Nokia's fresh start hinges on these Android phones

Meet the Nokia 3, Nokia 5, Nokia 6 and limited edition 'Arte Black.'


For years, people have wondered what an Android-powered Nokia phone would look like. The company's trademark design prowess, matched with Google's software and stellar app support; a match made in heaven, right? Well, after all these years, we can finally find out. Sort of. HMD Global, a Finnish startup, has made four smartphones on Nokia's behalf. One of them, the Nokia 6, was announced at CES, while the other three are completely new. All of them will launch in the second quarter of 2017, with "global" availability through more than 500 retailers and carriers.

The cheapest and most cheerful is the Nokia 3. The €139 (roughly $147) handset has a 5-inch, 720p display and a MediaTek MT6737 processor buried inside. With 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage and a 2650mAh battery, it's not the most thrilling spec sheet. But Nokia says it's paid attention to the details, crafting a device that transcends its modest components. How? Well, for one, it runs stock Android. Nokia has added some custom wallpapers and ring tones, but otherwise, it's the same software experience you would find on a Nexus or Pixel. No annoying skin, no unnecessary apps. Just Android Nougat and the promise of speedy software updates.

The Nokia 3 is also good-looking. The frame has been forged from a single piece of aluminium, with softly rounded corners and a discreet, bump-free camera housing on the back. It's not as bright or boisterous as the Lumia phones of old, but it still looks and feels like a Nokia. HMD says it wanted the "hand-feel, reliability and robustness" that previous Nokia phones were known for. Nothing superfluous, just good Scandinavian design, where "there is a purpose behind everything single detail." In a sea of cheap and mostly forgettable Android phones, it could prove all the difference.

If you have a little more money to spend, there's the €189 (roughly $200) Nokia 5. It's a noticeably more powerful package, running on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 processor. You're stuck with 2GB of RAM, but it's enough to make launching and switching apps feel just a tad snappier. With 16GB of internal storage, you'll want to take advantage of the microSD slot, which supports cards up to 128GB. The 5.2-inch, 720p display is serviceable, and the 3000mAh battery should keep you going all day.

The Nokia 5 has a 13-megapixel camera on the back and an 8-megapixel, wide-angle selfie snapper on the front. Again, however, it's the design and clutter-free Android experience that shine. Like the Nokia 3, the new phone will come in four colors: "tempered blue," silver, black and copper. They all look fairly slick, though I wish the company had gone for some bolder options too, such as orange or cyan. (R.I.P. Nextbit Robin.)

If you liked the sound of the Nokia 6 in January, good news: It's no longer a China exclusive. The 5.5-inch, 1080p phone will be joining its cheaper siblings with a €229 ($242) price tag next quarter. The "global" edition is mostly unchanged from its China-specific counterpart, with a Snapdragon 430 processor and a 3000mAh battery inside. The software is pretty different, however. To sell the phone in China, Nokia had to make some Android-related tweaks, such as removing the Google Play store. For the rest of the world, however, the team is able to go back to vanilla Android.

The phone comes with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage (expandable with a microSD card) but for €30 extra, you can buy a limited edition "Arte Black" model instead. Along with the sweet, high-gloss paint job, you'll get 4GB of RAM and 64GB of onboard storage. A far cry from flagship quality, but for now it's the most powerful and premium handset in HMD's arsenal. I asked if the team is working on a top-tier smartphone, and a spokesperson simply said "stay tuned," before adding that the company "can compete, even on the high end." Make of that what you will.

HMD's new Nokia phones make a good first impression. I feel like we've been here before, however, with Motorola and its rebooted Moto line. For the last few years, the Moto G and Moto E have stood apart with their snazzy designs and mostly stock Android experiences. Is there room for another player? HMD certainly thinks so. It's banking on the Nokia name, which people still relate to quality and reliability. That cachet is unique and will help its cause as customers mull their next upgrade in carrier stores. But as we've seen with HTC, and even Xiaomi, the Android market is a tough place to thrive. The team will need to fight tooth and nail to survive.