Nokia’s phones are making a comeback. HMD Global, the Finnish company that licensed the rights to produce Nokia phones, is unveiling a trio of Nokia-branded Android devices today that are designed to cater for the mid-range of the smartphone market. They’re not the premium Lumia-like devices we’ve seen in recent history, but they have one thing in common: pure Android. HMD is taking a fairly unique approach, just like Motorola, to these Nokia phones by offering up Google’s Android Nougat OS in its purest form. That means no bundled third-party apps, no UI customizations, and regular security updates.
It’s literally the single biggest difference to the thousands of Android-powered smartphones on the market, and it’s a risky bet. Most carriers want to bundle apps or have a unique way of marketing a smartphone, but HMD believes its Nokia 6, Nokia 5, and Nokia 3 smartphones will stand out from the competition with solid hardware design, pure Android, and no gimmicky features.
HMD already unveiled its Nokia 6 smartphone last month for the Chinese market, but it’s now going global with a few tweaks. The Nokia 6 is the biggest of all three of these Nokia-branded handsets, featuring a 5.5-inch display (1920 x 1080), 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, and all powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 430 processor. The forward-facing camera (8-megapixel) is getting upgraded with a wide-angle lens and auto-focus, and the regular camera remains the same as the Chinese variant: 16-megapixel with dual tone flash. I tested the camera briefly during my time with the Nokia 6, and auto-focus seemed fast enough, and picture quality was what you’d expect from a mid-range phone like this. This probably isn’t going to take amazing photos like you’d expect from a premium smartphone, but it seemed capable enough. If you’re planning to take a lot of photos, you’ll also be able to expand storage thanks to a microSD slot.
The Nokia 6 is manufactured from a block of aluminum with diamond cut edges. In the hand it gives it a very industrial metallic feel, with sharp edges that meet the matte aluminum body. Viewing angles of the display are good, and the 5.5-inch size feels just about right. If you’re not a fan of matte then HMD is also offering up an Arte Black limited edition version of the Nokia 6. It’s a glossy version with 64GB of storage and 4GB of RAM. The main difference is gloss and price, as the matte black, silver, blue, or copper versions of the Nokia 6 will retail at 229 euros ($242), and the glossy black will debut at 299 euros ($315). Both variants will be available worldwide starting in Q2, but HMD isn’t providing exact carrier availability just yet.
The second Nokia-branded Android phone is the one I walked away most impressed with. It’s slightly smaller than the Nokia 6 thanks to its 5.2-inch display, and it’s all powered by 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 430 processor. The main difference between the Nokia 6 and Nokia 5 is design. While the Nokia 5 is also aluminum, it has curved edges that make the display feel like it’s bleeding into its metal casing. As a result, it feels a lot nicer to hold. It reminds me a lot of holding an iPhone, and there are no sharp edges or ugly bumps.
The Nokia 5 is the most impressive for the price
Just like the Nokia 6, the Nokia 5 is also powered by Android 7.1.1 Nougat. Nokia is once again relying on its hardware as the main selling point, with a 13-megapixel camera at the rear and a wide-angle 8-megapixel forward-facing camera. Both will be sufficient for average use, but this is another mid-range Android phone so if you’re not going to get the best camera phone on the market here. HMD will ship the Nokia 5 in Q2 across the world, priced at 189 euros ($199) and available in blue, silver, matte black, and copper.
The third and final new Nokia Android phone is the Nokia 3, and it’s the most basic of the trio. HMD has stepped down to a 5-inch display for the Nokia 3, paired with 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, and an MTK 6737 quad-core processor. Unlike the 5 and the 6, the Nokia 3 features a polycarbonate back, with an aluminum frame. It feels more like one of the lower end Lumia devices we’re used to seeing, with a familiar design.
The Nokia 3 also features an 8-megapixel camera at the front and rear, and a pure version of Android 7.1.1 Nougat. It feels nice enough as a basic budget smartphone, and still manages to feel like the type of low-end Nokia phone you’d expect to see in 2017. HMD will also start shipping the Nokia 3 in Q2, priced at 139 euros ($147) and available in blue, silver, matte black, and copper.
We'll have to wait a little longer for premium Nokia Android phones
The biggest questions that remain around HMD and Nokia’s strategy here are whether operators appreciate the pure Android nature of the company’s offerings. HMD tells me it has 500 retail and operator partners it’s talking to about stocking the various Nokia-branded phones, but it hasn’t committed to any US operators. That might mean we’ll never see these particular devices on US carriers, especially given the past experience of Nokia’s brand stateside.
HMD will also need to convince consumers that these are true Nokia handsets. While they certainly look and feel good enough, there’s no premium offering yet. I pushed HMD spokespeople on when those will be available, but they’re clearly taking their time to make sure any premium smartphones live up to the respected Nokia brand. Given how quick these mid-range devices have launched, I’d expect we’ll see some premium versions later this year. These are a good start for HMD and Nokia that cover a popular part of the market, but the real test will be truly competing against a Galaxy S8 or iPhone 8.