It's fair to say Nokia has missed the boat in many respects with the emergence of clamshell phones over the last few years. While Motorola and Samsung streaked ahead with their fashion models, Nokia was generally more geared towards its highly successful candy-bar range. But the winds of change are in the air, and with its 6131 model, Nokia provides evidence it is making up ground.
While design-wise, compared to Motorola's RAZR V3, it is hard to call the 6131 "slim" with any real conviction, it's certainly on the better side of good for its size. Weighing in at just 102g, it feels comfortable to hold, and doesn't weigh down your pockets unnecessarily.
The real winner here, though, is the internal keypad. Put simply, it's big. In fact, the entire design rationale with the 6131 is to keep things simple, refined, even elegant. To that end, Nokia has created a keypad layout and accompanying navigational interface which looks great, feels familiar, and is easy to understand. The keypad itself is very well lit, and the volume and camera shortcut buttons are exactly where you'd expect them to be on a Nokia phone. Once again though, Nokia toys with its placement of the on/off button, this time opting for the side of the phone, which may again cause some initial confusion for its loyal customers.
Aesthetically, the 6131 features a soft-paint finish in black, and is lined with gleaming silver mirrors, which though a little plastic-like in appearance, seem to work okay contextually. A lip at the base of the phone adds that little bit of mystique, while a one-touch push-to-open button on the right-hand side of the flip joint causes the clamshell to spring right open. While you can see the potential benefit of the push-to-open functionality, we found it a little unreliable with repeated use, and those we handed it to remarked that they were worried it might accidentally open in their pocket or bag. Closing the flip was sporadically unreliable too, in that generally you had to push and hold the flip completely down or else it would spring back open again.
The 6131 includes a broad range of both multimedia and business-related features. The leading light in this lengthy specification list, though, is its impressive true-colour display. With up to a massive 16.7 million colours present, the screen seemed brighter than any other Nokia we've seen. Unfortunately, this brilliant screen goes to waste somewhat though with a lack of 3G functionality.
The Nokia 6131 boasts a 1.3-megapixel camera with an 8x digital zoom -- no flash, we're afraid. The viewfinder can be flexibly accessed from both the main and the outer displays. The model we tested came packaged with a 128MB microSD card -- plenty of storage space for photos, though perhaps not quite enough the musically inclined. Nokia has yet again omitted a USB data cable, but lists the CA-53 Connectivity Cable needed for data transfer on its Web site for AU$65.
As for music, the 6131's media player supports formats including MP3, MP4, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+ and WMA. Audio quality, while much improved from previous models, is good at best via the genuine stereo headset provided in the box. FM radio is also supported.
In addition to the usual Nokia fare such as a calendar, Bluetooth, push-to-talk, synchronisation, alarm clock, and so on, an interesting feature which stood out was the simplified e-mail interface on the 6131. E-mail was surprisingly easy to set up, even giving us the option to select from a range of Australian ISP's (which were preprogrammed into the phone), as well as Google's Gmail and Yahoo Mail. Support for the SMTP, POP3, and IMAP4 protocols was present, and the 6131's setup screen guided us through the configuration process. All in all, certainly one of the easiest e-mail setup processes around.
We found the 6131 was a solid performer for a mid-range handset. Call quality was adequate and the speakerphone worked well in an office environment, although we struggled with louder outside noise. Battery life on the 6131 was good, though not outstanding. On average, users should expect about four to five days standby from the phone, but this is substantially lessened through use of the phone for calls and even navigation, which instantly lights up the brilliant 2.2-inch QVGA display.
As far as menu navigation goes, the Nokia performed extremely well, although the Series 40 user interface, particularly the 'active standby' icons, will be a little bit unfamiliar to traditional Nokia users at first.
Ultimately, with a lustrous black design, a fair set of multimedia features, and good support (including quad-band connectivity) for more business-related activities, the Nokia 6131 performed well. While its looks are bound to be somewhat subjectively interpreted, it has a handy features set, and most importantly it's highly intuitive and easy to use. As a mid-range handset with a pleasant price tag, Nokia users shouldn't be disappointed.
Editor's note: Andy White is a university student working part-time in an Optus World shop.