Last year's Nokia 6 had an important job: it had to relaunch a brand that a lot of us had thought was gone for good.
It mostly succeeded, too, giving budget-minded buyers a whole lot of phone for their cash, all wrapped up in a good-looking package. Even if it wasn't perfect.
A year down the line, and the new Nokia's line-up has expanded dramatically - but it's here, where things properly got started again, that is most deserving of a sequel. So that's exactly what we're getting.
The new Nokia 6 improves on the original in a few major ways, but still manages to keep the price down. You can call this phone the Nokia 6.1, the Nokia 2018 if you like, but what matters is that this is the solid middle-range option in Nokia’s line-up.
It'll have to up against the imminent Moto G6 Plus. Is it up to the challenge? Probably not. But it’s not bad at all...
DESIGN & BUILD: reassuringly weighty
One thing Nokia nails with its newly resurrected phone range is build quality.
The Nokia 6’s design is mostly pretty plain, but keeps the standard high. Its shell is a unibody piece of aluminium with a multi-layer paint finish that makes the great-looking bronze bevelled highlights possible. You could potentially convince a gullible friend the Nokia 6 is made of solid bronze thanks to its exposed-looking edges.
The front of the Nokia 6 is Gorilla Glass with 2.5D edges, but you do wonder why they bothered with the smoothing when the phone’s rear contours are pretty sharp. While there’s a slight curvature to the backside, this is for the most part a rectangular phone with severe lines. Why so serious Nokia?
It feels good in the hand despite this, with the classic dense feel of metal. One thing that will instantly age the Nokia 6, though, is the look of the screen. Right now, you probably have a phone with a 16:9 screen, just like the 6. But having come from using a phone with the on-trend 18:9 shape, it makes this older widescreen format seem oddly dumpy and archaic.
In a cheap phone this wouldn’t matter, but this is a rung or two above “cheap”. The Nokia 6 also has an annoying fingerprint scanner. Unless this phone is intended for a small kid, its sunken scanner panel is just way too low, making you move your finger down to reach it.
An LED flash sits where you want the scanner to be, making the process of learning where the bloody thing is even more protracted. Once you’re there, the Nokia 6 scanner isn’t among the fastest around, but it’s close enough to make this a non-issue.
There’s one more grumble. The Nokia 6’s side buttons aren’t much good either. On paper they’re great, with metal components and the same cut-bevel finish as the bodywork, but the action is odd: too clicky, too shallow, and it makes pressing the power and volume with a normal gesture strangely difficult.
It’s not a reason to walk away, just something that makes the Nokia 6 seem less well-designed. Just a bit. It does have a headphone jack and a USB-C port, though, which is an improvement over the old Nokia 6's microUSB number.
SCREEN & SOUND: fittingly budget
The Nokia 6's 5.5in LCD screen is a case of "if it ain't broke, don't swap out a perfectly decent panel for a worse one and charge more money".
The only downside is that it's 16:9 rather than 18:9 aspect ratio, with the latter being the new standard for mid-range and high-end phones.
By the end of 2018, it’ll be among a small tribe of big and dumpy displays, like neanderthals hanging around among high-fiving homo erectuses. And we know how that one panned out. It’s up to you decide if you’re bothered, though.
The screen itself is a Full HD LCD screen, just as expected. It’s bright and colourful enough, and there are none of the contrast and viewing angle problems you might see in some cheap LCD screens.
It’s not a screen for those who like to customise the look of their phone’s display, though. You can’t do anything here. There are no colour profiles, no colour temperature sliders. As it is, the colours are reasonably vivid without looking over-saturated, and the colour temperature is just a wee bit cool.
You do get a night mode, though, which turns the screen orange to cut down on sleep-disturbing blue light. But, hey, how about you just don’t spend 45 minutes scrolling through Facebook at midnight?
The Nokia 6's camera has been improved, but not necessarily enough for everyone's tastes.
Like its predecessor, the rear camera is a 16MP number. This now has a Zeiss lens, but its aperture is still good old f/2, which isn’t super-wide by current standards.
There are good bits and bad. Positives include great detail capture when the light levels make it easy for the camera to shoot: that means plenty of light and no great variance of it in the scene.
The Nokia 6 is great at shooting well-lit close-up subjects, particularly useful for those macro-style nature shots. But shooting out and about around London, it struggles in other conditions.
The phone has an Auto HDR mode engaged as standard but it is simply not that effective. If there’s a good amount of bright and darker parts of a scene, some will often look either blown out or dull.
Fixing this sort of problem relies on software these days, and the Nokia 6’s just isn’t as good as that of rival Huawei and Moto phones. The processing also seems to oversaturate grass and skies a bit – this helps make some of your shots pop that bit more, at the expense of a natural look.
Don’t expect too much at night. The Nokia 6’s low light shots tend to look very dark and soft. It can shoot 4K video, though, which is not a given at this price. And the 8MP selfie camera, while not close to the quality of the 8MP front camera of the Pixel 2, does the job just fine.
A final cherry on top is Nokia's spacial audio sound recording when shooting video, which gives your clips something a little extra that you can't find on other bargain phones.
PERFORMANCE & SOFTWARE: punching above its weight
The original Nokia 6 made do with a Snapdragon 430 CPU, which wasn't exactly a powerhouse. It was just a little too slow in light of some better-equipped rivals.
Well, the Snapdragon 630 CPU is better all-round: better graphics chipset, higher clock speed, more efficient cores. App load speeds, which weren’t too hot in the original Nokia 6, seem to have been whipped up a little.
Games like Asphalt 8 run near-perfectly when maxed-out. And the Geekbench 4 score of 4194 matches the faster affordable mid-range phones. You don’t get true high-end performance, mind – there’s still the occasional delay before the keyboard pops up and app loads are a mite slower than those of an expensive phone.
We’ll see in our upcoming review of the Moto G6 Plus if another company can iron out these little delays in Android 8.0, but this is still a very solid all-rounder.
The built-in 32GB (64GB available too) storage gives you enough room for games and apps run well. Its speaker could be better, mind: it doesn’t have the extra bulk of the best phone speakers, you need to flip the phone around to avoid blocking it when playing “landscape” orientation games, and it’s very obvious the sound only comes out of one side. The driver lives on the bottom, by the edge.
Battery life: a full day's stamina
Nokia hasn’t bumped up the battery capacity of the new Nokia 6 – it has a 3000mAh cell just like the old version – but its real-world stamina does seem to have improved.
This is curious considering 3000mAh is the standard among larger phones now. After starting at 100% at 7am and enduring several hours of audio streaming, some photo-shooting and about 25 minutes of YouTube streaming, the Nokia 6 still had 30% charge at midnight.
This may not be a phone you can get to last a full two days unless you barely do anything with it, but getting it to hang on for a full day of real use is a doddle.
It has fast charging too, with the bundled power block revving up from the usual 5V to 12V to get the Nokia from empty to full in around an hour and a half. This is a big upgrade over the original Nokia 6, which didn’t come with a fast charger.
NOKIA 6 (2018) VERDICT
We really wanted to like the original Nokia 6, but when it arrived, it wasn't clear what it was trying to be: too expensive to be a true bargain, it lacked the hardware it needed to compete with similarly-priced rivals. At a time when Nokia hadn't yet revealed a proper flagship, we were left wondering if it was as good as things were going to get.
A year later, it all makes sense. The Nokia 8 has taken its place at the top of the line-up (soon to be usurped by the Nokia 8 Sirocco, and rivalled by the seriously tempting Nokia 7 Plus) and the new Nokia 6 has settled firmly in the lower mid-range. Which is pretty much the perfect place for it.
Despite costing more, this version is better than the phone it replaces, the “old” Nokia 6. It looks better, packs more power and the newer CPU seems to have a positive effect on day-to-day battery life. The battery is much faster to charge too.
Slight downsides are that the Nokia 6 camera is only fair and the 16:9 screen will probably look quite dated in six months. But, all in all, this is a solid phone if you like the idea of owning a Nokia.