As somebody who spends numerous time with smartphones, I typically get requested, “Hey Ron, what Android cellphone ought to I purchase?” The high-end reply is normally simple: purchase a Pixel cellphone. However not everyone seems to be keen to shell out $650+ for a smartphone, particularly the kinds of informal customers that ask for recommendation. Past the flagship smartphones, issues get harder throughout the Android ecosystem. Motorola beneath Google was once nice at constructing a non-flagship cellphone, however because the firm was offered to Lenovo (which gutted the replace program), it has been powerful to discover a first rate cellphone that is not tremendous costly.

Enter HMD’s Nokia telephones, a whole lineup of low cost smartphones starting from $100 to $400. HMD not too long ago launched the second technology of its lineup, with telephones just like the Nokia 2.1, three.1, and 5.1. We not too long ago hung out with the very best finish cellphone on this collection that occurs to be one of many few HMD units on the market within the US: the Nokia 6.1. And for $269, you get a fairly spectacular-sounding package deal of a Snapdragon 630, a 5.5-inch 1080p display, inventory Android eight.1, quick updates, and a metallic physique.

The autumn of Nokia and the rise of HMD

Since that is the primary HMD-made Nokia cellphone we have reviewed, it is in all probability good to dive into the historical past of HMD first. Consider it or not, this firm was particularly created to be “The house of Nokia telephones.”

As soon as upon a time in a post-iPhone world, Nokia employed a Microsoft government to be the brand new CEO of the corporate. Nokia grew to become an unique Home windows Telephone producer. Many poor Microsoft-centric enterprise selections had been made by Nokia’s Microsoft government. Finally Nokia’s worth fell low sufficient that Microsoft ended up shopping for Nokia’s cellphone division.

Thus, Nokia grew to become a telecommunications firm that did not make telephones, Microsoft received a cellphone producer and a 10-year license to make use of the Nokia model, and the Microsoft government received to return dwelling to Microsoft.

In-house Microsoft telephones weren’t finally sufficient to avoid wasting Home windows Telephone, and when the platform died, the top of Nokia telephones appeared imminent. With Nokia telephones in bother, a mysterious firm known as “HMD World” appeared. Together with Foxconn subsidiary FIH Cellular, HMD quickly began shopping for up what was left of the previous Nokia belongings. Finally, branding, software program, patents, licenses, and four,500 staff had been divvied up between the 2 corporations. HMD grew to become the worldwide licensee of the Nokia model for telephones, and it had an settlement to do manufacturing at FIH Cellular’s newly fortified amenities.

However the place did this mysterious “HMD” firm come from? In the event you’re like me (and you have adopted this sort of insider business information for awhile), any time an previous model will get snatched up by one other firm, you assume it is some Chinese language agency trying to break into wider markets. Motorola, Blackberry, and Palm all roughly match into this narrative. However evidently this destiny hasn’t befallen Nokia—HMD is not trying to put on the Nokia model like a desiccated husk. HMD is totally different.

The similarities between HMD and Nokia are so quite a few, it’s virtually suspicious. HMD, like Nokia, is a Finnish firm. Almost all of HMD’s executives are former Nokia staff. HMD’s headquarters is definitely throughout the road from Nokia HQ. HMD shouldn’t be Nokia, and Nokia does not maintain any funding in HMD, nevertheless it appears unlikely that two corporations might be any nearer whereas nonetheless being legally and financially distinct.

Enlarge / What separates Nokia from HMD? About 100 toes of asphalt.

Google Maps / Ron Amadeo

Up to now, HMD has stood out as a smartphone firm by saying all the precise issues in terms of the software program. Most OEMs attempt to rebrand Android with a heavy pores and skin that gives little worth to customers, however HMD has been pushing a “Pure Android” angle for its software program. It is also placing an emphasis on quick updates, promising units which might be “pure, safe, and updated.” In the present day, HMD can also be one of many uncommon corporations that’s placing effort into low- and mid-range smartphones.

HMD sells characteristic telephones, too, an initiative that also strikes vital items within the growing world. With its plethora of Nokia DNA, HMD has even managed to make characteristic telephones fascinating by resurrecting legendary Nokia telephones of the previous. Up to now we have seen remakes of the Nokia 3310 “brick” cellphone and the “banana cellphone,” the Nokia 8110.

In its newest spherical of funding, HMD was valued at greater than a billion . In 2017—HMD’s first 12 months of operation—the corporate shipped 70 million Nokia-branded telephones (that is smartphones and have telephones) with gross sales operations in additional than 80 nations. Between smartphones, characteristic telephones, and a spherical of second-generation units, there are already about 20 HMD-made Nokia telephones. It isn’t pointless mannequin spam both; Nokia’s seven present smartphones every occupy a singular value level, starting from about $100 to $700. That is a completely outrageous quantity of progress for a corporation that’s solely a year-and-a-half previous—once more, it is all sort of curious. This does not appear to be a startup firm in any respect. It feels extra like somebody walked right into a dusty previous Nokia manufacturing unit, switched on the lights, and began churning out telephones once more.

Regardless of all its progress, HMD’s spectacular scale hasn’t but translated to profitability: the corporate posted a $77 million loss in 2017. It has solely been a 12 months, although, and it definitely looks as if HMD’s off a superb begin. The corporate undoubtedly seems much more steady than the final billion-dollar smartphone startup, Andy Rubin’s Important. Evaluate the primary 12 months for every: HMD diversified and launched, like, 12 cellphone fashions at a spread of value factors. Important guess the farm on a single high-end smartphone, it did not promote properly, and now the corporate appears to be circling the drain.

For now, the one unhealthy factor I can say about HMD is that it has been powerful to get these Finnish telephones in the USA. The Nokia 6.1 is likely one of the few HMD telephones that has made the leap to America up to now, however there’s excellent news on that entrance. We’re scheduled to get extra HMD units within the US this 12 months than we did final 12 months.

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