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Introduction
For a company not known for their flip-style phones, the 6131 is a stylish surprise from Nokia.  Done up in soft-finish black plastic with chrome trim, this quad-band GSM handset toes the visual line between business and fashion.  Though the phone isn't nearly so slim as the newest handsets from Motorola and Samsung, the 6131 is comfortable in hand and pocket alike.  More importantly, it packs a brilliant internal display and impressive feature set into an elegant, easy to use package.  If only it got better reception ... and had stronger battery life ... it might be the perfect mid-level mobile phone.

Nokia 6131Design
Nokia is known for their candybar-style forms, so it's something of a rare treat to see a new flip or "clamshell" style handset from the venerable Finnish company.  The 6131 is slightly smaller than average, at 3.62" x 1.88" x 0.78" and a weight of 112g.  I must say, though, that the phone appeared smaller to me at first glance - something about its sleek look and rounded corners gives it a somewhat deceiving "RAZR-esque" appearance.  One female friend of mine, in fact, remarked that the phone looked "really cool" until she picked it up and exclaimed, "oh, it's kind of bulky!"  The phone is finished in "soft touch" black paint that has a nice rubbery feel to it, with silver chrome accents and logos.

The front of the 6131 features a sensor for the 1.3 megapixel camera set above a 1.3" active TFT color display.  This display is used to show phone status, current time, caller ID info, and track info when the music player is in use, and it can be configured to show graphic wallpaper as well as photo or video caller ID.  The external display can also function as a viewfinder for the camera, which makes taking self-portraits easy (and addicting!).

The back panel of the phone is finished in a leather-like texture that's easy to grip, and is blank save for a Nokia logo near the top.  The top two-thirds of the panel slides off to reveal the battery, SIM card, and MicroSD memory card slots, as well as the AC charger and Pop-Port jacks located just below the phone's flip hinge.

A rocker switch on the left side of the phone controls volume for calls, ringtones, and music/media playback, and two buttons on the right side of the handset activate the camera and turn the phone on and off.  A larger round button at the top of the right panel triggers the handset's auto-flip mechanism, which opens the phone for use with a single press.  The flip button worked well for me, though I have heard other users complain of the button failing after a month or two of steady use.  Between the overall look of the device and the flip button, the 6131 resembles a high fashion version of the old Star Trek Communicator.

The interior of the 6131 is quite nice to look at and to touch.  The upper portion of the clamshell is devoted largely to the 2.2" QVGA display.  This is the type of big, crisp screen usually reserved for high-end smartphones.  Moving to the bottom portion of the clamshell, the keypad is comprised of the standard twelve buttons below a five-way navigation button flanked by four additional keys (call send, call end, and two softkeys).  Like the rest of the phone, the keypad is done up in black with silver accents, and is very sharp in a simple, elegant sort of way.

Holding the 6131 in either the closed or open position is quite comfortable, and the spacious layout of the keyboard makes it very easy to use either right- or left-handed.  Users with large hands and fingers shouldn't have any problems operating this phone. 

The main display is simply gorgeous, and renders the menus and other text and graphics of the Series 40 user interface in sharp, bright color that's easy to read.  The screen holds up better than most in direct sunlight, as well.  This was my first experience with a Series 40 phone, and the Active Standby menu system did take me a little while to get used to.  The icon screen is fully user customizable, and a built-in voice command system lets you navigate nearly the entire system by talking to the phone; once I got used to the operating system I began to appreciate its flexibility.  A standard menu system that will feel more familiar to some users is also available.

 


Features

For a phone that looks relatively simple, the 6131 has a pretty impressive set of features.  In addition to a quad-band GSM phone capable of GPRS and high-speed EDGE data transfer and Push-to-Talk capabilities (the T-Mobile account I tested the phone on doesn't support PTT), the handset's Series 40 operating system provides a platform for myriad productivity and entertainment options.  Bluetooth and USB connectivity allow for file transfer and installation of new applications from a computer as well as the use of the 6131 as a cellular modem with a laptop, and a built-in xHTML browser and eMail client provide basic mobile Internet functionality.  An IrDA port lets the 6131 double as a PC remote control  using Nokia's Wireless Presenter software.  The phone also suports Java MIDP 2.0 with over-the-air downloads of Java-based applications and games.

Nokia 6131 openThe included contacts and organizer applications are top-notch, both because they're very well designed and they're easy to read and navigate on such a large screen.  Contacts can be assigned photo, ringtone, and video Caller IDs, and ringtones may take the form of MIDI, mp3, WMA, or AAC audio files.  The phone can sync with Outlook, iSync (Mac), and other SyncML-compatible programs.  A Voice Recorder application allows on the go audio note taking, and alarm clock and stopwatch/countdown timer applications are also pre-installed.

An integrated media player supports stereo audio playback via the included earbuds, or mono playback through the phone's loudspeaker.  The music player is relatively simple, but does feature a graphic equalizer with user-customizable presets and an FM radio.  Audio quality through the included earphones was good, but if you add a 3.5mm stereo headphone adapter, a quality pair of earphones, and a 1GB or larger MicroSD card and the 6131 can double as a high-quality mp3 player.

The one hiccup with using the phone as a music player lies in the capacity of the inlcuded battery.  Simply put, the battery life of the 6131 was very disappointing.  Though the standard BL-C4 battery is rated by Nokia at 3.4 hours of talk time with "up to 10 days" of standby time, even with very limited use of non-voice call features, I found that I had to recharge the phone nightly or risk the dreaded "Low Battery" warning during the second day of usage.  Most other current phones - even my SE w800i Walkman phone, which is loaded with a 2MP camera and extensive media player functionality - last at least two full days under normal usage.

The 6131 comes with three pre-installed games, two of which (Snake and Soccer 4D) were pretty to look at but boring to play.  The third game, Sudoku, is a straightforward version of the popular puzzle game that's notable because it's programmed in the SWF (Macromedia Flash) format, which the phone supports.

Nokia built the 6131 with a 1.3 megapixel camera with 8x digital zoom.  The camera lacks a flash, and so isn't of much use in dark conditions.  Photo quality outdoor in well-lit rooms was average for a megapixel cameraphone, but not outstanding.  A night mode is available, but white balance setting is automatic only.  Both the interior and exterior displays can be used as viewfinders for the camera, which is handy.

The camera can also capture video at up to OCIF resolution (176 x 144 pixels).  Videos are saved as 3GP format files, and though the quality isn't so well suited for off-phone use, the ability to take a video as assign it as a caller ID clip to play when a particular person calls you is lots of fun

 


Display & Audio

As mentioned, the Nokia 6131 has two screens: The main internal display and a mini external display.  The main screen is a 2.2" active TFT capable of 16 million colors at QVGA (320 x 240) resolution, while the mini display is a 1.3" active TFT capable of showing 262,000 colors at 128 x 160 pixels.  Both screens are bright and easy to read, and the mini external display is put to better use on the 6131 than secondary screens on cell phones usually are.  But it's the internal display that's really one of the highlights of this handset.  The screen is flat-out beautiful, and makes navigation, game playing, and photo and video viewing a joy.  The screen also performs better than average in direct sunlight and other bright conditions.

Call quality on the 6131 was average to good.  I experienced a strange clicking noise during calls on many occasions, including in my home office and other locations where I regularly use other handsets with no similar problems. When this wasn't an issue, voice quality was good over the standard earpiece, speakerphone, and included handsfree headset.  I appreciated the in-line volume control on the handsfree module though I'm not a big fan of its necklace-style earphone cords.

I also tried the phone with a Bluetooth headset.  The 6131 easily paired with the headset, and audio quality over Bluetooth was good.  Stereo audio over Bluetooth is not supported.

The quad-band 850/900/1800/1900 MHz GSM radio performed well on T-Mobile's network, pulling in reception on par with other quad-band phones I've tried on the same network here in the San Francisco bay area. 


Messaging, Internet & Connectivity

With support for SMS and MMS messaging including messages with audio and video attachments (as supported by your service provider), the 6131 packs comprehensive messaging features.  The phone employs a handy log system for keeping track of recent messaging contacts and logs, which heavy texters will appreciate.  While the predictive text input system wasn't as much to my liking as the one employed by Sony Ericsson, it still made writing messages on the phone keypad relatively easy.

Nokia 6131 in handThough the 6131 lacks the sort of full-featured email client found on true smartphones, the Series 40 Operating System does support SMTP, POP3, and IMAP4 email with attachments.  The phone can be configured to access multiple email accounts so you can keep tabs on your Work and Personal email accounts on the go.

The 6131 has an integrated xHTML browser that supports browsing of WAP and simple Web pages.  Though there is no Wi-Fi support on the phone, Class 10 EDGE provides for relatively speedy browsing and downloads provided that your network coverage includes EDGE.  Otherwise, Class 10 GPRS downloads are also supported.  I was able to access T-Mobile "Tzones" WAP content on the 6131 with no problems.

Built-in Bluetooth, IrDA, and USB connectivity also allows the 6131 to function as a cellular modem with your PC.  The included Nokia PC Suite application for Windows walks you through the relatively simple process of tethering your laptop to the phone.

With built-in Bluetooth, USB, and IrDA, the 6131 will sync with your PC using the included PC Suite software (USB connectivity requires an optional USB-to-PopPort cable).  As mentioned, all three connections can be used for data syncing as well as cellular modem capacities.

The phone also features a removable microSD card slot that supports cards up to 2GB in size.  Since the phone only has about 11MB of available internal RAM, an external memory card will be essential to anyone planning to take advantage of the handset's camera and media player features.


Conclusion

Nokia 6131

A rare foray into flip phones for the giant Finnish manufacturer, the Nokia 6131 is a solid quad band GSM handset that thrives on good design and a great user interface but lacks in the battery department.  With a plethora of multimedia features backed by an external memory card slot, the 6131 can double as an excellent mp3 player with the addition of a few add-on accessories.  Though the megapixel shooter won't replace your stand-alone digital camera and the WAP Internet functionality won't replace your laptop, both features will certainly do in a pinch, helping you get a little extra mileage out of the 6131 than you might expect.

Nokia would do well to ship the phone with a more powerful battery and a microSD card so new owners could get a taste of how easy it is to use the phone as a portable entertainment device.  As it is, anyone looking to take full advantage of the 6131's media features will need to spend some extra money to retrofit the phone, which is a shame:  These few problems detract from what's otherwise an excellent offering from Nokia, combining features and ease-of-use into a compact, stylish handset.


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