Nokia was the unrivaled first choice for customers in its days of glory. From basic phones to their flagship ‘N-Series’ smartphones, Nokia simply ruled the market. And there were the ‘XpressMusic’ line up that had a huge fan base. But this long successful run started falling somewhere around the 2010-2011 period, where Android phones were the next big thing and companies like Samsung, Sony, who were trailing next to Nokia adopted Android and got way ahead of them. Strangely enough, Nokia decided to go with Microsoft’s Windows mobile and we all saw how that turned out. There were also some Android powered, but completely different and weird phones from Nokia which were forgotten very soon. Soon the company kind of went out of business, which was a complete tragedy considering how successful they were just a couple of years back.
Year 2017 marked the return of Nokia under HMD Global with the Nokia 3, 5, 6 and 8 range of phones. This time finally with proper Android which was outright stock with no bloats or additional apps. But the hardware was unimpressive for the price at which they were offered and there wasn’t anything special with the devices except for their excellent build quality. The follow up to the previous year models were made in 2018 with the Nokia 6.1, the Nokia 7 Plus and the Nokia 8 Sirroco. Though they weren’t still exactly great value for money devices as we would have liked, they were much better than previous year’s models. And when we thought there’s nothing more happening, Nokia released the Nokia 6.1 Plus powered by the Snapdragon 636 chipset and 4GB RAM for a price of just ₹16,000 and that dropped our jaws. And there was more coming as they released the Nokia 5.1 Plus some time back with the powerful Mediatek Helio P60 chipset and 3 GigaBytes of RAM coupled with 32 GigaBytes of storage and a glass sandwich build (not the fake shiny plastic) for the price of ₹11,000. Now let’s take a deeper look at this device and see if it’s really the bargain that it seems on paper.
Design & Build
As mentioned above, the Nokia 5.1 Plus comes with a really premium looking and feeling glass build to the front and back and it looks astonishing. The display is a 5.84 inches 19:9 aspect ratio notched panel with a resolution of 1520×720. My major concern here would be how big the notch is despite the fact that it has nothing more than the earpiece grill, the front 8 megapixel camera and the ambient light and proximity sensors. In my opinion, even the notch implementation on the Nokia 6.1 Plus was better since the notch was not this big. It even has quite a bit of a chin with the Nokia logo. The frame of the phone is glossy painted aluminium. On the right side of the phone, we have volume control buttons and the power button. The buttons are very satisfyingly clicky and tactile. On the left we have nothing apart from the SIM card + memory card tray. On the top there is a noise cancelling microphone and a 3.5mm headphone jack. On the bottom, there is the speaker, the primary mic and the USB type C port, which is a pleasant surprise for the price range.
The rear glass back has the Nokia logo, the Android One logo and some regulatory information. These are included in a stealthy manner, so that it doesn’t look too shiny and attention seeking, which I really like. We have a dual 13+5 megapixel dual camera setup to the back which stands out with a bit of a bump and a fingerprint sensor right below that. The fingerprint sensor is a bit too flush with the glass for my liking and it takes some time to get used to feel for it. Overall, the phone looks really beautiful and feels really premium in hand. I am sure there’s no other device in the price range that has this much build quality and aesthetic appeal for the price. And the slim bezels, round edges and a curved bottom, using the device in one hand is really comfortable.
The display here is an IPS LCD panel with a resolution of 1520×720. Yes it’s a 720p panel instead of a full HD and of course, you may notice some pixels, but you would need to be looking at the display at a very close distance to do so. The viewing angles, colour reproduction and contrast ratio are really nice and really helps forget it’s not a full HD display easily. Having just a 720p screen, the phone really benefits on graphic intensive tasks like gaming as the GPU needs to push less pixels, but more on that later. I certainly wouldn’t say that it’s a great display and I’m kind of disappointed that it isn’t full HD, but it’s pretty decent overall and won’t be that much of a deal breaker since we still have phones from even the likes of Xiaomi in 10-11k with a 720p screen.
Performance & Software
The phone is powered by the Mediatek Helio P60 chipset, which is based on a 12nm manufacturing process, which theoretically translates to lesser heat generation and more battery life. The SoC used in the global variant is slightly underclocked at 4×1.8 GHz Cortex A73 + 4×1.8 GHz Cortex A53 cores, opposed to the normal 2.0 GHz solution (the Chinese version has 2.0 GHz cores). But there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference in performance. The CPU side is really close to that of the Snapdragon 660 and better than the Snapdragon 636. The CPU is coupled with 3 GigaBytes of RAM, which I found was adequate and the RAM management is pretty good here. The Mali-G72 MP3 GPU also does a decent job at handling anything thrown at it. PUBG runs smoothly in balanced textures coupled with High frame rate settings, and other graphic intensive titles like Asphalt 9 also runs really well. Since the GPU has to render lower resolution textures, it’s much more relaxed and gives really good frame rates.
On the software side, we have pure stock vanilla Android 8.1 Oreo with no external apps or bloats except for the Nokia camera app. As all recent Nokia devices, this one is also under the Android One programme so a minimum of two Android versions and two years of monthly security patches are guaranteed. Also, Nokia has a great track record with updates and models like the Nokia 7 Plus have already received Android 9.0 Pie. Another annoying issue with the extra long notch is the limitation of space in the status bar. It really clutters up notification icons and for the reason that it has a notch, you can’t even turn on the battery percentage in the status bar. To sum it up, the software is a great plus for someone like me who is all in for a stock android experience. But do bear in mind that if you love the bells and whistles that come with some customs skins like MIUI or something, they’re just completely absent here.
We do have face unlock, but it’s the basic version that comes in default with Android. You can find it inside the ‘smart unlock’ menu in the security settings. I’m not a fan of facial recognition for unlocking and The rear mounted fingerprint sensor is fast and accurate, so I ended up not using the face unlock feature much.
Camera & Storage
The main rear camera here is a 13 megapixel f/2.0 sensor coupled with a 5 megapixel depth sensor. Under good lighting, the images are pretty good. There’s natural colours, decent sharpness and good level of detail. The phase detection autofocus is quick and quite accurate. The detail levels drop when we move to dim light environment and noise begins to creep in, but this was actually expected and not that big of an issue. In fact, the low light images aren’t exactly useless and they turned out to be better than I imagined. When it comes to video though, I found a lot of issues. I don’t really mind that there’s no 4k recording, but there is quite a bit of focus hunting issues, the level of details aren’t that good. There is Electronic Image Stabilization, and that is the only saving grace when it comes to video. Maybe in a future update we may see changes to this, but as of now, it’s quite disappointing.
The front camera is an 8 megapixel shooter with f/2.2 aperture is also decent as long as there is good lighting. Under low light, it really struggles to capture good or sometimes even usable images. The front video recording is limited to 720p and the quality was still pretty meh, but we get EIS for front also.
There are portrait modes available for both front and rear cameras, but it is a hit or miss scenario, and sadly most of the time it’s a miss. The edge detection is not that great and the blurring is unnatural most of the time. You can adjust the level of blurring while shooting or even after the image has been captured, that’s a handy feature. There are also some AI sticker action going on which was fun to use and worked pretty well and options like “bothies” where you can use both front and back cameras at the same time.
Coming to the storage, that’s another area where I’m not really happy with the device. It has just 32 GigaBytes of internal storage and a hybrid SD card slot. So you can only use either two SIM cards or one SIM card and an SD card. This would have been okay even if there was a 64GB version of the phone available. If you’re someone with two SIM cards like me, you’re really going to be annoyed. A good thing is that the OS being stock, it doesn’t use up much space. Out of the 32GB, around 24 is available for the user. I still think Nokia have given at least a dedicated memory card slot so that storage wouldn’t be this much of an issue. The SD card slot supports memory cards upto 400GB.
The phone is powered by a 3060mAh battery. It may seem low on paper for today’s standards, as we have phones with 4000 or 5000 mAh batteries now. In reality, I found the battery life to be really good. The power efficient 12 nm processor coupled with a lower resolution screen and a well optimized stock android is really easy on the battery. Even with slightly heavy usage, the phone lasted a whole day for me. The screen on time was above 6 hours most days and I would call it really impressive for a phone with a powerful chipset and just above 3000 mAh battery.