My Impressions of the Nokia 6190
I have recently purchased the new Nokia 6190 for use here on Fido in Canada. Fido and cityfone are the GSM providers in these parts, and they are offering the 6190 with its optional "Analog Module" so that it can be used as a dual-mode phone. For those who do not already have a 6190, but would like to know what this incredible phone is like, then please read on.

Last Updated: 09-May-1998

Disclaimer: The following review represents my personal opinion. No bench testing was performed on this or any phone reviewed on my web page. If you don't agree with something I say, you are certainly welcome to politely bring it to my attention (in public or private). However, any out-and-out insults or flames will be igored.

Size, Weight, and Overall Construction

This phone is incredibly small and light. Just how light? Well without the analog module attached, the 6190 tips the scales at a mere 4.5 ounces. For comparison, the vaunted Motorola Startac weighs in at 3.9 ounces, but to achieve that it has to be used with a battery that provides rather poor service time. The older 2190 model (which many of you probably have) weighs 8 ounces. The 6190 is still lighter than that with its analog module attached (when it rises to 6.5 ounces).

The phone is 1 inch shorter than the 2190 (at 5.75 inches from the tip of its non-extendable antenna to its base) and 1/2 inches skinnier (1.75 inches). The depth is approximately the same as the 2190 with its slim battery (0.85 inches).

Despite its small size and light weight, the phone seems well built and rugged. This is in stark contrast to the Motorola Startac that feels like you could crush it if you weren't being too careful.

The keys are simply marvelous. They press with a satisfying click, and yet they have a light touch to them. The battery fits snugly into its slots, and there are almost no signs of mis-match between the battery and main unit. Similar quality of construction can be noted when you attach the analog module.

Battery Life

With the 900 mAh Lithium Ion battery, Nokia claims 60 to 270 hours of standby and from 3 to 5 hours of talk time. I haven't been able to confirm these numbers, but the battery does seem to keep "going and going". A friend of mine recently reported getting 48 hours of standby on his battery WITH over 2 hours of talk time. The standard charger supplied with the phone takes 4 hours to fully charge this battery, but given the incredible standby and talk times, it isn't really a hardship to put the phone on charge overnight and then use it throughout the next day.


I don't know about you, but one of the biggest issues for me is how well the phone performs. In this regard, the 6190 is a clear winner. The first thing you notice is that Nokia have FINALLY fixed their long-standing habit of providing phones with insufficient earpiece volume. This one will provide enough volume to make the phone usable in all circumstances. I would say it is on par with the Qualcomm phones (and perhaps even a little louder). The speaker doesn't distort, even when you apply volumes that can make your ears hurt.

The sound quality is simply gorgeous, and miles better than what we had on the 2190. Some people do feel it has a slightly hollow sound it, but this isn't as much of a problem as they would have you believe. If anyone out there had written off GSM audio quality on the basis of the 2190, wait until you hear this thing. GSM users no longer have to make excuses to friends with CDMA phones, not that there was anything really wrong with the sound quality in the first place. This should prove once and for all that the sound quality differences between GSM and CDMA are a matter of phone design and NOT network design. Both use modern 13 kilobit voice coders, though their philosophies differ slightly.

Even without a pull-up antenna, the reception on this phone is at least as good as the 2190. I have found circumstances where the 2190 does do slightly better, but the differences are slight and hardly worth worrying about. The 6190 still behaves the same as the 2190 in-so-much as audio foibles related to GSM are concerned. Don't expect any changes in the area of audio response to weak signals or handoffs.

Analog Module

The Analog Module is a bit odd looking, and it does make the phone about twice as thick. However, the phone is so small to begin with that it is actually more comfortable to hold with the module attached. The sound quality obviously doesn't compare well to that provided by GSM, but it sounds fairly good overall, and it seems to perform quite well. The phone maintains a SEPARATE timer for digital and analog airtime, so you don't have to worry about your analog usage messing up your monthly digital timer.

I tried the Analog Module on Highway 10 in the Caledon hills. Analog service on Bell Mobility is rather questionable in there, and I didn't really expect the 6190 to handle it very well. Much to my surprise however, the unit performed extremely well, and kept the crackling to a minimum. I wouldn't say it was the BEST analog reception I have ever heard, but it is certainly close. This is in stark contrast to the rather poor analog receiver on the Qualcomm/Sony phone.

Another great feature (not found on the Qualcomm/Sony phones used on Bell Mobility and Clearnet) is that it lets you set Analog-only, Digital-Only, or Analog/Digital. If you are in a questionable digital area, you can set the phone to use analog by default and get around a problem that drives Clearnet and Bell Mobility owners nuts.


The phone's basic design and operational flow is about the best I have yet experienced in a phone. This is a highly contentious thing however, since everyone seems to have their own ideas of what constitutes a sound ergonomic design. There area a few minor flaws in the execution of Nokia's concept, but I find it works extremely well 95% of the time. For example, pressing the TALK key once automatically launches the display of the last 10 dialed numbers. You can immediately scroll through these numbers using the up and down cursor keys, and then press TALK again to dial the number you want. Or, you can just press TALK a second time to redial the last number you called.

During a call, the two "soft keys" are programmed to execute the most common functions. By default, one key is assigned to "Drop", while the other is assigned to "Options". By pressing the options button, you can immediately gain access to in-call features such as Hold, Conference, New Call, Mute, or you can get to the standard menus or list of phone book entries. When a another call comes in while you are already in a call, the soft keys let you answer that call, or immediately send it to your voice mail without answering. You can have conference calls with as many as 6 people, and at any time you can use the Options menu to have a private conversation with one of the callers while the others can continue the conference in your absence. You can also use the menu to drop any single party from the conference call without affecting the others.

The soft keys change to show you the most common functions available during any given menu operation. You can always use the END key to completely abort any menu operation, no matter how deeply in you have gone. Just be careful that you don't press END while a call is coming in though. This is used to signal to the network that you would like that incoming call sent immediately to your voice mail.

The menu structures, combined with the wonderful keypad, make it a JOY to work your way through just about all of the huge array of features offered by this phone. The only real chink in the armor however, has to do with the fonts used in a couple of instances. For example, when a call comes in, the Caller ID is always displayed in the smaller available font. This is difficult to read at a glance, particularly at night, and even more so when you are driving. The clock is always displayed in a rather tiny font also. There seems to be so much unused screen real estate when the phone is just idling that there seems no excuse for keeping the clock so small.


Oh boy, this is the part of the article that ought to get most of you drooling (assuming you aren't already). The feature set in this phone is simply MILES ahead of anything else I have seen on a PCS phone available in North America (not including the Nokia 9000). I doubt I'll cover everything, but I'll try.

The display is different from what we have become accustomed to with cellular/PCS phones. Instead of consisting of a grid of pixel "blocks" that make up the individual characters, the display is a continuous grid of pixels. This makes it very much like a computer screen, and Nokia uses this to its advantage. Since characters are not restricted to pre-defined areas of the display, Nokia can use a number of different FONT SIZES, and the fonts themselves are PROPORTIONAL. They also make extensive use of ICONS and boxes drawn around input fields. The display has a distinct computer feel to it.

With the 16K SIM provided with the phone, you can store 100 names and numbers in your phone book. Unlike the 2190, all of the names are stored on the SIM. This phone finally gets away from the concept of numbering your phone book entries, and this may annoy some people who were used to speed dialing all their phone book entries. Nokia continues to provide speed dialing on keys 2 through 8, but unlike the 2190, you don't actually store the information "in" those keys. Instead, you assign each of these keys to one of the entries in your phone book. This means you can quickly change the assignments of your speed dial keys without entering new information or moving phone book entries around.

The phone offers 35 different ring tones, many of which are reasonable facsimiles of classical music. The other non-musical rings are quite well designed, and you have plenty of sounds to choose from. Nokia does not let you compose your own music however, so in that regard Ericsson does have a slight upper-hand. The 6190 introduces the concept of "Caller Groups". You can optionally assign each of your phone book entries to one of 5 different Caller Groups. Each Caller Group gets its own unique ring sound, so you can tell who is calling you before you look at the phone.

It also introduces the concept of "Profiles", which allow you to change many of the phones settings in one quick action. The profiles define the default ring sound (for callers not in your phone book, or for those not assigned to a Caller Group); the volume of the ringer; the sound used to announce incoming messages; and the volume of the keypad sounds. But the really cool thing is that you can define which Caller Groups are actually ALLOWED to ring your phone! Say you are at a meeting and you don't want your phone ringing all the time. However, you do have an important call coming in, and you don't want to miss it. If that important caller is assigned to a Caller Group that you have set up in this Profile, then his call WILL RING your phone. All other calls will not. You can also set a Profile to ring through all calls, or none at all.

The phone includes a simple 4-function calculator. I had a phone with a calculator on it once, and I found the feature really convenient. I'm happy to have a phone with such a feature once again.

Unlike the 2190, the 6190 includes a built-in clock. Not only can you display the time on your screen, but the phone also records the date and time of each call in the three different call logs. Like before, these include a "Received Calls", "Missed Calls", and "Dialed Calls" log, providing 10 entries each. Unlike the 2190 however, you can actually delete unwanted entries from these lists; selectively delete entire lists; or delete all three lists at once. The clock also comes with an ALARM feature. You can set the alarm to "ring" at some time in the future EVEN IF THE PHONE IS TURNED OFF. When the alarm rings, you can cancel it, or you can press the SNOOZE button and the alarm will ring again in 5 minutes.

The phone also includes a calendar, in which you can store various types of information. You can record birthdays, phone call reminders, meeting reminders, or general reminders. Each reminder can have an alarm attached to it, and that alarm can be set to alert you any amount of time you like prior to the event. You can use the text messaging feature to send a calendar item to another GSM subscriber, who can then store this reminder directly into his calendar. You can also send phone book entries to other users too, in the form of "business cards". The receiver can store the information directly into their own phone book without having to copy it by hand from the text message.

The text messaging feature has been organized more like an e-mail program. It includes and inbox and an outbox, thus making a distinction between messages you have received, and those you have stored for future transmission. Message summaries are shown in a scrollable list, from which you directly select the message you want to read.

Some people have complained that the forwarding menu only contains options for unconditional forwarding and forwarding when you cannot be reached. I have looked carefully into the design, and what Nokia has done is actually very smart. GSM provides four different types of call forwarding, which are "unconditional" (the type most of us know), "on busy", "on no answer", and "when out of the service area". When forwarding your phone to your voice mail, you really have to set the last three types, which on the 2190 had to be done one at a time. The 6190 however, sets all three of these forwarding types in one shot, which for 99% of the users is what they actually want. You can still set the options individually using the standard GSM codes. For details see GSM Features.

The Games

And could we forget the GAMES. I don't know how useful these will be to many people, but if you are ever stuck somewhere with nothing to do, these games could provide a welcome diversion. There are three games, and a dice roller. The games themselves are reasonably well executed, but this is hardly a Game Boy. I like them, and it's nice to see such a feature on a PCS phone (really). The following are some screens from the various games used on this phone:

Memory Snake
Logic Dice

The first game is called "Memory". Hidden under a grid of tiles are small icons. There are two of each icon, and you must match them all up. You can select any two tiles at once, but if the ones you choose don't match, those tiles are covered up again. Your goal is to try and remember where you last saw the icon in question in order to finish the game in the fewest number of attempts. The icons themselves are all very cute (considering how few pixels they are made up from). I'm still seeing icons I'd not seen before, and they include fish, cars, boats, antennas, faces, cats, PCS phones, and tons more. There are 5 levels of play, each representing a different size grid.

The second game is the classic "Snake". This one has been around on computers since the mid-70's, owning to its general simplicity. You guide a snake around the screen to pick up food pellets that randomly appear each time you eat one. Over time your snake grows longer, so it become more and more difficult to avoid crashing into yourself, or into a wall. Once you do, the game is over. There are 9 levels of play, each moving the snake progressively faster. At the fastest speed I couldn't even play the game for 30 seconds, so there is plenty of challenge here for the future.

The third game is called "Logic", but is is actually the old non-computer game called "Mastermind". You have to guess a secret sequence of icons, but the only information you get after each guess is how many of your icons were correctly placed, and how many were right, but not correctly placed. This game is great at developing your logic skills (as the name suggests). There are 9 levels of play, each of which select varying numbers of icons used in 4 or 5 icon sequences.

The fourth game isn't really a game, its a dice thrower. You can toss between 1 and 6 dice, and once you have done that you can "lock down" any of those dice and re-throw the remaining ones (which should make this suitable for Yahtzee). You could also use the feature to generate random values when necessary, or to use with traditional board games that require dice.

So, do I have any gripes with this new phone? Yes I do, but they aren't as bad as you might think. As noted earlier, the phone uses various size fonts to display information, and most of the time this information is very readable. Unfortunately, Nokia chose to use the smallest non-bold font they could find for displaying the name of incoming caller. It is not easy to just glance at the phone to see the name or number of your caller (especially if you need to wear glasses). It is even tougher at night, and doubly do if you are trying to drive a car at the same time. I also wish they could have come up with a better way to list messages, rather than just by the sender's phone number. If you get most (or all) of your messages from the same source, then each of the entries in the inbox will look identical.

That's about it however. I really love this new phone, and I think I can say without hesitation that it is the BEST wireless phone I've ever owned (and I'm owned a lot of them).

Other Reviews of the Nokia 6190

Review by Steve Romaine