Nokia X6 Hero

The Nokia X6 is a real looker, with cool colored plastic accents, and a large 16:9 capacitive touch screen in a candy bar format. It will retail for around the R7000 mark for the 32GB version and R5500 for the 16GB version. This all sounds rather good but don’t be fooled by its impressive specs sheet.

The Nokia X6 is a reasonably well-built device. The menu, call and hang-up buttons have good feedback and it sits rather comfortably in the hand. The issue is that the X6 does not feel like a quality device. Most other devices in its price range are made from very high quality plastic or some form of metal; while the X6 is made from the same plastic as most other, much cheaper, Nokia’s.

Another quality issue I came across are the panel gaps; the X6 has a charger port which wobbles about as if it was an attached as an afterthought and the cool, colored, plastic strips above and below the screen, are just waiting to be snagged and come off. This is not acceptable for such a high-end device, especially when you consider the competition. The main body of the iPhone 3G (X6’ main rival) consists of, and I counted, three separate pieces of material: the back cover, the screen and the metal bezel. What this does, is give it a very solid expensive feel, as there are no rough pieces of plastic or rubber.

What I do not understand is that Nokia feature two supremely high quality devices in their lineup. The 8800 Arte and the 8600 Luna. These devices make the iPhone – and almost everything by HTC – feel like they came from a lucky packet. I know they are extremely expensive devices (Retailing for around R20 000 and R14 000 respectively, that’s if you can find them!) but surely, their manufacturing techniques should filter down?

The X6 does redeem itself with a well optimized OS. It runs a slightly updated and tweaked version of Symbian S60, which is unfortunately still a bit of a lame duck. S60 is seriously outclassed by Android 2.1, BlackBerry V5 and iPhone OS 3.1. These OS’ are all available on similar touch screen devices for around the same price.

The problem with S60 everything is a process; nothing is just taken care of. For instance, let’s say I want to call James. I have now embarked on a four-step process – James-select, Mobile-select, Call-select and Voice Call-select. What it should be is – James-select, Mobile-select. Every other manufacturer does it this way, a two-step process. Which will save you time, 50% to be exact. It is a similar story when I want to send old James an SMS, or write on his wall on Facebook, or send him an email or do just about anything! Everything takes longer than it should.

When browsing the web I was faced with similar frustrations. When you open the Browser you are presented with bookmarks, not your bookmarks mind-you, you need to scroll down for those. No, you are presented with a list of pre-selected bookmarks, of which I never found one useful. You can delete them, but only one at a time and again it is a process – Bookmark-select, Options-select Bookmark manager-select, Delete-select, Delete Bookmark?-select.

You get the point. Nothing on the X6 is easy, nothing just flows. Granted what this system does is give you more options, yet ironically you feel less in control than if you had fewer options!

What Nokia have got right is their email client. Nokia Messaging. It is fantastic. It supports all major email providers, Gmail and Google Apps, Live Mail, Yahoo Mail and of course, OVI Mail – Nokia’s own free email service. You can also opt to input the settings manually if you run your own server. The setup process is quite simple. You setup a Nokia Messaging account either on the device or online, add your email accounts (make sure you have IMAP enabled) and your email is pushed to the X6.

Nokia Messaging has a range of very intelligent options. For instance, you can have different signatures for different accounts. In addition, you can setup Nokia messaging to receive emails only during working hours and only on certain days. This is especially if you are one of the lucky people who can “switch off” when they get home.

Unfortunately, this is the end of the X6’s useful business features. The calendar would have been perfect, except for one major issue. I have multiple calendars; one for work, one for varsity and one for personal. Symbian can only handle one calendar, which meant that I had to choose which one to synchronize. This resulted in many missed lectures…

In terms of synchronizing the X6 synchronizes perfectly with both Windows and Mac. Using Nokia’s OVI Suite on Windows and an iSync plug-in on Mac. On Windows, media is synchronized via drag-and-drop through the OVI Music application, which is actually rather good. It is certainly on par with Windows Media Player. On Mac, media is synchronized through Nokia Multimedia Transfer, which synchronizes selected iTunes playlists.

This is what the X6 was designed for, media. It was not designed with “suits” in mind; it was designed for young, hip, urbanites that use public transport and look good doing it! It was designed to allow people to listen to music, watch videos, take pictures and surf the web while on the go.

The problem is it underwhelms at all of those things. Not bad but seriously not good.

The music player for starters is just old fashioned. Yes, it does the job, but with competition like the iPhone and others, just doing the job is not good enough. That said the sound quality is superb, not industry leading, but certainly good enough to handle Whitney Houston’s highs. What I thought was really cool was the X6 comes with a set of pretty decent over-ear headphones, which kick the living daylights out of those silly little white things that come with the iPhone. That said, they are the only hands free kit the X6 comes with, so if you intend to get this phone then budget for a Bluetooth headset – It’s not worth trying to explain these big things to the cops.

The movie player is also rather good. The tracking is smooth and the quality is on par with the competition. What I found very cool is the X6’ screen has a 16:9 aspect ratio, so HD video (which will have to be downscaled by Nokia’s OVI PC Suite) will fill the screen, something that can’t be said for almost all the competition.

The photo browser is just average. There is honestly nothing special about it, no cool animations, it does not render super-fast, and it does not arrange the photos in a clever way. Compare this to Android 2.1 with its awesome animations and great navigation and S60 seems depressingly mundane.

Besides the fantastic Nokia Messaging, the X6 comes with another great Nokia service, OVI Maps. OVI Maps is my favorite navigation software, trumping the stand-alone devices like Tom Tom and Navigon because not only is it free but also because it is a better piece of software. OVI Maps compared to stand alone devices is far more intuitive, much quicker to find GPS signal and the maps are constantly updated over 3G, so they never go out of date.

Nokia have an application store; the OVI store and to be honest it is rather underwhelming. There are not that many useful apps and the ones that look useful are rather expensive. For instance, the only decent Twitter app is Gravity and it costs R60. This is a lot in my books. You can’t even compare the OVI store the iTunes store, that said the iTunes Store is much more mature and Nokia is currently still building a community of developers.

The X6 fails to impress with its aesthetics and interface, what it needs is a catch. A million megapixel camera, or a 15-year battery life. Well… It has neither of those things.

The camera is great, only if the conditions are perfect. The 5 Megapixel camera with a Carl Zeiss lens is the least versatile camera I have ever come across. Low light? Forget about it; the camera adds a haze to the picture, like there is smoke in the room. Extreme light? Not happening; all detail disappears. Shaky hands? Blurry photos. Children? You will capture them occasionally, the auto-focus is sometimes super-fast and other times take millennia. Nevertheless, if the light of the Angels is shining down upon your target, and the Gods have blessed the auto-focus then the X6 will take an amazing picture.

When you finally do get that perfect, divine shot, you can view it on a magnificent screen. The colors are bright, yet natural, text appears sharp and clear and the touch navigation is extremely responsive. This is one of the best touchscreens I have ever used on a cellphone.

The battery life is slightly better than the competition. If I used it heavily – Lots of calls, music, camera, Bluetooth, email, Internet and a short use of the GPS – then I got a good day out of the battery. If I use it sparingly then I get around two days.

It is not fast, but it’s not annoying slow either. Again, it scores an average. This is not bad; unless you want to do all the cool stuff you can do on the iPhone 3G like play awesome games!

To Wrap it up:

The Nokia X6 has a lot of great features, like Nokia Mail, OVI Maps, its fantastic 16:9 touchscreen but it just fails to come together. Its operating system is dated and due to be replaced shortly, and its build quality is rather suspect. So, yes it does a lot of things well but it does a lot of other things badly. Its only real advantage over the competition is it has a huge amount of storage but this is not enough to win me over. The Nokia X6 is an average cellphone. The problem is, the market it is playing in, is so full of great cellphones, so why should one settle for average?

Decent alternatives:
Touchscreen with a strong media focus

iPhone OS 3.1
Our Choice: Apple iPhone 3G 8GB – R6 900

Android 2.1
HTC Legend – TBA (Roughly R5 500)

BlackBerry OS 5
RIM BlackBerry Storm2 9520 – R7 000

Brendon Ambrose