The X6 delivers first-class features in a second-rate package. The excellent camera and media player are tarnished by a clunky on-screen keyboard and a sometimes confusing user experience.
Nokia die-hards will recognise the X6 immediately. Its boxier, slightly slimmer frame may suggest an entirely new handset, but there's no denying the X6 is just the 5800 XpressMusic dressed a little differently and with a much easier name to say. In a way, the X6 is the phone the 5800 XM should have been; its capacitive touchscreen and 16GB of internal storage were two areas where the 5800 could have been easily improved.
The handset itself lacks the overall polish we expect from a Nokia handset. Its matte-finished black plastic feels a bit cheap to us, the battery cover of our review unit rattles slightly against the body of the phone and the flap covering the USB port won't return to laying flush with the top of the phone, regardless of how hard (or how gently) we try to reposition it. These are minor issues to be sure, but they collect to form a less than perfect first impression.
The X6 features all the external controls you'd expect from a smartphone: a volume rocker, dedicated camera key, a touchscreen lock switch, a 3.5mm headphone port and a micro USB input, plus a few extra external holes to fill including a side-loaded SIM slot, a Nokia proprietary charging pin port and a couple of holes to loop a lanyard through at the base, if you're into that sort of thing. The proprietary charging port is the only disappointment in this list. The X6 was obviously designed prior to the agreement by all manufacturers to use micro USB charging as a standard, meaning if you buy an X6 it's likely you won't be able to share your charger with your room-mates or family members.
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Power up the X6 and you'll be faced with the Nokia Series 60 operating system, which is again similar to the system we saw on the 5800 XM, and also on the Nokia N97 released a little later in 2009. This system has been in dire need of a refresh for quite some type, especially in regards to its operation on touchscreen devices, and sadly we see very little has changed before its deployment in the X6.
We did notice a minor home screen adjustment, where Nokia has added a revolving menu for your favourite contacts on the home screen, which allows you to dial a number with a single click. Nokia has also added kinetic scrolling in most menus featuring long lists, like your address book, so you can use a swipe gesture on the screen to scroll quickly through to the middle or the bottom of the list.
The great shortcoming of this system in its current state is the design of the on-screen keyboard. Nokia includes the option to convert the full-QWERTY keyboard layout to a standard T9 numeric pad layout, which may help some with the transition, but the predictive text is outdated for its role on a touchscreen phone. Traditional predictive text relies on the user punching in the correct combination of letters, whereas touchscreen auto-correction software, like we see on the iPhone, relies instead on the user being reasonably accurate. The difference will result in users of the X6 constantly hitting backspace to correct mistakes made by chubby fingers on the screen.
As with its Nokia N-Series brethren, the X6 is a jack of all trades, offering a great combination of features including a 5-megapixel camera, a decent music player with video supported by the widescreen display, and a slew of business tools to boot. Typically, we find that one area or another tends to suffer when a phone tries to do a little bit of everything, but the X6 is the culmination of Nokia's developments in each of these areas in other specialised handsets brought together in one place.
The 5-megapixel camera is a standout, and one area that Nokia has long been known for as a leader in mobile photography with its partnership with Carl Zeiss optics, and the X6 delivers just as many N-Series handsets have done before it. Shutter lag is almost non-existent when firing off this snappy little camera; on average we saw a 0.6 second delay from the when we squeezed the trigger to when the X6 displayed the results. The colour balance in the photos we've taken is excellent, even if it tends towards colder colours, the way many Nokia phones do (do you think the freezing Finnish climate may play a role in the way these cameras are calibrated?).
Even though the X6 doesn't officially carry the XpressMusic branding, it is still undeniably a Nokia music phone. As such, we expect a first-class music experience, and we haven't been disappointed. In truth, there isn't a huge difference between the media player in the X6 and the media player in the 5800, but this isn't a bad thing. The media experience is clean and easy to use, with access to the equaliser and other settings just a few clicks away.
In addition to the music software, Nokia also tosses a very capable pair of ear buds in the box with the handset. These headphones feature an all-in-one handsfree remote-cum-music controller button array halfway along the connecting cable, which is great for controlling the media player without touching the phone. But the real shocker is how fantastic and loud the sound is that comes out of these headphones. Usually bundled headphones are a sorry affair, but these sleek, white 'phones are impressively loud, clear and even-sounding across all frequencies.
There's no getting past the fact that the X6 feels like yesterday's hero, and let's not forget that Nokia first announced the X6 back in September 2009, which of course means the majority of the phone's design would have taken place over 12 months prior to that. So certain aspects we take for granted in the smartphones of 2010 just aren't up to scratch in the X6. The phone feels sluggish and the menu structure is confusing. The home screen is not customisable in the same way the numerous home screens are on the Nokia N900 or on any Google Android phone.
The X6 will most certainly please some people more than others. People who value phone calls over text messages and who would love to trade in their iPod will find the X6 to be a suitable handset, especially those who are already familiar with Nokia's sometimes confusing operating system. Anyone looking to send numerous text messages daily will find better on-screen keyboard performance in a swag of other touchscreen devices, or should consider a mechanical keyboard instead.
This time last year we gave the 5800 XpressMusic an Editors' Choice award for delivering what could be considered a comparable list of features and similar performance to the X6, and for the added value of Nokia's unrepeated all-you-can-eat Comes With Music offer. But without 12 months free music and without a significant increase in design or performance we can't lavish the X6 in similar praise a full year later. The X6 is a solid phone with a great camera and good multimedia experience, but it lacks the fluid ease of use you would find in the iPhone, BlackBerrys and growing range of Google Android phones.