Ever since it’s release under the Nokia’s Cseries branding, the Nokia C6 was bound to attract some attention. And for a good reason. The budget price range is quite unusual for what it offers in return: attractive design, a touchscreen enforced with a slide-out qwerty keyboard and all the connectivity you can eat, including voice guided GPS navigation. With a few caveats, it’s not difficult to spot the simple yet beautiful concept behind the Nokia C6 – you get what you see, without going into overdrive with expenses.
The retail packaging
Nokia decided that the subtle design of packaging of Nseries is a bit inappropriate for the lower class phones, and changed it to a more flashy, blue packaging. On a tighter budget, the buyer needs to look for the smaller things that complete a positive picture, so to say. Confusingly enough, a white version of the Nokia C6 can be seen on the front of the box, even though my review unit was the black one. I find both color versions to be fairly attractive, but being classy as I am, my preferred choice would go all the way to black.
As one would expect, the content of the retail box is a bare minimum. Thankfully, Nokia didn’t try to cut any corners and all the essentials are still present, including a charger, an ultra-short USB cable and a simple stereo headset. The charger unit utilizes Nokia’s own proprietary port, and somewhat disappointingly, you cannot charge the phone using the microUSB port. The phone also comes with a 2GB microSD card, which should be enough for a casual smartphone user, but a need for bigger capacity card may be in question later on. Following the latest trends, there’s no disc in the box; instead the installation files for the Ovi software suite can be found on the memory card when you connect the phone to a computer.
The first contact
Interestingly enough, design and feel of the Nokia C6 draws closer associations with the 5800 XPress Music than the N97 mini, both of whom the C6 shares more than a few similarities hardware wise. Perhaps it’s the familiar shape of the call and menu keys that gives it away (if it proven to work on other models, why not use it again?), or the overall plastic feel of the handset. But perhaps one of the biggest initial surprises comes from the rather hefty weight of the C6, which outclasses even the N97 mini, despite the later having more metal elements on it’s body. The lone piece of metal here, unless I’m rudely mistaken, is the frame that wraps around the keyboard on the lower part of the slider, but I’ll get back to that a bit later. Minus the glossy plastic front, the phone is encased in a soft touch plastic that ensures a firm grip and virtually no love for finger prints. Overall, the built materials are adequate for it’s price range and even removes some of the headaches more expensive handset owners are experiencing.
You can view the complete, full-resolution gallery of Nokia C6 here.
Above the 3.2 inch resistive touchscreen, on either side of the earpiece, we come across the usual set of sensors, including the proximity and lighting sensors (for regulating the backlight level of screen), as well as a front camera for video calling. The voice call quality and the reception is top notch, something that is equally good across all kinds of Nokia phones.
Going further, on top of the device, there’s the opening for the 3.5 mm headset jack, and right next to it, a microUSB port that is protected from the outside world with a plastic cap. While I’m definitely far from being an audiophile, I’ve found the sound output via my Sennheiser headphones pretty good – not great, mind you – but fairly acceptable for the pricing level of Nokia C6.
The right side is crowded. First off, there’s the volume keys, that, quite annoyingly, do not work while the screen is turned off. There’s also the screen block switch in the middle (where your thumb is supposed to be – provided you’re holding it in your right hand) that I’ve found a bit fiddly to use like on the N97, leaving doubts about it’s long term usability. To conclude this side of the phone, there’re also a dedicated key for taking snapshots with the camera. Holding down this key it’s also possible to quickly launch the camera application, again, as you’d come to expect.
On the contrary, the left side of the phone is relatively plain with only a microSD card slot near the centre. Looking at the the bottom side, there’s just the Nokia proprietary charger port and hole for the microphone. A subtle nice touch is that the port shines with white ring of light while the phone is charging, and goes off when the battery is full. An eyelet for wrist strap can also be found in the very right corner, if you ever might need one.
There’s also a couple of noteworthy elements on the backside of the Nokia C6, too. To start with, there’s an unprotected camera lens that is accompanied with a single LED flash. The camera resides in slight recess but you still have to take care not to scratch it, and occasionally clean it up from dirt to ensure it doesn’t ruin the quality of pics.
Speaking of quality, the C6 shows a rather mediocre performance between other 5Mpix shooters, meaning the color pallet is good in the produced pictures, but the detail seems to be washed away by some weird processing algorithm. Take a look that the comparison photos with the Nokia N900 for better understanding where the C6 stands:
Nokia N900 (shot in dark)
Nokia C6 (shot in dark)
Just click on any of the thumbnails for the extended Nokia C6 camera sample gallery.
Next up is the lone loudspeaker grill on the opposite corner of the battery cover. It’s not the clearest nor the loudest solution, but it’s fair to say the quality is sufficient not to pass on any incoming calls. For example, I’ve experienced worse results in more expensive Android running smartphones.
The battery cover fastenings are fairly simple, making the whole cover move ever so slightly, and is perhaps another testament of the price level of the C6. Inside, there wasn’t much space left for a bigger capacity battery, so the C6 owners have to settle with just 1200 mAh (same as the N97 mini but less than the 5800 XM). In practice that would suffice for about 1.5 days of moderate usage, but it’s also not hard to drop the charge to nil during a single day. By the way, I had a quite a bit of challenge trying to fish the SIM card out of it’s slot that is accessible only after the battery is removed.
The spring assisted slider opens with a loud and ensuring snap. The upper part of the slider, however, doesn’t lock in closed or open position in a similar manner to the N900, for example. This results in the upper part wobbling ever so slightly while you hold the phone in closed position in portrait mode. It doesn’t seem to affect the usability as much in open, landscape position.
And here’s what separates the C6 from the 5800XM the most: a slide-out, 4 row qwerty keyboard with nicely proportioned keys that have a simply great tactile feedback. Each key is a bit raised from the surface that in turn helps instinctively locate their centre without even looking at them. I’d prefer to have a bit more resistance to the keys like on my N900, but the generous workspace of the keyboard makes the writing process with the C6 a really enjoyable experience. Safe to say, this is one of the definitive strengths of this phone. In comparison, the N97 mini keys have space between them but are considerably smaller.
The touchscreen is decent
The Nokia C6 comes packing with a resistive TFT touchscreen that produces 16M colors. The colors looks faded and cold in comparison to other touchscreen phones I had at my disposal, but the overall picture doesn’t seem to be so bad. Unless, of course, you put it next to more expensive AM-OLED screens. Below you can see a screen comparison test, starting from the bottom: Samsung I8910HD, Nokia C6 and N900.
Having tried both resistive and capaticive touchscreen on a wide range of smartphones, I can say the C6 screen sensitivity is decent enough, and most of the problems I ran into can be tracked back to the small physical size of the screen. The legibility of the screen in direct sunlight was, however, quite poor, a transreflective screen would’ve come in handy here.
Multitasking for the cautious
Under the hood of Nokia C6, we have an ARM 11 processor pounding at 434MHz, which is the same as in the N97 mini and numerous other 5800XM variations. While the internal phone storage has been upped to around 200MB (compared to just 8o Mb on 5800XM), the amount of RAM remains unchanged - 128MB, of whom about 50 MB are free after a fresh reboot. The stability and general speed of the system seems fine – a sign perhaps that Symbian is well on it’s way becoming a mature operating system. Yet you only have to run of couple of heavy apps in the background, say, Ovi Maps and Web browser, and you’ll be under a constant threat of running out of precious memory. In most case scenarios, I’ve noticed the system starts panicking and automatically closing down apps when RAM is below the 10 MB or so mark, but if careful enough, it’s still possible to do a fair bit of multitasking, like shown in the screenshots below (using Handy Taskman and Screensnap):
So the Nokia C6 has one major issue to bear, that will bite it’s user sooner or later: it’s a smartphone that doesn’t fully understand how to act like one. The identity crisis that runs throughout the handset is not because of the Symbian operating system. By itself, it’s a great platform for multitasking, yet the artificial borders set by system resources from a two years past ultimately becomes Nokia C6 Achilles heel. But we have to look at the larger picture or risk running into a wall here.
Nokia C6 is primary meant to be a smartphone for the casual users. Perhaps they just jumped off the feature phone ship and eagerly look forward get the first taste of what it means having a miniature computer in thier pocket – emails, music player or web – all that, compressed and ready for consumption on the go. The user would want to try those things first, not to measure how good or bad the experience was. And then, if he feels like getting rid of the training wheels and tackle multi-tasking head on, he would be looking elsewhere – at different class ,with higher standards. And heftier price.
Having cleared that, let’s have a look on how Nokia C6 will try to even the odds against it. Truth to be told, there’s an awful lot going on. Despite it’s price, Nokia C6 has mastered a pretty fancy list of things that completes a modern smartphone. It’s a quad band phone that can also handle HSDPA networks. Then there’s Wi-Fi and Bluetooth v2.0 with A2DP support. And on top of all that, a A-GPS receiver is on-board. Not so long ago, we could see this kind of all-you-can eat connectivity only on high and mid-tier smartphones, but the fierce competition in the market dictated changes.
Symbian runs deep, still has a few tricks up it’s sleeve
Nokia C6 runs under the Symbian 5th edition operating system. The more recent classification – Symbian^1 – might sound even less impressive (Symbian^3 phones are about to stream into the market, and S^4 is under heavy development). But instead of discussing the growing pains of the current operating system, like the occasional need to double tap vs single tap in menus or the old and tired UI, let’s focus on things the Nokia C6 can actually do, shall we? That way, we will familiarize ourselves with the smartphones most prominent features and leave more food for though for those who are considering buying this phone.
First in line is the homescreen. It has become an essential cornerstone for any modern smartphone operating system, yet in that respect, Symbian 5th is somewhat lagging behind the leading mass. There’s just one homescreen page available for the user to customize with widgets that can be fitted into 5 pre-determined slots. The homescreen content can vary from favorite contacts and program shortucts to rss news feed and email widgets. The rest of the homescreen is occupied by interactive tabs of digital/ analog clock, calendar and active profile. Just like on the N97, you can also flick the homescreen page sideways to quickly hide the personalized content and enjoy a less obscure view of your wallpaper. Finally, if you’re really grown tired of the inconsistency of the Symbian homescreen, you can try out SPB mobile Shell for a completely revamped user experience, but at the expense of RAM, further crippling the multitasking capabilities of this phone.
By default, the main menu is organized in a 3×4 grid with the familiar set of Nokia Ovi themed icons. There’s also an alternative version of the main menu – the list view - but it involves a bit more scrolling work. The kinetic scrolling is present and works a treat in all of the menus, including the contacts book and photo gallery.
Condensed in a 3.2 inch area, the 360 x 640 pixel (nHD) resolution makes the user interface elements appear nice and crisp, while the sensitivity to user finger inputs is fairly good and comparable to the N97 mini, and slightly below the N900 performance.
The Applications folder is where you’ll find most of the content stored on the device. There’s a podcast download manager from Nokia, two apps from Psiloc - Font Manager (with a 7 day full trial) and World Traveler (free but with partially locked features), as well as a handful of apps for social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace or Friendster. Share Online is a useful too for uploading images and video clips to various online sharing websites – Ovi and Vox are ready to used – but I’d suggest getting the stellar Pixelpipe to expand it with more online destinations. A couple of news service apps from Bloomberg, Associated Press and Reuters are also installed, and those can be placed as widgets directly on the homescreen.
The Office folder is where all the productivity apps can be found. This includes the Quickoffice document viewer, a mobile dictionary that is expandable with additional language modules, and a simple converter tool. A rather basic file manager is also included, but it’s useful for formating memory cards and making local backups.
The second folder, ‘Tools’ keeps all the system relevant apps in a single spot. Phone setup is something you would normally run when you first switch on the phone, and it helps transfer user data via bluetooth from a compatible Nokia phone, quickly personalize ringtone and theme, and check for pre-installed app updates (I’ve used it to update Ovi Contacts to latest version and download the free navigation package for Ovi Maps). Settings Wizzard automatically configures internet access points and sets up personal or corporate emails. Ovi Sync basically keeps your contacts and calendar entries synced between the phone and the Ovi website. That way, you will always have an up-to-date copy of your important numbers in case you’d lose your SIM card, for example.
Nokia Ovi store hasn’t changed much since I last seen it, but the content got a little more varied. I went ahead and installed Skype and Ovi Maps Racing, and they worked with no problems.
The web browser did an OK job at rendering moderately sophisticated pages, but occasionally crashes while loading heavy, RAM eating, web pages. The browser automatically goes to full screen mode as soon as it has finished loading a page. A clever little feature is the Google search bar that is visible under the address line.
The music player. Several things I’ve found annoying about it. First, it requires the user to manually refresh the library after transferring new songs, and secondly, there’s a certain disconnect with the player that is used within the default podcasts client. The only cure I found is to ignore the playback possibility in the Podcasting app and use it only as a download tool. As I previously mentioned, the hardware keys to control the volume doesn’t work while the screen block is active. On the upside, it’s possible to change the playback volume with on-screen controls by touching the album art. There’s also integration with Nokia Music store available for a set group of countries.
Ovi Maps navigation didn’t disappoint in Nokia C6 - a thought-out user interface plus all the necessary features makes it an enjoyable experience. The free voice guidance worked a treat as well.
Conclusion, or where it all ends
Chances are you might still be wondering about the tittle of my review. What are the ’good’, the ‘bad’ and the ‘smart’ parts of the Nokia C6? I took the decision to not specifically point those out (more or less) in order to avoid locking the reader in a particular mindset about this device. Instead, if the reader is truly invested, he should be able to discover the parts that matter the most to him while reading trough this review, and then decide, whether the Nokia C6 meets his expectations or not.
For the rest of the people, the Nokia C6 is neither innovative nor evolutionary device. It doesn’t try to be best at anything, nor pretend something it’s not. The absence of extra perks is understandable for it’s price limit. But if you’re simply on a lookout for a capable and affordable device with one of the best physical qwerty keys out there, the C6 is hard bargain to match.
I’ve come across reports that in some countries the Nokia C6 costs as much as the N97 mini. Frankly, I think it’s a poor marketing decision, since the mini offers the same set of features, but with better built materials and only slightly worse keyboard (depending on your personal preferences, I, for once, love my N900 qwerty keys). But if the price difference is there, say, 100 euros, why pay more for the N97 mini, if the C6 can basically do the same. And if having a qwerty keyboard isn’t so important to you, the alternatives expand dramatically – the good ol’ Nokia 5800XM is ready to rock, and has probably dropped in price considerably since it’s original release.
You’re more than welcome to leave your thoughts on the Nokia C6 in the comments section down below – market perspectives, praises, things that Nokia should’ve handled differently – anything. In addition to that, it would also greatly help if you have some useful suggestions on how I can improve this and my future reviews Thank you for reading, and good luck!