The last time you could buy a phone with the word Nokia imprinted on it in the US, Barack Obama was a mere two years into his second term as president, the Chicago Cubs still hadn’t managed to break their century-long dry spell in the World Series, and Apple had yet to sell a single smartwatch.
But despite the non-existence of Nokia phones in America for almost three years, the brand is back, albeit not quite the same as before. A lot has changed since the last time Nokia was here. This new Nokia phone doesn’t even run the same software platform it did years ago. And this new phone — the Nokia 6, available exclusively through Amazon — isn’t a high-end device with cutting-edge design or a game-changing camera.
An entry-level phone with an entry-level price to match
Instead, the Nokia 6 is an entry-level device with an entry-level price to match. Its $229 price drops to $179.99 if you opt for Amazon’s version that’s loaded with Amazon apps and ads. For that cost, you get an unlocked Android phone with a 5.5-inch, 1080p screen, a 16-megapixel camera, and Qualcomm’s entry-level processor. Basically, there’s nothing here, save for the logo that calls back to Nokia’s glory days.
But is the Nokia 6 a worthwhile phone on its own? Yes, especially if you opted for the Amazon version and got it for less than $200. Nothing about the Nokia 6 will give you the impression that you’re using a more expensive or premium device, but it’s a reliable phone that should last a couple of years, provided your needs aren’t that demanding.
There are a lot of phones in the Nokia 6’s price range now, and many of them share the same basic specs. The 6 doesn’t veer too far from the norm. Its 5.5-inch display is large and sharp enough, though not as bright or colorful as a more expensive device. It has 32GB of storage, a slot for a microSD card, and 3GB of RAM. The 1.4GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 processor is adequate for day-to-day use, but push the Nokia 6 hard with a lot of multitasking or gaming and you’ll see it show signs of struggle under the load. Similarly, the battery will last a full day for most people, but more demanding users will probably have to hit the charger in the evening.
The Nokia 6’s design also speaks to its budget positioning. It is a metal unibody phone, but the edges are sharp and blocky, and it doesn’t feel particularly polished or refined. The large bezels around the screen and Micro USB charging port give the whole experience a very 2015 vibe.
Don’t expect much from the camera
I never expect much from a phone’s camera at this price point, and the 6 doesn’t do anything to change that. The 16-megapixel camera is slow to launch and focus, and while it can take okay photos in good lighting, image quality falls apart in low lighting.
Most people will probably buy the Nokia 6 with Amazon’s experience, which saves a not-insignificant $50 from the price of the phone for Prime members and brings along lock screen ads and Amazon’s suite of apps preinstalled.
The 10 preinstalled Amazon apps don’t bother me all that much. I’d be installing Amazon’s shopping app anyway, and if you’re a Prime member, the Photos, Prime Video, and Amazon Music apps are likely to be useful to you.
The ads, which appear on the lock screen and in the notification tray of the phone, are a bit more annoying. Like many other phones, the Nokia 6 has a fingerprint scanner below the screen that can be used to wake the display and log in to the phone. But unlike most phones, you actually have to put your fingerprint on the scanner twice to use the phone, once to wake the display and again to unlock it. Other phones will wake the screen and log you in with just one read of your fingerprint, which is obviously easier and more convenient.
Amazon forces you to look at the ads every time you turn on the phone
Amazon has set up the phone this way because it forces you to look at the ads it shows on the lock screen. There’s no way to get past the lock screen and use the phone without seeing an ad for a product or service on Amazon. And, as we’ve seen with other Amazon phones in the past, the ads are not particularly useful or relevant to you. I’ve been using Amazon for over a decade and spend thousands of dollars a year with it, but the Nokia 6 shows me ads for products and books that I have zero interest in. On top of that, the 6 doesn’t cycle through its lock screen ads all that often, so in the hundreds of times I unlock my phone each day, I’m seeing the same three ads over and over again.
Otherwise, the Nokia 6’s unadulterated version of Android 7.1.1 Nougat is clean and easy to use. It even has up-to-date Android features, such as home screen icon shortcuts. One thing that remains an unknown is how well Nokia and Amazon will keep this phone updated with security patches and software updates. (Entry-level phones are notorious for being abandoned by their manufacturers when it comes to getting updates.) As of the publish of this review, my Nokia 6 review unit has the June 1st, 2017 security patch, so at least it’s starting off up to date.
If you were hoping for the Nokia 6 to be the second coming of Nokia in the US, you’ll be disappointed. You might also have been expecting a bit too much. A roughly $200 phone is never going to be anything more than a budget model for casual consumers.
But if you’re a casual phone buyer looking for something with decent software and a reliable experience, you can do a lot worse than the Nokia 6. It’s a tougher sell at its full $229.99 price, but if you can live with the ever-present Amazon ad on your lock screen, it’s a good value at $179.99. Just make sure you’re using it with AT&T, T-Mobile, or one of their subsidiary MVNO networks, as it won’t work on Verizon or Sprint. And if you find that you can’t stand the ads, you can always pay $50 to upgrade to the ad-free experience after the fact.
The rest of us will probably want to wait for the next Nokia phone to come down the line.