Representing the premium end of Nokia Series 40-equipped clamshells, the Nokia 6131 has everything going for it – it’s a compact, stylish phone with a megapixel camera, QVGA screen (with more colours than most), Bluetooth 2.0, a music player with plenty of memory space via microSD cards and global connectivity with quad-band GSM support. Basically, all the features you’d expect of a mid-level phone these days and in some places the phone can be had for less than $400. The 6131 could be the ultimate all-in-one, value for money package. How does it fare in its duties? Read on to find out.
Being a mid-tier phone the best thing about the 6131 is simply the number of features buried under its compact profile. The phone weighs little more than 100 grams and yet has enough features to make it one of the most versatile devices available on the market today for very little money. Even the keypad is spread over a large area and large, well-separated buttons adorn the bottom portion of the flip. The design is smart and uses today’s typical phone colours (black and silver), but they are presented well. The internal antenna is also a plus, as is the Panasonic-style button release to spring the flip open automatically.
The Series 40 user interface contains a new feature called ‘Active Standby’. I’ll get to it in more detail under the user interface section, but you can safely say Nokia has tried to import some of the S60 interface’s organisation features into the Series 40 one and has achieved a standby screen not unlike those in Windows Mobile handsets.
So let’s get into the nitty-gritty of things here. The Nokia 6131 is a compact clamshell with an internal antenna, painted in black with lines of silver here and there. It’s encased in the same rubbery plastic that seems to adorn all phones these days – good because it’s resistant to fingerprints and scratches. It’s only slightly bigger than the low-end 6101 and 6103 clamshells also made by Nokia, measuring 92 x 48 x 20 millimetres and weighing 102 grams.
Investigating the outside of the phone we find the 1.3 megapixel camera and 1.4 inch external colour screen on the front. It’s quite a large screen, possibly too large for my liking (I’d prefer something less battery-intensive just to check battery, signal and who’s calling when the phone rings), but it’s there nonetheless. The small lip protruding out of the bottom of the phone is in fact the internal antenna, which normally features in the top of the phone. Considering that the top is home to the charger socket and PopPort connector, it looks like Nokia has reversed the antenna and sockets’ positions. New is a plastic cover for the PopPort connector, which is permanently attached so it won’t get lost. On the left is the volume rocker switch and the infra-red port, while on the right you’ll find the power button and a camera shortcut/shutter button. If you look at the bottom right corner you’ll find the polyphonic speaker hidden away behind a small hole. The back battery cover, designed with a leather pattern to it, slides upwards to reveal the battery, the SIM card slot underneath it and the microSD memory card slot hidden away to the right. You need to remove the battery cover each time to remove the memory card, unfortunately.
Springing open the flip with the release button built into the flip barrel, we see a phone with a nice large screen on the top and a well spread out keypad on the bottom. The screen has a diagonal of 2.2 inches (5.5cm) and covers most of the flip. Amazingly, it has no glass protector – the screen itself is exposed to the elements. Above the screen is the call speaker. Below it, the keypad has all the regular phone buttons and no extra ones. They are two soft-keys, dial/end keys, a four-way arrow-pad with confirm key, and the 12 numerical keys. In typical Nokia fashion you can only tell the dial/end keys’ function by their green/red colours respectively; instead of phone icons only line squiggles are painted on the keys. While most people use a phone nowadays, it may be confusing for those who are new to them and don’t read phone manuals. Nokia isn’t the only one guilty of this – Motorola does the same thing (with different designs) and Sony Ericsson doesn’t use dedicated keys at all.
User Interface & display
The 6131’s main display is a beautiful one – a 2.2 inch active matrix TFT LCD, with a grid of 240 by 320 pixels and pumping more than 16 million colours out. As per previous Series 40 phones, brightness can’t be adjusted whatsoever. There is a power saver option in the settings menu, but I have no idea what it does and it’s not documented in the manual. The screen’s brightness is set to a high level and is easily visible in bright light – good for outdoor use but as I’m indoors most of the time it was a waste of battery power for me. The screen’s higher resolution allows for more menu options visible at once – between five and eight, depending on the menu itself. The same can be said for text entry, with seven, nine and 11 lines of text visible on small, normal and large settings respectively.
The external screen is very advanced for its purpose. Measuring 1.4 inches, with 128x160 pixels and 262,144 colours, one might question if it’s really necessary at all (remember, more pixels equals more battery drain in most cases). It displays everything the main LCD does on standby – icons for signal, battery and other things, clock, operator name and cell ID information.
User interface is the modern Series 40 one, based on the Symbian operating system. Owing to that fact menu options usually take about half a second to take effect from a button press, but it’s not that noticeable and doesn’t affect phone usage badly. Button presses are reflected instantly, particularly in messaging where that matters, and menus are consistent – settings are easy to find and where you’d expect to find them. Customisation comes in the form of downloadable and preset themes, which change the main menu, background and menu text colour. Some will change main menu icons as well. Menu options go as follows (from the top-left): Messaging, Contacts, Log, Settings, Gallery, Media, Organiser, Applications, PTT (Push to Talk), Apps (Java), SIM Application Toolkit, Web. As with previous Nokias, number shortcuts for menu items only work in the main menu and only if you’re quick enough. As I’ve said before, number shortcuts should work from any menu without a time limit to be practical, otherwise the system just confuses all of us and is a waste of time.
I mentioned earlier a more organised layout of the standby screen Nokia has included in the 6131, called Active Standby. This system is similar to what you might find in a Windows Mobile PDA, where multiple layers of information are displayed on the standby screen, from the cell ID to FM radio/music player status, today’s calendar and other options that you can choose from the function’s customisation menu. There’s also a shortcut bar to quick-start frequently used applications. Active Standby is a great addition to the user interface and proved very useful during my testing.
Making and receiving calls
Again I’m impressed by the call quality produced by a Nokia phone. The 6131 produced clear, noise-free audio through its internal speaker, and my caller reported hearing me clearly as well. The phone was tested on Vodafone’s GSM 900/1800 network, so I can’t vouch for calls tested on 850/1900 networks (although I don’t expect them to be much different). Speakerphone also works well, with volume able to be set very high (higher than I ever needed – excellent for in-car calls).
You can also make calls through the included stereo handsfree earphones or through a Bluetooth headset. The included handsfree kit works like a charm – audio is clear and my caller and I had no trouble talking to each other. The same can be said for a Bluetooth based call with my Motorola HS801 wireless handsfree, although I had a small problem after pairing it and the phone together. They both connected without issue, but the phone wouldn’t open up an audio connection to the handsfree on its own, and I eventually worked out that I had to press the answer button on the handsfree to start it up. Once I did that the phone always kept the connection open for every bit of audio – even key presses started it up. I’ve never had to do this with the HS801 on any other phone, so it seems the odd behaviour can be attributed to the 6131. I don’t know if it will happen with any other Bluetooth handsfree though.
The 6131’s phonebook is capable of storing up to 1000 contacts with multiple details for each entry – five phone numbers, five email addresses, physical address details, titles, nicknames, birthdays and many more. There is group support for sending SMS to multiple contacts and incremental search for picking contacts out of a huge list of entries. There’s also SyncML support for synchronising contacts with a database on the internet.
Ringtone wise there’s much to choose from – 15 ringtones made up of polyphonic tones and realtones, as well as 17 alert tones for purposes ranging from message alerts to alarm clock tones. The tones included should appeal to everyone as there’s a large variety of music styles included amongst them. While the tones are great, be careful if you are setting them in a quiet location – even if the phone is set to silent, the tones will still play (at blaring loud volume) if you go to their preview menu through the Tones sub-menu under Settings.
The 6131 supports all the messaging standards you’d expect of a phone these days – SMS, MMS, email (POP3/IMAP4) and Nokia’s proprietary Xpress audio messaging.
First, SMS. The maximum character limit for SMS messages is 913 letters, which adds up to five linked messages. These days I don’t bother with linked messages, preferring to use MMS instead for messages with lots of text as it is usually far cheaper. With the new Series 40 interface, support for Nokia’s ancient black/white pictures and monotone ringtones via SMS has finally been retired, meaning SMS is now only for text message use (which is fine; most current phones don’t support those standards anyway). Flash messages are also supported – these are a type of SMS that display on the recipient’s handset instantly, rather than waiting in their inbox. On the other hand they don’t get saved, so they’re good for sending quicker reminders to friends.
Next, MMS. Nokia’s MMS composer consists of a set of slides that you can edit with any typical data type you like – text (up to 1000 characters), pictures, sound or video. Only three slides are shown at first but you can add more using the menu. MMS up to 300 kilobytes are supported, provided your network and recipient’s phone both support the OMA 1.2 standard (even if they do it’s still unreliable, so I keep my own MMS limited to 100 kilobytes at the moment). Xpress audio messaging is just a funky brand name for Nokia’s audio message wizard, which helps you record an MMS voice message and send it off to a friend. It’s the same as using the voice recorder, then opening an MMS and attaching the sound file to it – Xpress audio messaging just simplifies the process.
The POP3/IMAP4 email client is Java based and takes time to open up, but once open is very easy to configure for your own email service. The client comes preconfigured with the details of over a hundred email providers around the world, so there’s a good chance yours will be included. I was unable to test the email client any further due to a restriction on Vodafone that prevents the Internet access point from being used by prepaid subscribers.
Text entry is fast and problem-free – I never experienced any form of lag, even after entering hundreds of characters into the phone. T9 predictive text is standard and other than an English dictionary, there may be more languages included depending on the region you’re in (my Australian version had Vietnamese and Filipino in addition to English). The custom addition of words is also supported.
The 6131 is quad-band GSM compliant, boosted by GPRS and EDGE packet data standards for internet access. In English, this mean the 6131 will work on any GSM network around the world and will connect to the internet fairly quickly wherever the above two standards are supported. Virtually every network nowadays come with GPRS support for up to 48kbps data access, while EDGE support is rarer – only Telstra is preparing it for their GSM network in Australia, mainly because most networks are migrating subscribers to 3G networks now. My test 6131 handset was a generic version with support for all Australian network data profiles, which makes changing networks a breeze. I was pleasantly surprised to find the full-graphic Vodafone live! portal load up in the phone’s browser, despite the phone not being customised for the service (or Vodafone-branded in other words).
In close-range communication you have the three typical modes of connection – USB, infra-red and Bluetooth. Which you choose to use will depend on the equipment at hand and the devices you connect the phone with – USB is great for a PC but a data cable isn’t included in the package. Infra-red works well with older phones and other handheld devices, as well as a PC if you have an infra-red port built into it. Bluetooth is the same as infra-red but more convenient as it works via radio technology compared to infra-red’s line of sight light technology, meaning as long as the two Bluetooth devices are close to each other they will connect.
For synchronising with a PC, Nokia’s PC Suite software is included on CD in the retail package. Installation is quick and painless – the software will install the USB cable driver before installing itself onto the PC. As I have a USB-Bluetooth adaptor, I elected to use Bluetooth to connect the phone, and once turning it on and setting it to visible, the computer searched for, discovered and paired with it without a hitch. However, I was never able to get the phone to pair again, and unfortunately had to return the phone before I was able to try other things to get it to work. Even the PC Suite software locked up and I wasn’t able to open it again to take a look at its included features. Suffice it to say I was amazed - I have had no problems pairing Nokia phones via Bluetooth (or infra-red or USB) in the past, but as this example illustrates, your mileage may vary. The PC Suite software hasn’t changed much recently so you can reference our previous Nokia phone reviews for more detailed information, but typical features include the synchronisation of messages/calendar/contacts data, a file manager, SMS/MMS composer and phonebook organiser.
As with previous Nokia phones I had trouble faulting the build quality of the 6131. All moveable parts are firmly fastened together – namely the flip’s hinge and the back battery cover. The rest of the phone feels solid and the rubber-style plastic on the outside is very resistant to fingerprints and scratches. The button-release mechanism for the flip feels solid too – releasing with an audible ‘click’ – and the spring has slightly more than enough spring in it to open the phone – it can catapult out of your hand if you’re not holding the phone properly (but it’s very unlikely, compared to the Motorola PEBL for example).
But there was one fault waiting to be found. The lack of a glass cover over the main LCD makes it vulnerable to shock damage. Perhaps Nokia thought being closed most of the time such a cover is unnecessary, but I have put clamshell phones away hurriedly in my pocket before, only to find the keys in the same pocket wedged between the flip and the keypad. Nokia, take note.
So despite the LCD vulnerability, if you have worries about your phone lasting, the 6131 should put them to rest.
Battery life on the other hand was only above average. Despite the official figures of 240 hours (10 days) and 3 hours 24 minutes of talk time, I was able to get slightly less than two full days of usage out of the phone before it ran out of juice. That usage included about 15 minutes of talk time and about an hour in total of general usage of the phones features (messaging, camera, Java applications, web browsing and scrolling through the gallery) each day. In testing the phone was left on overnight for both days too. Considering both screens’ quality and the brightness levels to which they’re set, I can understand the 6131’s level of consumption and do wish there were more power saving options available, particularly screen brightness adjustment. The screen saver function is also an absolute battery waster, reactivating the backlight every time it restarts (on either screen too; thankfully it can be deactivated though). Recharge time is two hours and 10 minutes with the included multi-voltage charger.