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Brand Nokia Made It Big In 2018, In 2019 It Now Needs A Flagship Phone To Complete Its Comeback Story

HMD Global has achieved some impressive numbers in the last two years that most new companies struggle with when the market is as populated as it is today. It has reportedly sold 70 million phones (both feature phones and smartphones) over 2 years. For HMD to revive the Nokia brand name the way it has, it takes a combination of attractive design, good hardware, great software sprinkled with memories of the iconic Nokia brand name. To a large extent, HMD has managed to do just that, especially in 2018.

We are not saying this just because HMD has launched a dozen smartphones, although a part of the reason is just this. A lot of companies like Xiaomi and Samsung have worked that way as well, launching a number of phones across various price segments. But HMD’s growth this year is largely because of how it has managed to meet consumer’s expectations of giving more value at a low cost. A cheap Nokia phone still looks more elegant and premium than most other phones in its class. More importantly, a cheap Nokia phone offers a more consistent and trustworthy software experience thanks to Android One.

Android One goodness

This year, HMD Global forged a deeper partnership with Google by joining the Android One program. This meant that all Nokia smartphones from Nokia 3 and upwards would be Android One phones – a move that has been extremely fruitful for a company that’s trying to set a new path for Nokia. HMD is the only company with the most number of Android One phones right now and that’s a pretty great feat on its own.

By joining the Android One program, HMD has delivered Nokia phones that run stock, pure and lightweight versions of Android OS. This matters more in the affordable segment where low-cost hardware and heavy Android skins haven’t been able to deliver a smooth user experience.

HMD has around six Android One phones under Rs 16,000 that include the Nokia 6.1 Plus (Review), Nokia 6.1 (Review), Nokia 5.1 Plus (Review), Nokia 5.1, Nokia 3.1 Plus (Review) and Nokia 3.1. That’s a lot of Android One options in 2018, something that was rare to see just last year. These phones arguably deliver a more secure, up-to-date Android experience than brands like Xiaomi with Redmi phones on MIUI. But the MIUI vs stock Android debate is for another day.

The icing on the cake here is that HMD is also the only brand with the most number of phones running Android 9 Pie as of now. Six phones in total are now on Pie including the Nokia 7 Plus, Nokia 6.1 Plus, Nokia 6.1, Nokia 7.1, Nokia 8.1 and last year’s Nokia 8.

The Nokia phones that stayed with us

Just because HMD launched around 12 smartphone this year does not mean all have done exceptionally well. I feel it messed up the pricing of the Nokia 3.1 Plus and Nokia 7.1. But HMD has been largely consistent when it comes to launching impressive phones. It started 2018 with the Nokia 7 Plus (Review). The former was well priced at Rs 25,000 for a phone that offered a solid and premium metal body with a Snapdragon 660 chip-set running the show. On top of that, the phone shipped with stock Android Oreo and was the first Nokia phone to get updated to Android 9 Pie.

The second half of 2018 saw a shift in the company’s design philosophy as it moved towards glass bodied phones and adopted the notch. The Nokia 6.1 Plus and 5.1 Plus were already popular in China as the Nokia X6 and X5, respectively before they made their way to India. This is because the phones offered a premium all-glass design with good hardware and stock Android.

But what made things even better was the pricing. The Nokia 6.1 Plus and 5.1 Plus are arguably some of HMD best-priced smartphones in India. The former comes in at Rs 15,999, while the latter offered a terrific deal at Rs 10,999. This helped HMD fight off competition like Xiaomi. In fact, according to some recent polls, the Nokia 6.1 Plus is one of the most popular phones in 2018, and both the phones continue to be great options now that HMD has updated them to Android 9 Pie.

As much as we were waiting for a Nokia flagship phone, HMD instead launched the Nokia 8.1 (Review), which it calls a premium affordable smartphone. This is the Nokia 7 Plus successor that turned out to be as close to a flagship phone as we could get from the company in 2018. At Rs 26,999, the Nokia 8.1 offered a terrific combination of elegant design, Zeiss optics, Snapdragon 710 chip-set and Android 9 Pie. Now, Poco may have spoiled us with the disruptive Poco F1, but the Nokia 8.1 is perhaps the closest right now to take it head on in this segment.

A busy 2018, but something’s missing

HMD stayed true to its promise of rapidly expanding its portfolio in its second year, but there is one phone that we cannot help but miss in this lineup – a Nokia flagship phone. The Nokia 8 Sirocco (Review), despite being a stunning and expensive phone, cannot be labeled a true 2018 flagship as it runs last year’s Snapdragon 835 chip-set. The Sirocco was a terrific phone and we appreciated every little effort that went into designing it, but without a Snapdragon 845 chip-set, it felt misplaced.

With just a few days to go before 2018 comes to an end, it’s safe to say we are not going to see that much-rumored Nokia 9 PureView flagship. It’s hard not to feel disappointed here because of the way HMD was launching one phone after another. The company has further solidified its position in the budget and mid-range segments this, which is great to see, but the company is nowhere to be seen in the high-end market. It’s a small market, sure, but HMD has all the ingredients it needs to offer a promising flagship.

HMD has shown us that it can clearly make a high-end phone with the Nokia 8 Sirocco. It is possible the company will focus more on the high-end segment in 2019, and will likely start things off with the Nokia 9 PureView that is now rumored to be unveiled at CES in January or MWC in February. HMD’s sophomore year has been busy and exciting. It will surely be interesting to see what the company has in store for consumers next year. – India Today

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