I was given the chance last year to review HMD Global’s Nokia 5 and while Nokia was banking on the spectre of nostalgia for their return to the smartphone game, with their second generation they’re being expected to perform at a higher level.
The nostalgia played a large role in the success of the Nokia 5, while it was a decent enough device it was underwhelming as a whole, lending itself more to a 2015/16 level device with its specs. It was a little under-powered and the screen was certainly also a let down, and so I have great hopes for the Nokia 5.1 of 2018.
It’s taken a while to come to market after it was announced in May but it’s here now and it’s time to evaluate it. Can the Nokia 5.1 be an improvement and show that Nokia is well and truly back, let’s find out shall we.
Unboxing the Nokia 5.1, I noticed a difference between the Nokia 5.1 and it’s predecessor. The phone looks different with its metal unibody design and feels lighter as well.
The unibody metal design, machined from a single block of 6000 series aluminium, gives the device the appearance and feel of a premium device. The curves flow nicely and the rounded corners give it a clean look which is also lends itself to a comfortable in-hand feel.
Nokia includes a 16MP rear camera sensor and LED flash above the fingerprint scanner on the rear of the phone. The rear fingerprint sensor is probably the more ideal place for such a scanner – at least for me. The previous version had the fingerprint scanner located on the front just below the display which was just a little awkward to use, so moving it to the rear makes perfect sense to me.
The glass on the front of the phone seems to flow into the metal body. This floating glass means no sharp edges and that for me shows that the Nokia designers are honing their skills with concise attention to detail – something a number of companies should really take heed of.
Under that glass, the Nokia 5.1 comes with a 18:9 ratio, 5.5-inch FullHD+ (1080×2160) resolution IPS LCD and it’s a big change from last year.
I found it quite easy to view everything from text to pictures and videos on the screen, an improvement over last years model which had muted colours and a little washed out. The screen is viewable indoors and out, though the screen was a little hard to view in direct sunlight showing up reflections and fingerprints on the glass.
A front facing 8MP front facing camera sits above the screen alongside the proximity sensor and front speaker grill at the top of the device. It’s an unassuming front design, though unlike some of the phones in this price bracket, there’s no notch – something appreciated by scores of people.
The HMD Global designers have chosen to put the power button and volume rocker on the right hand side of the phone allowing you to reach all the buttons on one-side when using it one-handed. This leaves the left essentially blank except for the dual nanoSIM/MicroSD card slot.
In 2018, Nokia has continued to use MicroUSB ports on their low to mid-range devices, this includes the Nokia 5.1. I’m a strong believer in USB-C, and the absence is getting to be jarring.
Located to the right hand side bottom of the device, is the external speakers which aren’t really something to get excited about given they just aren’t brilliant and insufficient other than for phone calls. Located to the left hand side of the charging port is the bottom microphone for phone and video calls.
Internally the Nokia 5.1 is powered by an Octa-core MediaTek Helio P18 processor with 2GB RAM matching last years model, though the Nokia 5 was using a Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 processor.
For the most part, apps run fairly smoothly, the launcher itself navigates smoothly, and low-end games run fairly snappily. For more graphically intensive games though, i’m afraid you’re in for disappointment. Games including Asphalt 8 for example, suffered from severe lag and pixelation rendering the game almost unplayable.
The Nokia 5.1 comes with 16GB on board storage (which ends up a little lower thanks to the OS) but this can be expanded by an additional 128GB via MicroSD card, a handy addition when you take lots of pictures or store some music on the device.
Benchmark wise, the Nokia 5.1 did perform on par with say the Nexus 6, OnePlus One, OnePlus 2 in the multicore section but in the single core it wasn’t really any better. These are aging devices, but given the Mediatek processor, I’m not too surprised on this front.
Battery power wise, the Nokia 5.1 comes with a non-removable 2,970mAh battery, which is a little bit smaller than the 3,000mAh powerplant packed in last years Nokia 5. Despite the slightly smaller sized battery of the Nokia 5.1, I found that battery life was a little bit better. An average day would see me taking the device off charge at about 8am and by about 5-ish in the afternoon, there was still a decent amount of power left (about 40-30-ish% with medium usage, 30-20-ish% with heavier usage throughout the day).
The Nokia 5.1 comes with a single 16MP rear camera sensor with built-in Phase Detect Auto-Focus (PDAF), which produced decent shots.
The Nokia camera app didn’t exactly contain as many features as I’d like, with the basics including Panorama, Manual (so, Pro mode) and of course Auto modes included, as well as video, which included a time lapse and slow motion features along with a live video function as well.
The front facing 8MP camera is fine producing decent selfies with the added benefit of Augmented Reality style filters able to be added over your selfies.
There is also a beautify feature which as the name suggest, tries to at least smooth out and focus on you if a selfie or if a group photo, will try to smooth out the background. The sensor includes a 84.6° field of view which Nokia says is great for bringing an entire group of friends into your picture and it’s pretty good at it too.
The shutter speed isn’t as snappy as say the Pixel or Samsung cameras, which offer a faster experience. Having a slower shutter speed can be a frustrating experience when trying to take quick snaps of animals, kids or anything which requires a faster response.
Auto focus was also a little frustrating in terms of speed which frustrated attempts to snap quick shots. Whether this could be fixed by an update to the camera software is possible – and HMD Global have been good about updates, so anything can happen here.
And of course it does video!
The move to Android One from their handset which was simply stock Android with a few customisations wasn’t massive, but with Android One in theory the update schedule (2 years feature with 3 years security) should be very prompt. It’s clean Android, and with the exception of the Camera app (and two others), it’s as clean as an Android purist could want.
There are a couple of Nokia specific apps, such as Nokia Service, which basically provides tips, suport along with a live chat where you can run through the issues you might be having with the device.
The Nokia 5.1 runs Android One 8.0 out of the box with the 5th July 2018 security update but, a security patch update for the 5th October 2018 came through prior to returning the device. The delay in sending out the updates is a little concerning, and we’ve reached out to Nokia for comment.
Using the device was buttery smooth with little lag experienced, with Android One showing it’s becoming a great option for manufacturers to use for this experience alone.
Network connectivity wise, the Nokia 5.1 comes with dual band WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n which was quite strong in its connection to my home WiFi network, along with Bluetooth version 4.2 which again maintained a strong connection with my Bluetooth speakers and headphones along with my Fossil Wander Q smartwatch.
The Nokia 5.1 is unlocked and will work with pretty much all networks available here in Australia. The phone includes support for LTE Cat. 4 allowing for downloads up to 150Mbps. I trialled the phone using the Optus 3G and 4G Plus networks and again strong connections were maintained, which is a good sign.
Should I buy one?
While there are some small gripes and changes I think HMD Global/Nokia should be looking at for future editions of the Nokia 5.1, I think for the most part the phone lives up to the price and potential.
The only quibble is the USB-C port, but we have to leave HMD Global something for next year, and a bit more camera oomph may be nice as well, but for the most part, it’s a win all round.
I can easily recommend the Nokia 5.1 to anyone who want something that both looks and feels like a premium device but doesn’t come with those hefty price tags.
While I was disappointed in last years Nokia 5, the Nokia 5.1 brings it back on track for me, offering exactly what I wanted from this phone. In a sense, HMD Global have made a major improvement with the Nokia 5.1 something that they can rightly be proud of.