The story so far
The X6 received numerous review parts here on AAS over the years, first by Ewan and then by me as the firmware matured and as a 16GB model followed the 32GB one. A year on again and we're awaiting what should be the last planned upgrade cycle for the X6, with latest versions of Nokia Maps, Web and more. Given that the X6 first appeared almost two years ago, it's great to see it still receiving love from Nokia's Symbian team. This feature centres around the 16GB model, which in this case I picked up on eBay for around £90 in mint condition:
As with all other Nokia and Symbian phones (it seems), the X6 has a number of significant pros and cons:
- Still a pretty phone (especially the white and blue version here) and nicely sized for everyday use
- Capacitive screen (unique in Nokia's S60 5th Edition range) fits in well with 2010/2011 expectations of screen responsiveness
- Glass screen is much harder wearing than the soft plastic of the resistive screens of other Nokia smartphones of the era
- Stereo loudspeakers are outstanding in volume and quality
- The internal system (C:) disk has an extra 256MB over those in the 5800, N97 and other smartphones of its era. As with the N97 mini, most people start off with just over 300MB free, making it far easier to stay abreast of updates and add-ons without running into memory trouble
- Camera is very good, with Carl Zeiss lens and a cut above nearly all 5mp-toting non-Symbian competitors; there's also a nice, two-stage shutter button
- Full support from Nokia in terms of Maps, Store and performance updates in firmware
- Physical Menu/Call/End buttons - these are becoming rarer and rarer in 2011 phones
- The TFT screen washes out darkly in strong sunlight
- Build quality can be suspect, with paper thin back cover and dust ingress reported in some people's units (though not in the one featured here)
- Screen size, at 3.2", is small by 2011 standards, but pixel density ('sharpness') is, conversely, quite high
- S60 5th Edition has come on a lot, but there are still plenty of instances of 'scroll and select' behaviour (i.e. 'double tap') in the UI
- No text correction on the virtual qwerty keyboard in landscape mode
- No focussing in video capture mode and anything closer than a metre is very blurry
- No microUSB charging - it's 2mm only and the microUSB is just for data
- Capacity is limited by the internal 16GB chip - there's no expansion via microSD
Bringing the X6 up to date
There's quite a bit to do here, but for me at least this is the best bit - taking an older, unloved device and bringing it right up to date, with performance and functionality that you (or the original owner) never saw, back in the day.
Latest firmware and clearing out
It goes without saying that you'll need latest firmware on your X6. Version 32 firmware was released a few months ago for many X6 variants and it's a piece of cake to plug the device into Ovi Suite on a PC or use *#0000# on the dialler screen to update over the air. Or at least it should have been. For some reason, neither showed my eBay v20 firmware device any update love.
The solution was to use the standalone Nokia Software Update utility (now renamed just 'Phone Update'), which seems to pluck firmwares out of the ether when Ovi Suite and OTA fail miserably. Definitely worth keeping to hand on a Windows computer for just this sort of occasion. Version 32 firmware was offered and quickly installed, bringing better performance all round and newer versions of Ovi Maps and Web.
Having made sure that the core firmware is right up to date, it's highly advisable to hard reset the device, to clear out old OS temporary and settings files, old trial applications, and so on. You know the drill, *#7370# on the dialler, default lock code 12345.
There may also be rubbish hanging around on the X6's 16GB mass memory - in the case of my eBay device, I got a minute long erroneous 'Installing' message after each phone startup because of something in a system folder on disk E: Therefore the next step, you've guessed it, is to go into File manager and into disk E: and then 'Format mass memory'.
Application updates for 2011
We've thus wiped everything that can be wiped, and we know the core is up to date. Time to start having fun! Let's see what else has been updated and upgraded in the intervening year or so since the X6 was in mainstream use.
Firstly, check your cellular access point is valid in Settings>Connectivity>Destinations - you'll need to go online for several application set ups. Secondly, set up your wi-fi too, in Settings>Connectivity>Wireless LAN - again, you'll need it, some of the updates and over-the-air apps will be fairly large and you'll want to shunt these via wi-fi to save time and money.
Now look in 'Applications>Sw_update' to get going. After your wipe and after so long 'in the wilderness', there will be a raft of application updates waiting. I'd suggest installing a few at a time rather than ticking everything in one go. This is because some apps benefit from a restart of the phone after the update. Music player and MfE, in particular, could do with a restart to make sure every part of their code gets loaded into the OS at boot time.
Ovi Maps (soon to be renamed, of course!) also needs a restart and indeed does this for you, since Maps integration is so tightly bound into Symbian OS now. Maps 3.6 is pretty up to date in terms of interface and plug-ins and works superbly as a sat-nav, as it does on most other Nokia phones of the last 3 years.
Note that version 20 firmware included Maps 3.3 - the update to 3.6 is a significant step and well worth performing.
Getting up to date with Qt
Many times on AAS when we talk about Qt and Qt apps, we imply that this is for Symbian^3 and Symbian Anna devices, with not much of a nod to the previous generation of Symbian hardware. However, selected S60 5th Edition phones, including the N97 mini and, yes, the X6, have a much expanded system (C:) disk and, as a result, have the space for the Qt runtimes. Performance is pretty good too - Qt apps don't run as fast as native Symbian ones on the X6, but they're quite usable and it does mean that many 2011 applications reviewed on All About Symbian can also be installed to this relatively old smartphone.
The best way to get the X6 kitted out with Qt runtimes is to install a few Qt applications that you fancy, perhaps by reading one of our reviews. In my case, I plumped for Professional Metronome, which is a cracking musical aid and also includes the necessary hooks for Nokia's 'Smart Installer' to grind into action and download the bits of Qt that are needed.
I also grabbed a few Offscreen ebooks, each of which are also written in Qt, and these prompted Smart Installer to go and get even more Qt bits. Don't worry, once installed, they're there for good and only have to be downloaded again if there's an underlying Qt update.
You'll have seen references to Nokia Messaging/Email above - it's a mess that Nokia call this same up by two different names, but there you go.... The good news is that this works rather well on the X6 with v32 firmware and the new Email application. Performance isn't bad and I liked the way the number of unread messages and at least one sender/subject is shown on the homescreen by default - it makes the latter more useful and a single tap on the email 'plug-in' on the X6's screen and you're into the main Email application.
The latest Ovi Store client should download itself when you start up the client in the v32 firmware - if all else fails, go back to store.ovi.mobi in Web and you may be able to grab the latest Ovi Store client for S60 5th Edition from there. It's not as smooth as the Symbian^3 version and you don't get auto-notification of updates to installed applications, but it's otherwise very functional.
Version 20 firmware fixed up a number of initial bugs and performance problems, I can't say that v32 is any faster, but it's certainly got more bells and whistles and (hopefully) almost zero bugs. With a little patience now and then, performance isn't a showstopper. Having said that, if you've seen a graphics-accelerated N8 or C6-01, the X6 is noticeably less responsive, despite the instant recognition of screen taps and swipes on the capacitive touchscreen.
Free RAM isn't as impressive as the internal flash capacity. Around 50MB free after booting means that the X6 is basically in the same boat as the 5800, N97 and other S60 5th Edition smartphones. Though RAM-management has been optimised slightly in recent firmwares, anyone pushing the boundaries (e.g. Web, Gravity and Nokia Messaging/Email all open, all the time) will hit the buffers sooner rather than later. Approach one is to let Symbian OS do its thing, closing apps when you run out and generally trying to fit a quart into a pint pot. It works well enough if you're fairly gentle with your apps and 'Exit' the heavy duty ones (Web, Photos, Maps, Camera, etc) manually when you're done with them.
Another solution that I've used to great effect on the N97 and X6 is to use RAMBlow, a utility which does two things. One, it terminates apps which have been left idle in the background and which you've probably forgotten about for now. Two, it cleans up free RAM, making it more useable in contiguous blocks to new applications. Vital to good RAMBlow use is to bring up its Tasks view and 'toggle protection' for the apps you really must have running all the time. In my case, Email, Podcasting and Music player.
Colour schemes and themes
Trivial, I know, but it's a really nice touch to put a modern 2011 'Symbian Anna' theme on a device from two years ago. The themes work perfectly, give you all new icons and it's easy to pretend you're rocking something a lot more modern. In this case, I headed for some 'Anna' themes in the Ovi Store, both free:
The way the Ovi Store client now offers to set a downloaded theme as the current theme is a really nice touch, I ended up staying on the 'Glows' one, which looked great on the white/blue X6:
As on other devices, once you've tired of the 'Theme effects' (transitions) in the theme system (i.e. between different menus and apps), turn them off in Settings>Personal>Themes>General>Options - the X6 suddenly seems to run 50% faster and leaps quickly from screen to screen - a great improvement!
Compared to the N8, E7 and X7 (the latter arguably the successor to the X6), the X6 scores heavily by having a removeable battery, the BL-5J, rated at 1320mAh - easily enough to get this rather modest Symbian smartphone through a day of use and often two days on a single charge - yet with a spare BL-5J in your pocket to take you another two days of normal use beyond that.
Buying up spares on the Internet has always been tricky. Unscrupulous eBay sellers show what appear to be genuine batteries but often turn out to be fakes. I recommend Amazon here, with a much higher proportion of batteries being genuine - prices start from about £4, but do check seller feedback before purchasing! Avoid third party sellers with less than perfect feedback and, when the battery is received, examine the holograms with a fine toothcomb to prove their origin etc.
You can charge the BL-5J in the X6, of course, but it's even better to charge up your spares in something like this. That way dropping in a fully charged battery is completely trivial.
There are plenty of third party applications to make a beeline for - and to perhaps avoid. You'll have your own favourites by now, as a seasoned AAS reader, but here are some that I grabbed in pimping the new editorial X6.
- Skype, in its pure Symbian form, is well worth grabbing from m.skype.com, as it works brilliantly and, for this AAS staffer at least, enables the mobile office to function even when I'm mobile.
- Much has been said about Symbian's S60 5th Edition Web browser, so I won't repeat that all here, except to say that it's still relatively crippled (in terms of displaying desktop-class 2011 web sites) on the X6 because of the relative lack of free RAM. Instead, I suggest you install the native Symbian) version of Opera Mini 'for Symbian/S60' from m.opera.com. This works just as well as the old Java-based version, with the advantages that it uses less RAM, runs faster, starts faster and is better integrated into the X6's interface. Run, don't walk, etc.
- PhoneTorch works brilliantly to turn the X6 into a surprisingly bright dual LED torch, for those forays into the back yard after dark, now that Autumn's drawing in. Modern Symbian^3 smartphones tend to have this function built-in and mapped to a long press on the keylock switch, but on the X6 it's almost worth assigning PhoneTorch one of the homescreen application shortcut slots.
- One of the biggest losses to day to day usability on the X6 is that of telling the time - the keylock screen just pops up a 'how to unlock' message - the underlying display may or may not show a clock. Make a direct beeline for the excellent Key Lock Clock. Once installed, this utility acts to pop up a clock at normal brightness whenever you press the main X6 central 'menu' button - without disturbing the keylock itself. Quite brilliant and a great way to tell the time quickly even in the middle of the night without disturbing your partner.
- A bundle of Offscreen utilities come recommended by me, including Egg Timer and Converter, all available through the Ovi Store, for when you need them.
- With this being S60 5th Edition, there's no Nokia Social, so it's really down to the popular Gravity Twitter/Facebook/Foursquare client to handle all of these duties. Most useful of all is using Gravity to upload photos to these services as well, it's not just a social updates tool these days. One negative is that Gravity is now fairly RAM-hungry, so either the OS itself or RAMBlow (see above) will shut it down if you don't use it for a while! Still, all the data is cached, so getting back online is quite quick.
- As ever, I'm a fan of Handy Safe Pro and make sure this is on every Symbian device, syncing my private data to all other phones and desktops. Not that I'm paranoid, but....
- Finally, following a process I started with the limited battery life in the E7, I now put Profile Scheduler on every phone, making sure that it's offline from 11pm to 7am - making sure I get a good night's sleep and also that no battery power is wasted with connections and activities that I'm not awake to see. With the X6's battery life being good already, this is just the icing on the cake - but I installed it anyway!
Multimedia on the X6
With the superlative stereo speakers, it's a natural fit to look for multimedia-specific applications for the X6. Make a beeline for Nokia Internet Radio which should appear in SW_update - if not, it'll be in the Ovi Store. With the tens of thousands of Internet radio stations and the great audio output, this app makes the X6 just about the best phone in the world for Internet Radio, I reckon.
In addition, make sure you (if you're in the UK) look out BBC iPlayer by going to bbc.co.uk in Web and scrolling down. You'll be able to stream TV programmes and download them with DRM (e.g. for 30 days), for watching programmes on journeys with intermittent connectivity.
There's also Google's YouTube client, even though the streams this uses aren't as high quality as on other non-Symbian phones, sadly - you may want to use m.youtube.com and double tap on playing videos to bring them full-screen - I've found that this uses a higher quality video.
Video playback isn't a strong suit of the non-graphics-accelerated X6 - it'll handle simple MP4 files with basic codecs, but it'll sulk and only 'partially' play video content that uses anything advanced. Still, there are plenty of solutions (e.g. Handbrake) of transcoding anything important to a more basic MP4 file variant.
The X6 fares much better with music, with 16 Gigabytes to fill up, though the absence of a microSD slot means that you're going to have to stop short of putting on your entire music library. Note that there's a 32GB variant of the X6 which gives extra capacity at the expense of performance (the 32GB chip being significantly slower than the 16GB one).
The N97's v20 firmware Music player (i.e. the next generation version) has been used, but without a keyboard on the X6, there's no way to type in characters in order to quick-match track, artist or album names. And there's no 'Find' function on the menu, leaving X6 owners potentially high and dry. Having said that, if you tend to play your music album by album (like me) then this might not be something you need. With a reduced capacity of 16GB for all your music, videos, apps, photos and so on, you probably won't be losing music very often.
In addition, hidden in the 'Internet' folder is 'Search', which does a rather good job of finding entries, tracks, media, etc. in your phone with only a few search string characters. So, if you're looking for a particular track, you can search for it here and then switch over to Music player as needed. Messy though!
Finally, I can't resist highlighting one of my favourite Symbian applications - which failed to make the jump to Symbian^3 - Nokia Podcasting. The X6's monster speakers again make this application stand out, with podcast voices delivered with high fidelity - it's almost like having a quality radio besides you as you do the household chores or as you exercise. Via headphones, you've got full Nokia multimedia headset control or you can use the supplied ( in my unit's box) Bluetooth stereo headset, along with any chosen in ear headphones of your choice.
Nokia Podcasting excels at automated podcast gathering. Once it's set up, new podcasts just arrive by the hour and are marked as new and waiting to be listened to. Getting my favourites from my previous smartphone to the X6 can be done in a number of ways, but I prefer to highlight all podcasts in Podcasting on one phone, then 'Send' them via Bluetooth to the new one (X6). The feeds then sit in a 'Received' directory in Podcasting, waiting for you to pick out the ones you want and 'Subscribe'. The system works well.
One of the gems of the S60 interface is the way application icons can be shuffled around as needed. Use 'Options>Organise' on any application menu and either drag and drop or use the Options functions to move icons to other folders. And, with the X6, you'll need to do quite a bit of this, since by default new applications get put in a 'Installed apps' folder - inside 'Applications', putting your hot new apps two levels down in the interface.
I've therefore settled on this hierarchy:
- Connection Manager, Calendar, Profiles, Clock, Telephone, Contacts are all one tap shortcuts on the standard homescreen framework
- This being an 'XpressMusic' branded device, there are extra media-related shortcuts on the 'one touch' key/spot above the top right of the screen, giving easy access to Music player, Gallery, Share online (now somewhat obsolete), Video centre and Web.
- The Email and Music plugins on the homescreen give one touch access to my email and control of any music track that is playing.
- I assign the four application shortcuts at the bottom of the homescreen, in my case to Gravity, Podcasting, Micropool and Bluetooth - though you'll have your own ideas of the apps you use most often.
So there we have around 16 applications only one touch (or so) away and we haven't even got to the S60/Symbian menu yet. I then move my 'Installed apps' up a level into 'Applications' and drag and drop them there so that the most used 'extra' apps are at the top of the folder. We're talking about spending 15 minutes customising and fiddling, but then if you've got this far through this article, you won't think twice about a little extra tweaking!
Coming soon - allegedly!
Released recently for other S60 5th Edition phones, we're expecting the X6 to also get yet more new firmware, this time bringing elements of Symbian Anna, principally the new revamped Web browser, shown below. We don't currently have a date for this, but again it's good to know that the X6 hasn't been totally forgotten. And with the arrival of this update, the 'pimping' of the X6 will arguably reach a whole new level - RAM permitting!
In my original review, from May 2010, I said:
"There's a lot to like about the X6 16GB. The overall form factor is a perfect compromise of size versus function - it's great as a phone. And, yes, you can enter text using virtual T9 faster than you could on some physical keypads. The screen's gorgeous in most (though not all) light conditions, the capacitive touch delights and those speakers are just insane - for a phone."
I then highlighted some cons, including the relatively low RAM, the smallish 3.2" screen and the lack of expansion, but these negatives should now be borne in mind set against the X6's price on the open market. On eBay, the SIM-free X6 regularly goes for less than £100, network-locked models much less, while you can sometimes find the new phone in 'Clearance' sections in stores and online.
Yes, this is 2011 and the overall smartphone bar has been raised across the board, but I still think that an X6, especially this rather natty white and blue variant, represents a stylish bargain at under a third of its original starting retail price.
Comments welcome - perhaps you've picked up an X6 bargain yourself recently?
Steve Litchfield, All About Symbian, 7 September 2011