Latest in Features

Image credit:

Gear Eye: Nokia 6230

Adam Nielson

Think about the Prom Queen, or the most popular girl in your school. We probably don't need to remind you about her much. She looked great, every guy wanted to have her. She defined trends, every girl wanted to be like her (well, almost every girl). All this popularity went to her head - she was a bit of a bitch, which pissed everyone off, although most of us put up with it just to be around her. She also acted like every trend was her idea, when in truth she was usually just following some other, less popular girl's, lead. Granted she did it as well if not better than the less popular girl, she "owned" it, but she never did it first.

But the Prom Queen's downfall was that she peaked too early. She was at the top of her game before the end of high school, and by Prom time, her reign was already fading. When she gets to college, she'll be one of 1000 pretty girls with average smarts. And if she still wants to rule the school, she's going to need to work much harder for it.

That, my friends, is the story of the Nokia 6230. It looks HOT, it has just about every desirable feature, and it implements most of them very well. But it certainly wasn't the first phone like this, and yes, it's a bit of a bitch as well. You might even get the sense that, like the prom queen, Nokia might lose its reign when it has to grow up and go off to college to compete with smart, sexy phones from young upstarts around the world. That said, she's still one of the hottest girls in school and we're not suggesting anyone would turn down a date with her.

Read on for the rest of our review.

6230 dual view

The Bod:

The size and shape of the 6230 is perfect. This is classic Nokia design, from back in the days before wacky keypads and crazy shapes, when people actually wanted Nokia phones. It is tiny - small enough to easily pass the Levi's change pocket test. The shape is relatively rectangular, but is contoured enough and gets slightly wider about one third of the way down from the top so it sits in your hand perfectly. There is no external antenna to ruin the lines or feel, of course. And there aren't really any protrusions to speak of, just a small raised section to protect the loudspeaker and camera, but it's not even noticeable.

The keyboard follows the simple design Nokia introduced with its flip phones. The keys are large and butt up against each other, however they have enough of an edge that you don't hit the wrong number. The success of this phone (it was so popular in Europe that they actually ran out of parts for it, further delaying the US launch), has convinced Nokia to shift back to a normal keypad layout, and we can see why. It is easy to use, even for our large-fingered friends, despite the phone's diminutive size. The D-Pad was surprisingly easy to use too.

The one thing holding back the physical aspect of the 6230 is the screen. Even though it's a TFT display, unlike many other of its Series 40 cousins, it still is dim outdoors and has all the contrast of, say, an original Gameboy Color. Like all other Series 40 phones, the 6230 only has a 128 x 128 screen, which makes the dim screen feel cramped as well. Especially considering this phone has both a camera and a video recorder / player, the small, dim screen detracts from an otherwise excellent physical experience.

Battery Life: Oh Yah!
There is one advantage to small, dim screens - they seriously rule for battery life. Nokia phones have always had impressive battery life, and the 6230 is no different. We got a good four days of solid use out of every charge, maybe three if we were especially heavy on the Bluetooth and audio player. It also uses the same battery and charger as most every other Nokia being made today, which comes in handy in emergencies when you forget to charge up your phone before going out.

Signal and Sound: Oh Yah!
After the disappointing performance of the 7610, the 6230 revives our faith in Nokia's internal antennas. It is shocking just how tightly this dinky little phone can hold on to even the weakest signal. It rivals, if not surpasses, the K700. Plus it has support for 850 MHz, the other American GSM band, which further beefs up its awesome signal.

The speaker is loud and clear. The hard, flat surface doesn't feel great if you press it tight to your ear for too long, but that's not really a problem, plus it has a good speaker phone, and since it functions as an mp3 player, it comes with a stereo headset too.

Menus: Yup
No one can deny the simple beauty of the Series 40 menus for most simple tasks - the ones that have always been around on phones. It's one of the reasons Nokia has sold so many phones, they're just so damn easy to use. However as you try to do more complex or cutting edge things with the 6230, Series 40 shows its age. It starts to take more and more steps to do obvious things or worse, it leaves you hanging wondering what to do. For instance to change the wallpaper, you go to the phone Settings and select wallpaper, which takes you to the Gallery application with all the pictures on the phone. But when you select a picture in the Gallery application, it doesn't set it as the wallpaper. It opens the picture up and then if you dig through a list of options you'll find the wallpaper setting. Caller ID pictures are even more obfuscated.

Issues like this, as well as many others, give us the feeling that Series 40 has jumped the shark. Nokia can either play the aging prom queen and hang on to her former glory like Debbie Harry in Hairspray, or she can opt for the Extreme Makeover: phone edition approach and overhaul the menus from top to bottom.

Calling: Yup
Like we said, the 6230 is adept at doing all the classic phone things. Everything works exactly like it should - almost. We were this close to giving the 6230 an Oh Yah, but the first time we tried calling our voicemail, the 6230 told us no number was set up. WHAT? Apparently the 6230 doesn't read the voicemail ID from your SIM card, or ours had an error while doing it. Which is weird considering three other phones we used that week, including two other Nokias all worked just fine.

Politeness: Oh Yah!
Finally! A phone that lets you change the ringing volume with the volume keys when you're not on a call. Plus the phone has the usual assortment of Nokia settings like timed profiles and whatnot. We could cry with joy. Instead we'll just give this an Oh Yah and do a little dance.

Contacts: Oh Yah!
We love the fact that middle- to high-end phones today all share many of the most important features with smartphones. The 6230 has a powerful contact application that can hold multiple phone numbers, email addresses, and even street addresses. It even holds photos for caller ID, however, like we said before, adding a photo is a rather tedious process, but that's not the fault of the contacts application. Nor is it the phone's fault that despite the fact that it supports the SyncML standard, you still can't sync it to your mac via iSync, luckily this nifty little app helps with that.

Messages: Ugh
We never expected to give any phone an Ugh for messaging, especially Nokia, especially after we wished we had a "Hell Yah!" rating for the 7610. But these two phones are about as far apart as two phones could be messaging-wise. The good news: hitting left on the D-Pad from the home screen takes you to the new text message screen. The bad news: 9 times out of 10 that screen is still populated with the last message you composed, so you have to clear it out first before writing a new one. Addressing that text message to a single person is fairly straightforward (though not as easy as the K700), however addressing it to more than one person is rather complicated. The email is bungled up too. Setup seems fairly straightforward until you realize that it requires a separate GPRS setup from the browser, which is a pain. Once you actually get it set up, it's not too bad except that a 128 x 128 pixel screen is too small to make reading long emails a pleasant experience.

Calendar: Yup
It may not be over the top powerful, but the 6230 still has a confidence inspiring, easy to use Calendar application. Flicking the D-Pad left from the home screen brings up a month view. From there you can change the view or add several types appointments. Although each type of appointment has some small differences, the only appointment that can repeat is a yearly anniversary, which they call a birthday.  As is standard on Nokias, both the calendar alarms and the alarm clock will sound even if the phone is off, by default.

Browsing: Yup
For having such a small screen, the 6230 has quite a capable browser, making it easy to check WAP sites, and download ringtones or games. It has well thought out menus and renders pages quickly too. We're not sure whether the speed is due a faster data rating for the phone or because the browser is really just that much faster. Not that it matters since faster is better no matter why it's that way. Still, the small screen cramps the browsing experience making some sites downright unpleasant to visit, and others just tiring to scroll through.

Camera: Yup
The 6230 has a VGA camera built in. The software is fast and utterly simple. Simply switch to the camera app and snap a picture. There is no flash, no fancy modes, pretty much nothing extra except for a video recording application. Instead of making you choose from scenes or modes, the camera tries to automagically adjust the picture to the right lightness and contrast to make it look like right no matter what it's like outside. When it's dark, the camera does a fairly decent job of compensating, but the pictures still look like cameraphone pictures - they're dark and grainy. When it's light outside, the camera continues to overcompensate though, pumping up the brightness until the pictures are nearly colorless in many cases.

Personalization:  Yup
The 6230 can play just about every type of ringtone imaginable, including MP3. And because it's got Bluetooth and excellent data connectivity, and you can even get a USB cable for it, there's limitless ways of getting ringtones on to the phone. But while the 6230 excels at musical customization, it stinks otherwise. Out of all the home screen keyboard shortcuts, you can only customize the right soft key. Granted the other options are well thought out, but I'd rather be able to change them to my own preferences. Visual customization is just as disappointing. You can switch the wallpaper on the home screen (but as we've said, it's circuitous), and you can select from a number of pre-configured menu colors. However none of the home screen items have borders, so it will take some work to find the right combination of menu color and wallpaper that has a high enough contrast so that you can, say, actually see how many bars of signal or battery life you have left.

Other Stuff:
There are a ton of small, quick launching games to amuse you, or even challenge you while you wait for the next bus or train (or the toilets at your favorite club). Better yet, if you bring along the included headset, there's a radio and an MP3 player built in to the 6230, with an MMC card (under the battery) to guarantee you won't have to listen to the same songs over and over.

The 6230b is already available through Cingular retail locations as well as Nokia USA's website.

From around the web

ear iconeye icontext filevr