Nokia X6 £449
7th Dec 2009 | 12:50
Will Nokia's much-hyped new music phone live up to expectations?
Nokia X6: Overview
Update - the Nokia X6 has now been updated to include a 16GB version, which strips the Comes with Music offering and is available at a lower price too.
The persistence of manufacturers when it comes to touchscreen mobile phones has to be applauded.
It might be that only a few - notably HTC, Apple and Palm - have really cracked the marriage of hardware and software - but that hasn't stopped everyone else attempting to achieve the same success. Nokia's own efforts have been hit and miss.
The Nokia 5530 XpressMusic isn't without its good points, but all of Nokia's touchscreen phones so far have had resistive screens.
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Among other things, that means they all came with old-fashioned styluses, and didn't work properly when you touched the screen with more than one finger. That meant reduced typing speeds, and user gestures that are so intuitive on other phones – pinching to zoom on the iPhone, for instance - were unavailable.
Nokia has heard its customers' complaints.
The X6 looks like a traditional slider phone - at 13.8mm thick it certainly looks like it could accommodate a physical keyboard. However, there are hardly any buttons to be found as the 3.2-inch touchscreen is capacitive, theoretically making a physical keyboard redundant.
There is a wealth of features besides. A whopping 32GB/16GB of internal storage and an FM radio make it tempting for entertainment even before you consider Nokia's intriguing Comes With Music service.
Even the camera has received the kind of attention you don't see on cheaper models - a 5MP sensor behind Carl Zeiss optics gives the X6 plenty of sheen.
But is the touchscreen a gimmick? The S60 operating system has a number of detractors, and just because a phone ticks all the right boxes on a specification sheet doesn't necessarily mean it'll make its users happy.
Nokia X6: Interface
Anyone who's used a Nokia phone in the last few years will know what to expect from Symbian S60 5th Edition.
Being touchscreen only and (thankfully) stylus-free, all the on-screen buttons are sensibly-sized for fingertips, and the screen itself is excellent.
With its 3.5-inch diagonal, you could be forgiven for thinking it's bigger than the iPhone's 3.2-inch screen, but the reality is that the different aspect ratio - 16:9 to the iPhone's 1.5:1 - means you actually get more real estate on Apple's phone or the HTC Hero, with which the iPhone shares screen size and resolution.
However, the Nokia X6 is higher resolution than either, with its 640 x 360 display. Presumably with its tongue in its cheek, Nokia describes the display as HD, but you shouldn't be fooled into thinking you can shoehorn an actual HD video onto it.
The screen may not be huge, but it's certainly bright. Photos and videos look great on the glossy screen, and the sensor works well, adjusting the screen's brightness depending on your surroundings.
It's also highly accurate when it comes to fingertip commands, although it seems a shame that Nokia hasn't fully used the capacitive screen - pinch to zoom, such a natural-feeling gesture on other phones - is absent.
To zoom you need to double tap the screen. The X6 also gives a little buzz of haptic feedback every time you touch the screen, which helps indicate you've tapped successfully if you can't see the button behind your finger.
With the screen the primary way of making the X6 do things, there are only a few other buttons. Dial and hang-up buttons bookend the main menu button, while the right-hand edge hosts a volume control, shutter release, and a sliding switch that locks and unlocks the phone.
There's an almost unnoticeable extra touch-sensitive button in the top right of the screen, which when tapped produces a small menu giving you quick access to your photos, music, videos and the internet.
The interface isn't without its quirks, though. For instance, some menu selections are made with a single press of the finger. Others require a press of the finger to highlight an option, and a second tap to activate it. This inconsistency means it can be difficult to tell when the X6 is working on launching an application, or silently waiting for you to confirm a choice.
And you'll see it working to launch an application a lot. We encountered numerous performance problems with our review unit.
After syncing a calendar, contact and message set with it, launching contacts from the front page took an age, while other applications often launched impressively fast. It's another inconsistency that can make the X6 frustrating to use. The 434MHz processor should be able to keep up.
Nokia's Ovi store is included, and allows you to install applications and games, although we remain underwhelmed by the breadth of the store's offerings. More usefully the service offers calendar and email utilities for those who don't have them.
Nokia X6: Calls, messaging and internet
There are far more interesting things to do with the X6 than simply call people, but fortunately the actual dialling interface is straightforward to use and we had no problems with call quality. Likewise, the bundled earphones are reasonable, and for those who don't like them, the 3.5mm headphone jack on the top of the phone is a definite bonus.
The high resolution screen might be perfect for watching the odd video and looking at pictures, but the one area that it makes life difficult is creating messages. With the phone held upright (aka in portrait mode) you're presented with a predictive text T9 numeric keypad.
This is all well and good if you're coming from another candybar style phone, but frequent emailers will prefer the full QWERTY keyboard that's presented when you hold the phone sideways.
Accuracy is definitely good - the capacitive touchscreen means you don't need to lift your finger off the screen before placing another one down, and you'll reach much higher speeds on this touchscreen than on any of Nokia's previous efforts.
Indeed, with a bit of practice it's easy to reach almost the same speed on the X6 as on a phone with a physical keyboard. The on-board dictionary isn't as clever as that of the iPhone's so you need to be a little more careful when typing, but overall it works well.
The only drawback to the keyboard is the relatively narrow screen - the 16:9 aspect ratio and relatively high resolution might make the X6 excellent for watching films, but it means there's less space for the keys and messaging window. It can all feel a little cramped, particularly in the first few days.
It's no surprise that the browser offers the "full" internet, attempting to render pages the same as on a desktop PC. It generally works well - the accelerometer is reliable when it comes to flipping pages, and being prompted to save user names and passwords each time you enter them on a new site is handy.
Again, however, we noticed a few performance constraints. On large pages with several pictures - or worse, busy Flash elements - the browser would often freeze, leaving us unable to drag the page around or even enter a new address.
We never needed to reset the phone - the hang-up button was normally enough to take us back to the main menu - but it's annoying that the X6 offers functions it doesn't seem fast enough to perform properly.
Nokia X6: Camera
The 5MP camera is very good indeed. A pair of LEDs allow you to snap pictures in low light, and our test images show good detail resolution and a high degree of colour accuracy.
This is a reasonably well-balanced exposure – note the lack of chromatic aberration on the high contrast leaves behind the phone box.
Again, a good exposure with a smooth, deep sky, although the camera has struggled to resolve much detail in the shadows.
The camera has struggled a bit here. Although the exposure is more or less right, the berries themselves, and other highlights in the picture, have been blown out.
A tricky one to get right – a very wide range of brightness and the X6 has just about got it right, erring towards exposing the house correctly rather than trying to salvage lots of detail in the shadows.
Nokia X6: Media and misc features
The X6 syncs nicely with Windows Media Player, and we had no trouble transferring a few DivX files without needing to view the phone's folder structure manually, and the same goes for music.
The Nokia X6 32GB version also gives you unlimited access to tunes for a year through the Comes with Music - you can either connect to a PC and transfer tracks over, or switch to 3G and Wi-Fi to download them directly to the phone.
The Nokia X6 16GB version chops off this CwM functionality - at half the internal storage it's no slouc
Flipping between music tracks was fine; swapping out of the video interface proved trickier - the X6's performance foibles rose to the forefront again here.
There are some interesting other features. The Playlist DJ gives you four sliders, representing happiness, love, anger and tranquillity, and the idea is you slide them around depending on your mood to generate a playlist to suit you.
Profiling songs can take a while and requires an internet connection, and takes longer if your music isn't named correctly. The system itself is somewhat hit and miss.
Telling the X6 we were in the mood for some downbeat music resulted in a playlist which contained (correctly) a smattering of AIM tracks and a few Death Cab for Cutie songs, but also included the distinctly un-chilled Whatz Ya Phone Number by 2pac.
The 1,320mAh battery in the Nokia was dependable while we had the phone. We made a few phone calls, browsed the internet via Wi-Fi, and watched a few videos, and the X6 lasted around 30 hours away from the charger, which is wholly respectable.
Nokia claims a GSM standby time of up to 17 days, which is impressive, although the sheer number of features offered by the X6 means you're unlikely to leave it alone if you find yourself with a quiet moment. The claimed music playback time of 35 hours is iPod touch-beating.
The X6 is compatible with Nokia's ActiveSync application, which gives you access to an Exchange server (and Google Apps), allowing you to use your calendar, contacts and email in the X6's native applications. Frustratingly, the calendar doesn't have a shortcut on the X6's home screen, although this default can be changed in the phone's settings menu.
Otherwise, the X6's default applications are rather thin on the ground. There's no stopwatch included by default, and our review unit didn't even come with a trial version of Quickoffice, giving you no easy way to open Word documents received as attachments, for instance.
Nokia's good PC Suite software is compatible with the X6, and offers a handy way of syncing local information such as calendar appointments and emails. And, if you'd rather not use Media Player to sync music and video, PC Suite gives you the option, as well as transcoding content it doesn't think will work on your phone.
Nokia X6: Verdict
The Nokia X6 looks better on paper than it is in real life. The capacitive screen and 32GB of internal memory should ensure that it's great for multimedia, while the flexible Symbian operating system allows plenty of flexibility.
It's undeniably nicely made, and certain crucial features, such as typing messages, work better on this device than they have on any other Nokia touchscreen phone. However, we encountered performance issues every day we used the X6.
Sometimes they appeared where no performance issues had existed before and vanished just as fast - an unpredictability just as frustrating as the sluggish speed.
The screen is superb, and the internet browser, which allows you to view desktop pages as their designers intended, works well. Typing messages - finally - works well on the screen, and frequent texters will have no problems reaching supersonic speeds.
The keyboard is excellent. It's a good media phone as well. There's masses of storage, which is handy for those who have a lengthy commute and want something to keep them entertained, and features such as the Playlist DJ, while flawed, are enjoyable additions.
Our chief problem with the X6 is its performance. We were often left guessing whether our key press had been recognised, and sometimes tapping a button again resulted in unpredictable behaviour.
We experienced performance slowdowns in most areas, but particularly when viewing large web pages, loading a stuffed contacts book, and watching videos.
The extra second or so occasionally encountered between tapping an icon and anything happening is frustrating. The way the interface occasionally requires a double tap can also be annoying, at least while you're still learning the ropes.
The screen, although bright and sharp, feels a little tight at times. Widescreen videos, for instance, often feel like they could use an extra half inch vertically.
And while we like the on-screen keyboard, broadly speaking, there's no denying that the keys feel a little on the small side, while the built-in dictionary is often not quite clever enough considering the slightly higher error rate on a virtual keyboard.
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