Nokia 6 was fine for syncing email and checking Twitter, but Facebook and Instagram performed sluggishly. Streaming music or video over the network was not a great experience.

As for voice calls, the Nokia 6 did fairly well. It connected the majority of calls on the first dial. It held onto calls at highway speeds, dropping only one over a course of 20 miles. The Nokia 6 did not miss any calls while I reviewed it.

Sound

The Nokia 6 is a solid voice phone. I was generally pleased with voice quality across the board as tested on AT&T's network. The earpiece puts out plenty of sound, of that there's no doubt. I had no trouble hearing calls via the Nokia 6 in noisy coffee shops, busy shopping malls, and of course at home or in the car. Quality is very good. I didn't notice any distortion at high volumes, and voices typically had a warm timbre. Those I spoke to through the Nokia 6 said I sounded "right next door."

The speakerphone is decent, but not the best I've encountered. It delivers a good jolt in the volume department, but clarity suffers a bit, particularly at high volumes. It works in the car very well, as long as you don't mind some choppiness.

Ringers are loud enough that they should always get your attention. The vibrate alert was strong enough to make the phone dance its way across my desk.

The Nokia 6 includes stereo speakers and Dolby Atmos sound. The phone doesn't have two front-firing speakers; instead, it uses the earpiece as one speaker and the speakerphone (mounted on the bottom) as the second speaker. Together these produce a full range of sound. When holding the phone sideways, it does create stereo playback when watching videos or listening to music. The earpiece leans towards more treble-y tones and the speakerphone leans towards more bass-y tones. The effect is still better than mono sound.

Battery

HMD Global opted for a 3,000 mAh battery for the Nokia 6 and it does a fine job. I was able to push the Nokia 6 from breakfast to bedtime most days I tested the phone. Only on one occasion did it crap out early, and that was a day I spent a bit too much time watching YouTube TV and other video programs on the phone. Even then, it made it through dinner and well into the evening. My guess is most people will be satisfied with the Nokia 6's battery life.

Like most Android handsets, the Nokia 6 includes the stock battery saver tool. It helps a little.

The Nokia 6 does not include wireless charging, nor does it support rapid charging.

Bluetooth, GPS, NFC, WiFi

I didn't run into any problems with the Nokia 6's ancillary radios. The Bluetooth radio, in particular, worked really well. It paired with headsets and speakers almost instantly. It spoke to my car's hands-free system more fluently than R2D2 could patch into the Death Star. It loaded my call / contact history into my car in a blink, which is many blinks faster than most other phones I've tested recently. Call quality via car or headset was quite good.

The GPS radio performed flawlessly. It pinpointed my location in 1 or 2 seconds, to within 10 feet. More importantly, it kept up during real-time navigation between points in Google Maps.

The Nokia 6 doesn't include NFC, but the WiFi worked really well.

Software 

Amazon Prime Exclusive Lock Screen

You can save $50 off the Nokia 6 if you buy the Amazon Prime Exclusive version. Why is this variant less costly? It includes advertisements on the lock screen. It's also packed with Amazon apps and services. I'll be honest: when I first learned of Amazon's intent to serve ads on smartphone lock screens last year I bristled at the notion. The very idea made me angry. I despise intrusive advertisements. How dare Amazon plaster my phone with ads!

In reality, it's not so bad.

Basically, ads replace whatever your lock screen wallpaper would have been. Press the screen lock button to wake the handset and you'll see the large digital clock at the top of the display just as you would on any other Android phone. If you don't have any notifications, the Amazon ad fills the entire screen behind the clock as a full-screen wallpaper. If you do have notifications, the ad shrinks down to the size of a notification alert and fits in below the last notification. As always, you can dismiss your notifications (including the ad), shut the screen off, and move on.

Lock Screen Ads  

The lock screen itself does not feature an always-on / active display mode. You can't double tap the screen to turn it on. The only way to view the lock screen is to press the screen lock key or the fingerprint reader / home button.

How do the ads work? Most ads include a button that says "tap to see deal". Tapping the button does one of two things: it either opens the Amazon shopping application (which is preinstalled) and takes you directly to the advertised item, or it opens the web browser on a page related to the item. Ads that don't have a button (usually the full-screen ads) will open the Amazon app if you press anywhere on the screen. If you've protected your device with a PIN, pattern, password or fingerprint, you'll have to unlock the phone before jumping to the advertised item in the Amazon app. That means people won't be able to buy stuff from the lock screen if they find your phone in the back seat of a cab.

Lock Screen  

After using the phone for several days I began to notice the ads less and less. Rarely did I see anything that I wanted to click on, so I just ignored them. If you simply view them as rotating wallpapers, the ads aren't all that much to get bent out of shape about. The only time they aggravated me was when I was in a hurry to respond to a notification and accidentally fat-fingered the ad instead of the notification. This cost me all of two seconds to close the Amazon app.

As for the fingerprint reader: I had no trouble with it. It recorded several prints and accepted them as proof of identity on the first touch most of the time

Home Screens

The Nokia 6 runs Android 7.1 Nougat and features a stock version of Google's mobile operating system. Everything about the home screen experience is exactly what you'd see on any other stock Android device.

The Amazon Prime Exclusive variant of the Nokia 6 is loaded with Amazon apps and services; in fact, much of the home screen real estate is dedicated to those apps. The most egregious element is a widget placed on one of the home screen that doubles up on serving Amazon ads to you. Not to fear, however, because you can wipe this all away and customize the home screens however you wish.

Amazon Prime Setup  

The Quick Settings shade, settings menu, and app drawer all function exactly as they do on Google's own Pixel phones. You can edit the Quick Settings toggles, easily search through settings, and view suggested apps in the app drawer.

Nokia 6 Home Screens  

Amazon's apps are the only bloatware on the phone. It comes with all of the standard Google-made apps you're used to seeing on Android handsets.

Performance was a bit uneven. The Nokia 6 is powered by a 1.4 GHz octa-core Snapdragon 430 processor with 3 GB of RAM. At times the phone ran smoothly and other times it felt sluggish. It does come across as a bit underpowered.

Nokia 6 Settings  

Camera

The camera app is a simple affair. You can open it with a quick double-press of the screen lock key, or via the lock screen / home screen shortcuts. It takes half a second too long to open.

You won't find any surprises in the layout of the viewfinder. Simple toggles line the left side of the screen that allow you to make use of the flash, HDR, timer, and front camera. You can set the flash and HDR to on, off, or auto, which is always nice to see. The shutter controls are positioned on the right side of the screen.

Shooting modes are fairly limited. A small camera button floats in the viewfinder directly next to the shutter button. Tap it to access to the shooting modes, which include beauty, auto and panorama. That's it. These modes work about as you'd expect. The beauty mode includes a slider tool that allows you to adjust the strength of the beautification effect.

If you switch to the video camera, you'll find access to the time-lapse and slow-motion capture modes. The time-lapse mode forces you to select either 2x or 3x speeds before shooting. Similarly, the slow-motion mode requires to you to choose one-half speed or one-third speed before you can hit record.

Oddly, you have to forcibly change the video capture resolution in the settings menu from 1080p to 720p before you can capture slow-motion; this should be automatic.

The full camera settings menu lets you turn on/off location, the grid, some capture settings, burst mode, shutter sounds, zooming and capturing behaviors, aspect ratio and resolution, and control a watermark.

The camera is a hair slow to use. I wish it were faster. I blame the processor.

Nokia 6 Camera App  

Photos/Video

The 16-megapixel main camera is adequate. I saw good and bad photos in the samples I shot; there was inconsistency across the board. Some shots were in perfect focus, while others were soft; some shots were properly exposed, while others were under/over; and some shots showed perfect white balance, while others skewed blue. I could not discern any rhyme or reason behind the inconsistencies. Finding shots that perfectly merged focus, exposure, and white balance was difficult. More often than not, at least one of these three elements was off.

The 8-megapixel selfie camera did an acceptable job. I thought focus was a bit soft in the selfies I took, but exposure and white balance were more often on point. The beautification tool is available when shooting in selfie mode, and it can help eliminate warts if you don't mind looking a bit pasty.

You can capture video up to full HD resolution and, as is often the case, the video results outperformed the camera. It did a better job of managing focus and white balance, though I did notice instances of underexposure.

The Nokia 6 may suffice as an everyday shooter for some, but I wouldn't rely on it for vacations or other important events.

Photo Samples  

Wrap-Up 

HMD Global designed a fine phone in the Nokia 6, but I don't think it's the best choice for U.S. consumers. Here's why.

The handset is attractive, well-made, and confidence-inspiring. I really like the metal chassis and other elements of the build. It's a fine voice phone, battery life is good, and the display is decent, too. The Android operating system is easy to use.

The limited LTE support for U.S. networks left me surfing 3G most of the time I tested the phone. This simply doesn't make for a good experience, and data-intensive apps suffered as a result. The so-so camera left me wanting much more, and the sometimes sluggish performance of the phone was frustrating.

At $230, the phone is pricey considering the experience it delivers. You can snag the phone from Amazon for $180 if you don't mind the lock screen ads. I think those savings are worth the trade-off, particularly if you're on a budget and already invested in Amazon Prime. However, you can score a much better unlocked phone for half as much if you look at options from ZTE and Motorola.

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Comments

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pantrychef

Aug 22, 2017, 11:06 AM

No NFC? How about 5GHz WiFi?

PhoneScoop's review of the Nokia 6 indicated no NFC functionality yet product specs indicate otherwise. I would like to know whether the typo is in the review or manufacturer specs.

Also, manufacturer specs indicates Wi-Fi support on the 5GHz band. Would the reviewer kindly confirm?

Thank you.
 
 
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