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Nokia 5.1 Plus review: The new budget superstar
HMD Global Nokia 5.1 Plus
What we like
What we don't like
With the Nokia 6.1 Plus, HMD Global finally offered a well-rounded mid-range smartphone where, unlike the company’s 2017 portfolio, the specifications sheet didn’t look dated and the pricing didn’t evoke, to put it mildly, a mixed reaction.
The Nokia 5.1 Plus is the step in the same direction and shares a similar design language as well as the overall ethos. At first glance, one can easily mistake it for a lower spec’d sibling of the Nokia 6.1 Plus, but looks only tell half the story.
With the Nokia 5.1 Plus, HMD Global aims for a balance of design and performance, at probably the most competitive price in markets like India. Let’s take a deep dive in this Nokia 5.1 Plus review and see if it delivers.
The Nokia 5.1 Plus almost looks like a Nokia 6.1 Plus. There’s no getting around it, but it’s not a bad thing. The 6.1 Plus, and by extension the 5.1 Plus, upped the ante for the design of budget smartphones. The finesse in design and the reassuring build quality makes the 5.1 Plus seem like it should be more expensive.
There’s glass on the rear, and the black one I used looked great, though a glass back of course attracts fingerprints and smudges, so bear that in mind. It’s also quite slippery as expected, and I think a lot of people would prefer to snap a protective case on it.
Along with the Nokia 6.1 Plus, the Nokia 5.1 Plus is among the most compact smartphones in the market right now. There’s only the moderately large 5.8-inch display on the front (with a notch and minimum bezels, that is). It’s not exactly bezel-less since the phone’s frame peeks from around the edges of the display along with a proper chin at the bottom.
The Nokia 5.1 Plus sports nicely rounded corners, which make the phone nice to hold and use with one hand.
Nokia 5.1 Plus impresses with its striking chassis and build quality and overall ergonomics.
At the back, the dual cameras and the fingerprint sensor along with the Nokia branding are stacked right in the center giving the device symmetrical aesthetics. The cameras protrude a little, so the phone doesn’t rest flat on surfaces. There’re no silver accents around the camera module, the fingerprint sensor, and the buttons like on the 6.1 Plus which added a nice premium touch.
Overall, the Nokia 5.1 Plus impresses with its striking chassis and build quality and overall ergonomics — all in a sub-$200 smartphone.
On the front side, there’s a 5.8-inch HD+ display with a 19:9 aspect ratio. The tall display is almost the perfect size for most people. There’s a considerably wider notch that leaves little space for status indicator icons.
It’s a pretty good display for a budget smartphone. The color reproduction is just right with enough punch, and the viewing angles are great.
While the screen brightness is decent for usage in bright sunlight outdoors, at some angle, the display can get very reflective. The adaptive brightness is iffy though.
Powered by the MediaTek Helio P60 chipset with Mali-G72 MP3 GPU, the Nokia 5.1 Plus packs in 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage.
The Nokia 5.1 Plus chugs along nicely in everyday usage and didn’t fail at anything I threw at it. Much of it is because vanilla Android requires few resources and the memory management on the phone is terrific.
I did not face any stutters while multitasking with about half a dozen apps in the background or switching between games. Web browsing with a bunch of tabs open was a breeze and it manages to hold up nice while playing graphic-intensive games like the Asphalt 9: Legends. There’s of course some slight lag here and there, like when items in an app take a second to populate the screen, or a noticeable delay before the keyboard appears when you tap in a text input area, or just launching an odd app. These are expected in a budget smartphone, and not really a showstopper.
The Helio P60 chipset offers a good mix of performance and power efficiency. In real world usage, the phone easily lasts for an entire day with its 3,060mAh battery. Fast charging allows the phone to go from zero to 100 percent with the bundled charger in just over two hours, which is pretty good. Using a third-party Quick Charge 3.0-compatible charger, this only takes 90 minutes.
HMD Global deserves big props for offering a USB Type-C port on the Nokia 5.1 Plus, instead of a MicroUSB port. Most budget and mid-range smartphones still go with the MicroUSB port and the Type-C port has hitherto been the preserve of more expensive phones.
The smartphone includes a hybrid dual-SIM tray, so you can use two nano SIMs or one SIM and a microSD card up to 400GB if memory expansion is important for you.
The Nokia 5.1 Plus sports a dual camera setup at the back with a 13MP primary sensor with an f/2.0 aperture combined with a 5MP secondary depth sensor. For a budget smartphone, the Nokia 5.1 Plus manages to capture quite agreeable shots outdoors. The color reproduction is accurate, and the sharpness is on track with a good amount of detail.
In low-light conditions, a little noise creeps in and the lack of detail is noticeable. Some of the shots are quite grainy too.
The 8MP front camera with f/2.2 aperture takes serviceable selfies in good lighting conditions but struggles a bit at night. It’s wide enough for those group selfies, but there’s no depth of field.
While the camera app is good enough, there’s a definite lag in capturing a photo after pressing the shutter button. It’s noticeable if you’re coming from a better spec’d smartphone, but otherwise no big deal. The app is fast enough to lock the focus, but it’s hit or miss.
The Live Bokeh mode allows you to alter the depth of field, adjusting the level of bokeh effect. Most of the photos I captured in the mode came out quite well, with decent edge detection and a nice background blur.
All things considered, the camera setup on the Nokia 5.1 Plus is pretty good. Go in with modest expectations, and it will serve you quite well — except the lazy reaction time while clicking photos. Here are all the photos in high resolution if you want to do some pixel peeping.
Android One certification means the smartphone will receive two years of guaranteed Android “letter” upgrades and three years of monthly security updates. It’s likely to receive Android Pie soon and will also get Android Q, whenever that happens.
There’s no bloatware or duplicate apps, but the Nokia 5.1 Plus comes with the Google Pay app pre-installed which you can uninstall if you don’t need.
The implementation of the notch could be better. In landscape mode while playing games or watching videos, the area on either side of it is wasted.
|Nokia 5.1 Plus|
5.9-inch HD+ (720 x 1520)
19:9 aspect ratio
2.5D Cover Glass
MediaTek HelioP60 MT6771
Octa Core; up to 1.8Ghz
Expandable with MicroSD card up to 400GB
Rear: 13MP PDAF f/2 + 5MP depth sense
Front: 8MP FF
Gyroscope, Ambient light sensor, Proximity sensor, Accelerometer, Fingerprint
GSM Quad band
WCDMA 1, 5, 8
LTE 1, 3, 5, 8, 40, 41 (120MHz)
3.5mm audio jack
Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac, BT 4.2, GPS/AGPS/GLONASS/BDS/Galileo
Android 8.1 Oreo (Android One)
Dimensions and weight
149.51 x 71.98 x 8.096mm
Gloss Black / Gloss White / Gloss Midnight Blue
Pricing and final thoughts
The Nokia 5.1 Plus is a pretty well-rounded budget smartphone, with a good balance of performance, camera, and battery life all packed in an upmarket chic-looking chassis with progressive choices like a USB Type-C port.
The Nokia 5.1 Plus offers an uncompromised smartphone experience for those who don’t pick up smartphones based on specifications sheet.
Android One is the icing on the cake, delivering a seamless stock Android experience. HMD Global has done well this year delivering regular updates for existing Nokia phones. So far the company’s kept up with its pitch of pure and up-to-date Android.
At 10,999 rupees (~$149) in India, the Nokia 5.1 Plus is definitely worth the money. It’s now my automatic recommendation for someone looking for a sub-$150 smartphone.
There’s something reassuring about a Nokia phone, and HMD Global has done quite well to offer an uncompromised experience for those who don’t pick up smartphones based on specifications sheets.