Review of the Nokia C6


The C6 is a small Symbian^3 smartphone from Nokia. Itís small by todayís smartphone standards, with a screen size of only 3.2 inches. Itís a bit chunky however and it tips the scales at a rather hefty 132 grams. That makes it feel a bit weighty compared to larger-screened smartphones from Samsung or HTC, but it gives you the distinct impression youíre holding a solid piece of hardware that can stand up to abuse.

Last Updated: 17-Apr-2011

Before reading this review, please read Some Thoughts on Phone Reviewing.

RF Performance

Click on this link for a full description of RF Performance, and how to interpret it.

To test the RF sensitivity of the C6 I compared it directly to my old Nokia N95, which had thus far proven to be a gold standard for this particular aspect of performance. I started in the Hall of Shame 2 over at Square One in Mississauga and I used the Nokia Field Test program to visually see which frequencies the phones were on and how good the signal was. The first thing I discovered was that Bell Mobility/Telus HSPA only uses only 1900 MHz on the site inside the mall. There is no usable 850 MHz signal in that hallway on the Bell/Telus network.

The C6 showed a markedly stronger signal than my N95, but at first I attributed this to skewed dB values returned by the firmware. Much to my surprise however, as I walked down the hall to attenuate the signal, the C6 blew my N95 away with its ability to hold onto the signal and continue to provide interference-free audio. Once I reached the weakest spot in the hallway I lost the connection on my N95, but it was still rock-solid on the C6.

I next went to the lower level of Sears, where I was far enough away from the indoor sites to get only signals from a macro site outdoors. That finally gave me an 850 MHz signal that was stronger (and cleaner) than the 1900 MHz signal, and so both phones preferred to use it. The difference between the C6 and the N95 wasnít anywhere near as great at 850 MHz, but the C6 still had a slight edge over the N95.

The ability for the C6 to pull in a signal is therefore the best Iíve ever seen. Baring any possible degradation of the performance of my N95, the C6 had demonstrated RF sensitivity that easily puts it well ahead of the pack.

Audio Performance

Click on this link for a full description of Audio Performance, and how to interpret it.

Sound Quality: Over the years the tonal balance of Nokia phones has been sliding away from the excellence theyíd achieved around the days of the 6310i. My previous day-to-day phone the N95 wasnít quite as good as the 6310i, and now the C6 isnít quite as good as the N95. However, we arenít talking about a huge difference here, but itís still a disturbing trend.

I compared the tonal balance to my current day-to-day phone the Samsung Galaxy S Captivate and there isnít a lot of difference between them. Well, the C6 has a little more low-end and slightly less harshness, but generally speaking they have same overall sound. That isnít necessarily a bad thing, because the Galaxy S line is a still a fairly good-sounding device, but itís hardly up to the standards Iíve seen in the past, especially from Nokia.

Earpiece Volume: Earpiece volume is certainly up to the task and it continues to be a strong point with all of the Nokias Iíve tested over the last 7 or 8 years. Like all of their products the C6 has a volume boost feature that raises the earpiece volume when it detects loud background noise. That means you get a detectable increase in volume as the noise around you gets louder, even if you had the volume set at max.

Outgoing Audio: In my quiet office I recorded samples using both the C6 and the Captivate. Both phones sound remarkably similar, though the C6 has a slightly hotter mic (that means itís a bit louder). The tonal balance is very natural on both phones and my voice sounded about as good as it ever could on the Telus voicemail system onto which I recorded it. However, after playing both recordings countless times it became evident that that the Nokia sounded a tiny bit distorted compared to the Captivate, but this might have been caused purely by the volume difference between the two phones.

I next tested the C6 at the loud food court over at Square One. Like most Nokias Iíve tested in the past, the C6 did nothing to suppress the background din caused by hundreds of people talking simultaneously. However, also like other Nokias there was no degradation in voice quality and while your caller might have to put up with the din, they will have no trouble understanding what you say.

The final test was done in a car speeding along the highway (and no, I wasnít driving). With the windows down the wind noise was initially heard quite loudly, but then the phone seemed to suppress it to the point that it doesnít really sound that objectionable. Once again, there is no degradation to the audio quality, and so even under that harsh environment your caller should have no trouble hearing every word you say.

Speakerphone: Nokias have had pretty good speakerphone implementations going back to the N95 and Iím happy to report that the C6 is no different. This is one area where the C6 beats the stuffing out of the Captivate, in that it produces more volume, with a richer tonal quality, and far less distortion. At the same time however, it isnít anywhere near the sheer usability of the N95ís speakerphone, but itís still good enough to make speakerphone calls pleasant whenever you find yourself in a quiet room.

Support Features

Ringer Volume: I tried to put my loud ring.mp3 file onto the C6 as a ring tone, but no matter where I copied it to in the file system I just wasnít allowed to assign it. My guess is that the C6 has some type of DRM limitation that doesnít allow users to assign non-DRM MP3 files as ringtones. Nonetheless I tried many of the ringtones that came with the phone and that adequately demonstrated that the C6 had a fairly potent ringer.

Keypad Design: The C6-01 (which I tried) does not have a physical keyboard, and so it relies on a virtual on-screen keyboard for all text input. There is apparently a C6-00 model that does have a slide-out physical keyboard, but thatís not the one I tested. The virtual keyboard on Symbian^3 is adequate, but thatís about as much praise as you can really give it. To get an alpha-numeric pad you must rotate the phone to landscape, though you can get by on a multi-tap numeric keypad from portrait mode. So in the end, itís a pretty poor keyboard compared to the sort of thing youíd see on Android or an iPhone.

Display: Like most Symbian^3 phones the C6 sports a resolution of 640 x 360, which is rather low compared to the standard 800 x 640 seen on virtually all other high-end smartphone these days (and even higher on some models). That resolution is presented on a 3.2-inch capacitive touch AMOLED display. Thatís not really a lot of screen real estate and it shows in the form of ultra-tiny fonts that area difficult to see if you canít focus up close. I wear glasses to see far away, and so if I take off my glasses I can focus extremely close, and thus it isnít a big deal for me, but with my glasses on its damned difficult to read many of those tiny fonts. When font sizes are larger they use up a large chunk of the screen and thus it isnít possible for the C6 to render as much information as a larger 800 x 640 phone.

The AMOLED display looks good, and while it isnít quite up to the level of the Super AMOLED on the Captivate, it looks pretty damned good, and itís even readable in bright sunshine. One of things you notice the most about an AMOLED display is the blackness of blacks. Because AMOLED actually emits light (rather than trying to block light emitted by a backlight), the absence of light generally looks jet black, even in dim lighting conditions.

Icing on the Cake

Camera: The C6 comes with an 8 megapixel camera that can also shoot video in 720p resolution. I took photographs with the C6, my Captivate, and my Sony Cybershot digital camera (set to 5 MP resolution). The Cybershot always wins, but overall quality of the C6 camera is actually very good and quite comparable to the Captivate. Sharp readers will note that the Captivate only has a 5 MP camera, but when it comes to image quality, the total number of pixels isnít always the deciding factor. While the C6 does indeed render more pixels than the Captivate, its images arenít detectably better. Color balance is a bit off, but itís easily correctable with photo editing software on your computer. The camera software isnít anything to write home about. It provides the usual assortment of functions, but not much else.

Video image quality is good, but the phone lags somewhat and produces far more skips in the video (especially at 720p) than youíd see with higher-end phones.

Connectivity: The C6 supports HSDPA to a maximum of 10 megabits and HSUPA to a maximum of 2 megabits. Thatís hardly top-of-the-line, but itís also pretty good. I didnít get an opportunity to test the HSPA data capabilities for the phone, but thereís no reason to believe it canít at least hold its own against any non-HSPA+ smartphone presently on the market.

Symbian^3 Operating System: If this review had taken place 2 years ago I would have had nothing but nice things to say about Symbian^3, but a lot has changed in those couple of years. Itís well known that Nokiaís sales are slipping badly and that theyíd joined forces with Microsoft to produce Windows Phone 7 devices. Nokia claims that Symbian^3 is a transition O/S that will essentially cease to exist by 2012. There isnít much of an enticement for software developers and it is unlikely that youíll see anything new released for Symbian over the coming year. There are already precious few apps available for the O/S compared to iPhone or Android. However, if you are a died-in-wool Symbian fan and you want something new to carry you over until the O/S disappears completely, you certainly canít go wrong with the C6.

Conclusions

As a phone the C6 is tough to beat. It has incredibly good RF sensitivity, pretty good incoming and outgoing audio quality, a decent speakerphone, and itís a fairly small (if rather hefty) piece of hardware. As a smartphone however, I just donít think it cuts it. I believe that youíd be way happier if you thought of the C6 as a super-powerful feature phone.

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