The Mobile World Congress 2018 has ended. For a while now, the MWC is losing its charm. Big phone companies now shy away from the fest, instead preferring to hold their own separate events so that they don’t get overshadowed by others. This time at the MWC, the phones that were truly impressive were few. Samsung’s Galaxy S9 and the Galaxy S9 turned out to be, as expected, exquisite and full of features that befit their status as the top phones of the Android world. Vivo showed Apex, a phone that is so far ahead of its time you probably won’t be able to buy it for another year or two. But the most impressive show was put up by HMD Global that showcased the Nokia 7 Plus, new Nokia 6 (2018), Nokia 1 and the Nokia 8 Sirocco.
These are the phones — the Nokia 8 Sirocco is an exception — that target the mainstream and regular users. And they bring to table good enough hardware, impressive design, pure and clean Android with promise of regular updates and a feature set that will help them compete well in the market. With the Nokia 7 Plus, new Nokia 6 (2018), Nokia 1 and the Nokia 8 Sirocco, Nokia also showed that it is not following the herd. Instead, it is charting its own path, a path where it takes care of the basic needs that phone users have and then tops it with a design that is classic Nokia.
Compared to the rest of the — there are exceptions like the OnePlus here — Android phone makers, Nokia’s vision for the smartphone for 2018 seem to have a clarity that is missing in other phones.
Other phone makers are chasing Apple with the new phones that come with the same notch that the iPhone X has. Or they chase the trend of multiple rear cameras, mindlessly putting as many cameras as they can in their phones. Or they are removing the headphone jack because it is fashionable. Or they are cramming their phones with tons and tons of RAM because that sounds so cool on the specification sheet. And even as they do all this, they aren’t focussing on the software. Their phones still come with a user interface that users may love in China but seems completely over-the-top in the Indian market. And examples of the such phone companies are many. I mean just look at the Huawei phones, which seem to come packed with garish software that completely looks and feel out of the place even if the hardware in Honor phones is pretty good.
Nokia and Android One
HMD Global, the company that is behind the Android-powered Nokia phones has a taken a cleaner approach to the whole game. Since beginning it has focussed on providing users with clean version of Android. Last year it was lightly modified Android that Nokia called Pure Android. This year with the Nokia 7 Plus, Nokia 6, and the Nokia 8 Sirocco it is the Android One. Then there is the Android Go in the Nokia 1. Essentially it all amounts to the same thing. With Nokia phones, you will be getting clean software, you will have a good shot at getting Android updates. For now, though, I will still sound sceptical on the updates part because the proof of the pudding is in eating. But at least one thing is sure. Compared to a Huawei or Oppo phone, A Nokia phone will have better chance of getting the Android update in 2018.
While the software and Nokia’s approach to the user experience sounds impressive, the key bit behind Nokia’s potential this year is the design and the hardware of the Nokia 1, Nokia 6, Nokia 7 Plus and the Nokia 8 Sirocco. Last year’s Nokia phones, except the Nokia 8, were lacking somewhat in the raw specifications, especially compared to the Xiaomis and Huaweis. This year Nokia moves to fix it.
The Nokia 6 (2018) looks very impressive, if it sells at the price of around Rs 16,000. When launched in India, not only it would be one of the most well-designed phones in the market, unlike the existing Nokia 6 phone, it will also come with more powerful hardware compared to what the current Nokia 6 has. The hardware is one thing that holds the current Nokia 6 back. Chances are that when compared directly, the hardware in the Xiaomi Note 5 Pro will still be better than what the Nokia 6 (2018) comes with. But it is the in the looks, in software, in build quality and design that the Nokia 6 will look better. And given that hardware in it is going to be decent, it may sway a lot of consumers.
The same may turn out to be true for the Nokia 7 Plus, which arguably is the phone of the MWC 2018. There is a thread over there in the Reddit Android forums discussing the phone that people found most impressive at the MWC 2018, and in reply after reply the Reddit users mention the Nokia 7 Plus.
Nokia 1, meanwhile, could change the game completely in the Indian market. It could be the phone for many who still cling to their Nokia, or a Nokia look-alike, feature phone. It is likely to cost less than Rs 5,000 in India and with its good enough hardware paired with clean Android Go could be one of the most impactful phone of 2018 in India.
HMD Global sold a little less than 10 million smartphones in 2017, according to Counterpoint Research. This is a number that is quite impressive for a company that is making a comeback. Chances are that for Nokia, 2018 is going to be even more impressive because its lineup is so much better this year. Sure, Nokia can still stumble. The Nokia 8 Sirocco looks little overpriced, and unless the Nokia 9 (a phone expected in the coming months) hits all the right note, Nokia may not have a true flagship in its line-up. But a bigger concern is Nokia’s ability to execute. In 2017, the company was slow, and struggled a bit with the supply chain. If this year, HMD Global can execute a little better, launch the phones at the right time, and supply them into the market at prices that are competitive, Nokia would be star performer in 2018.