While Nokia clamshell handsets are still few and far between when compared to the rest of its range, it's safe to say that Nokia are more rapidly expanding the variety of phone styles amongst their range. Early last year it announced the 6101 clamshell, a respectable mid-range phone with a basic camera, organiser functions and other useful multimedia applications. A year later, we have the 6103, a near carbon copy of the 6101 thanks to the new addition of Bluetooth. Many people may argue that the 6101 should have had Bluetooth in the first place, but nevertheless, it's been included in this new revised addition, which incidentally, doesn't feature any changes other than a slight style update. Read on for the review.
So what's so great about this phone? Well, nothing on the technological side, nor anything on the style side either. What this phone does well is bring basic multimedia and organiser features together, and puts them in an affordable package. What we have here is a compact GSM clamshell with an active matrix TFT LCD, a VGA size camera, FM radio, Bluetooth, Push to Talk and messaging support for all the major standards, including SMS, MMS and POP3/IMAP4 email. Nokia also included their proprietary Xpress audio messaging, which guides you through the creation of an MMS voice message.
If you already have a 6101 there's no reason for you to upgrade to this handset, unless you simply can't live without Bluetooth, because that's the only feature change that's made it to this phone. But if you don't have one, the 6103 is a phone that is worth buying if you're on a tight budget but still want more than just simple voice call and messaging capability.
Taking a look at the phone's design, you'd be forgiven for thinking this was a phone made by anyone other than Nokia. The external antenna, curved corners and lines, and snappy opening mechanism indicate a phone seemingly made by an Asian manufacturer rather than a European one. Regardless, the 6103 felt comfortable in my hand. It's compact and light, measuring 85 x 45 x 24 millimetres and tipping the scales at 97 grams. Its encased in a rubbery plastic design that seems to be making it to all phones these days, possibly to repel scratches, or maybe to repel fingerprints, as neither would surface on the phone. My test handset sported a black and silver dual-tone colour scheme, although there's also a red and silver one available too.
So let's delve into the phone's outer characteristics. On the front you'll find the VGA camera and large colour external screen. On the left are up/down rocker buttons for volume control, while on the right is a dedicated Push to Talk button and the infra-red port. On the top is the non-removable external antenna and the cleverly-concealed polyphonic speaker, while at the bottom is the assortment of Nokia connectors: the Pop Port accessory connector and the new, extra-thin power socket. Nothing much of note on the back other than the battery cover, which is easily removed to reveal the BL-4C battery. Underneath is the SIM card socket with yet another unique Nokia mechanism for keeping the SIM card in place.
The phone's flip springs open into place to reveal a 1.8 inch (4.5cm) screen taking up most of the flip, with the small voice call speaker sitting just above. On the bottom is a large keypad with big buttons that are easy to press. It's a simple layout and doesn't try to impress by having special buttons with dedicated roles. You have the five-way arrow pad with confirm key, two soft keys and dial and hang-up keys, arranged in a single square design. I'm not a fan of the dial and hang-up keys not actually having phone icons on them (rather than just the signifying red/green colours for the sake of a good design), as I feel it confuses people unnecessarily. Further down are the twelve number keys.
User Interface & display
As mentioned earlier, the main display is a 1.8 inch active matrix TFT LCD screen. It has a resolution of 128x160 pixels and can display 65,536 colours. Nothing out of the ordinary, but it does the job. Brightness, strangely, can't be adjusted, but the screen is reasonably bright and can be seen in most situations, except for bright sunlight where it fades out. Depending on the menu, anywhere from two to six menu options can be displayed at once. In the case of composing messages, 10 lines of text can be displayed on the smallest font setting, while six and four lines can be displayed on the medium and large settings respectively. The large font setting should help people who have normally have trouble reading phone screen text.
The external screen is also a colour one, but it's a passive matrix STN one, is smaller resolution at 96x65 pixels and only shows 4096 colours. Still, for an outer screen, that's more than adequate. It displays signal and battery strength, the clock and date, operator name and area info, as well as incoming call details and other alerts.
The user interface is that of Nokia Series 40, although not the new version that's present on more advanced phones such as the 6280. If you've used a 6610 or 7250, you should recognise this user interface, as it's very similar in looks and operation. There's usually a half second delay when selecting any menu item, and opening the main menu from the standby screen usually takes one second, so the interface isn't the fastest around (although let's face it, it's much faster than smartphone user interfaces such as S60). The menus are consistent most items are in the menus that you'd expect to find them in. There's a good deal of customisation too themes, which change the backgrounds and colour scheme of the interface, and the main menu can be displayed in the popular grid format or traditional list style.
Speaking of the main menu, the icons are, from the top left, Messages, Contacts, Call Register, Settings, Gallery, Media, Organiser, Applications, Push to Talk, Web, SIM Application Toolkit. Number shortcuts for menu items are supported, but only if you use them in one quick action from the main menu. Plus in some cases, it only works for the main menu and not for sub menus. Nokia should fix this so that number shortcuts work from any menu without a time limit, because as it stands, typing a number in the menus takes you straight to the standby screen and dials it, as if you were going to make a phone call.
Making and receiving calls
As you'd expect from Nokia, voice call quality is top notch with the 6103. When using the phone the normal way, my caller and I were able to have a conversation without any problems. The volume from the speaker was loud, and my caller could hear me clearly too. If you need even more volume, the 6103 can make phone calls using an internal speakerphone, outputting the caller's voice to the external polyphonic speaker. In this case too, the caller was loud and clear, although my own voice's volume dropped slightly on the other end.
There's also a stereo handsfree earphone set in the retail box, and I tested this as well. First and foremost, Nokia know how to make ergonomic and comfortable earphone sets, and this set, the HS-23, stands out in its design. The earphones are attached to a necklace strap that you wear around your neck, rather than the typical shirt-clip type. It was great because it meant that the earphones never wanted to fall out of my ear because their own weight was pulling them down (and they never did). On top of that, the sound quality was very good, and it didn't break up at (very) loud volumes. Phone calls could be made clearly too. My only complaint is the large amount of hiss audible when no sound is playing.
As you can imagine I was eager to test out the 6103's new Bluetooth capability with headsets, and the phone did not let me down. Call quality was great with my Motorola HS801 headset, as well as a Nokia HS-26W that Nokia included in the test kit. I had no problems using either headset with the 6103. The reception was excellent, perhaps due to the external stub antenna on the top. Being in Australia I tested the phone on Vodafone's 900/1800 MHz network.
The 6103's internal phone book can store up to 500 contacts, with 10 different data tags attributable to each. Those tags include name, phone number, email address, postal address, web address and an image file. Incremental search (searching by typing the first few letters of the person's name) is supported, and contacts can be organised into groups for organisational purposes or for sending SMS to all group members.
In the case of ringtones, the 6103 has an interesting mix of polyphonic tones and digitally recorded sound files. There are some remixed classics such as Espionage, as well as new tones such as Jazzy Piano and River Tone. There's even an original short song called Stay That Way'. There are 17 ringtones in total, with six simple alert tones for messages and alarms.
The 6103 supports a mix of accepted messaging standards as well as proprietary Nokia ones. There's support for SMS, MMS and POP3/IMAP4 email, as well as Nokia's Xpress audio messaging and flash messages. When creating any message (except for the audio ones of course), T9 predictive text software is used to make typing quicker and easier, and like in many past Nokia phones, it works like a dream. There is a custom dictionary that you can add words to, and typing doesn't slow down no matter how many letters you type.
Let's start with SMS. Support for linked messages sees the 6103 able to create SMS up to 925 characters in size (six linked messages total). You create messages the traditional way type the body of the message first, then select the person it's headed to, and away it goes. The old black and white picture SMS messages are still supported and there are a few templates that you can use to make picture messages and send to other people with a compatible phone (mainly Nokia ones only). There's also an interesting type of SMS message called a flash message, where the message body is displayed on the other person's phone screen the moment they receive them, and isn't saved to the phone at all. While I had thought it was a unique Nokia message type, I sent a flash message to my Sharp 903 and it actually did exactly what it should have it appeared straight on my standby screen with a loud jingle to get my attention. So despite most phones not being able to send this message type, most should be able to view them at least.
MMS is a tad more sophisticated you can attach pictures, sounds, videos, business cards (contact list entries) and calendar notes too. Slide support means you can attach more than one of the same file type, to a total of 100 kilobytes per message. Nokia's Xpress audio message is also a form of MMS, but there's a nifty guide wizard that helps you create a voice message, attaches it to an MMS and sends it off to someone else automatically. If they have a Nokia phone, they'll be able to open it and hear the voice message straight away; otherwise it just arrives as an MMS with an audio file attachment. If you prefer contact with PCs, email messages are the way to go. They have the same limit as MMS messages (100 kilobytes) and are created in a Java application that's cleverly integrated into the messaging menu, although it takes several seconds to load and access. You can attach only pictures and videos to an email message, and can type up to 5000 characters in each one.
The 6103 functions as a world phone with its tri-band GSM capability. It supports the 900, 1800 and 1900 MHz bands, meaning that connection to most of the world's GSM networks should quick and painless. This includes networks in the US, Europe and Asia. There's GPRS packet data support data access near dialup speeds (48kbps), while high-speed EDGE Class 6 bumps that number up to 177kbps. Unfortunately, none of our GSM networks in Australia actually support EDGE yet, but Telstra is in the process of rolling it out and should finish doing so some time next year. My 6103 was a generic version that had the profiles for all the major Australian networks installed, and the WAP 2.0 browser installed in it was speedy and displayed Vodafone's generic text portal and Telstra's portal without problems.
On the local side of things you have the full selection of USB cable, infra-red and Bluetooth. All three connection methods allow you to hook the 6103 up to a PC and run the Nokia PC Suite to do a number of cool things with the phone, such as type an SMS message on the computer and send it through the phone, transfer files between both devices and synchronise all your information including calendar entries and contact names. The PC Suite software is included in the retail package, but the USB cable is not. Infra-red and Bluetooth also let you send multimedia files (pictures, sound, videos) and contacts data to other phones and devices, while Bluetooth also lets you chat on the phone with wireless headsets.
The general quality of phones just keeps getting better and better, and it's becoming harder and harder to find fault in the big manufacturers' building techniques. The 6103 is solid, durable and completely devoid of loose, squeaky parts. The flip is sturdy and locks well into place in either open or closed position, and the battery cover is firmly fastened, yet easy to remove when necessary. If build quality matters to you (and it should), the 6103 won't disappoint.
But, one niggly problem kept getting my attention. If you open the 6103 and hold it up in the air and look at the screen, at least on my test handset, you could see shreds of the rubbery plastic dangling from the sides of the phone. Hopefully this doesn't mean that the plastic is going to all peel off in the months to come, but it's worrying to say the least.
The battery life of the 6103 was impressive, lasting for two and a half days before conking out after a load of phone and message usage each day. This was despite the battery meter telling me that only half the battery's power was left before the end of the first day, so the battery meter wasn't too accurate. The battery is an 820mAh one, so it has a fair bit of power to keep the phone going. Incidentally, the phone's official power figures are 350 hours standby time and four hours talk time. Recharge time is two hours.