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Nokia 6185/6188 Review
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Nokia 6185The Telus Mobility/Clearnet PCS Nokia 6188 came out in mid-June 1999. The following is a review of this 800 AMPS/CDMA, 1900 CDMA handset, version 439SD3a2.

The Nokia 6185 and 6188 are basically the same handset with a different face plate. The 6188 is a Telus Mobility/Clearnet exclusive, whereas the 6185 is sold by Telus Mobility and Bell Mobility in Canada and by Sprint PCS and other CDMA providers in the US.

This review covers both handset models.

Evaluation Procedure

How I reviewed this handset: I have never owned a Nokia phone before, so I have approached this review as a new Nokia owner. If you have owned any of Nokia's recent models (e.g., 5190, 6160, 6161, 6190, etc), then you might find some of this review repetitive. I do make some comparisons here between this new phone, the older Telus Mobility Sony PCS, and the Telus Mobility Qualcomm 1960.

Background Information

The 6188 supports three different modes: AMPS analog coverage at 800 MHz for either A (Rogers) or B (Mobility) band and CDMA coverage at both 800 MHz (Telus Mobility) and 1900 MHz (Bell and Telus Mobility). There is a related Nokia 6185 model offered by Mobility -- there are no hardware differences between the 6185 and 6188 except for the faceplate and keyboard layout. In terms of menu choices, Mobility phones have the option to use either analog or digital service whereas the Telus Mobility's 6188 does not offer this choice since they prefer you to use their digital services.

A CDMA phone is something relatively new for the Canadian Nokia market. Prior to this model Nokia was competing for both the GSM market (e.g. 5190 and 6190 offered by Fido) and the tdMA market (e.g. 6160 and 6161 offered by Rogers). Nokia AMPS (analog) phones such as the popular 262 and 282 have been offered for sale through both Mobility and Rogers for several years.

Dimensions and Exterior Design

This is a relatively small phone. Overall dimensions are 14.5cm x 5.0cm x 3.8cm (5.7" x 2.0" x 1.5") plus the non-extendable antenna. With the standard supplied Li-ion battery (BLS-2) the phone weighs 143g (5.0 oz). The supplied battery will provide up to 3 hours talk time and 4.5 days standby time while in digital service areas. An ultra-extended Li-ion battery is also available, providing up to 5 hours talk time and 7.5 days standby time in digital areas. See the Afterthoughts section at the bottom of this review about tested battery life.

The 6188 fits nicely in the palm of your hand and is about as small as I am comfortable with a wireless phone. The phone comes with a green-grey faceplate. If you are unhappy with this colour, then by all means you may choose a different colour from any Nokia dealer. The display panel is slightly recessed, minimizing potential scratches that may occur if the phone is placed upside-down on a table or other surface. Other phone makes and models do not take this into account and scratches occur easily on their display panel.

This Nokia model also looks and feels conservative, yet fun and practical. Prior to the release of the 6188, Clearnet only offered the Sony model which was bulkier, and in my opinion not as professional looking as the 6188. Having said this, I feel that the 6188 will bring Clearnet PCS up to par with the other Canadian service providers in offering a business-like wireless phone geared towards the professional community.


The Nokia 6188 will work in Telus Mobility's digital coverage areas, which currently include Victoria, Vancouver, Nanaimo, Whistler, and Kelowna, Edmonton, Calgary, Windsor, London, Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City, Halifax, plus several other major centres.

Where Telus Mobility has not set up digital services, the phone will access analog services, which are available in most urban centres and along major highways. When leaving a digital service area the handset will handoff to the nearest available analog cell site.

While roaming in the U.S., the phone will access other 1900 MHz CDMA networks through such providers as Sprint PCS. With the 6188 permitting service at 800 MHz CDMA, Telus Mobility may choose to set up roaming agreements with service providers using this frequency to allow even further coverage. The 800 MHz CDMA also will offer potential to roam overseas in places like Australia.


The menu display uses a system of soft keys -- a combination of two selection keys and two scroll keys. The keys are recessed, requiring a firm press from a finger. The close layout of the alphanumeric keys does make it somewhat tricky for someone to use their thumb to enter numbers, as many people do while only having one hand available (e.g., while driving). Unlike the Sony phone, there is no 'Clear' key to erase entries or backtrack through the menu options, but instead this is controlled via the right soft key. I really don't have a preference over either system as long as one of those options is available.

Having owned a Sony before this, the menu system does take a little while to get used to. Leaving the phone at one of the menu choices for about 10 seconds will bring up a description of what that item does - a nice touch for new users. There are 9 menu choices in total:

  1. Voice and text messages. Access to your voice mail and SMS. Another feature included in this menu choice is the ability to create a message displayed on power-up.
  2. Call log. Missed calls, received calls, and dialed calls. Within each choice the date and time of the last five calls is recorded, however there is no individual call timer.
  3. Profiles. Now this is a very nice feature. If you have ever turned off the ringer at a meeting, increased the volume while outside, or switched your phone over to vibrate mode while at a movie, then you will be very happy with this feature. Profiles lets you set one normal profile and four additional custom profiles for ringer options, tones, volume levels, vibration, keypad tones, warnings, and message alert tones. The additional custom profiles could be set for a meeting atmosphere (e.g., no ringer, no tones, vibration on, and no warnings), outdoor venue (e.g., ringer full volume, your favourite outdoor tune, keypad tones on full, warnings on and vibration), or for an afternoon nap (e.g., ring once with a soft melody, tones, no vibration, and warnings on). You could just play for hours selecting one of the 32 ringer types and other profile combinations to suit your personal environment. Hit the power key briefly to switch between different profiles.
  4. Settings. Select up to four different calling cards to make long distance calls from - great if you want to charge long distance to different accounts. Set up your clock and calendar display preferences or choose which menu language you are most comfortable with: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, or Hebrew. You can even restrict incoming and outgoing calls if you are going to lend the handset to someone else.
  5. System. Select home area or automatic. Home area allows you to only access the Telus Mobility/Clearnet PCS network. Automatic will allow you to access Rogers's analog services (included in your monthly fee) and roam throughout the U.S.
  6. Games. Once you've spent hours configuring your phone, why not unwind (or stress yourself out) with one of four games: Memory, Snake, Logic, or Dice. All come complete with online instructions and top scores so you can challenge yourself again and again.
  7. Calculator. Sorry, you won't be able to find the square root of 16 or plot your favourite exponential growth curve. The calculator allows you to perform the simple operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Use the # key to insert decimal points.
  8. Calendar. A miniature datebook function. Enter meeting times and notes, birthday reminders, important calls, and more. The phone will remind you of these events.
  9. Keyguard. Always an important feature of any non-flip phone. Protect your phone from accidental key presses by selecting this function or by holding down the END key for 2 seconds.

Phone Book

A wireless phone often becomes a place to store all your names and phone numbers. The Nokia 6185/6188 has 200 memory locations to store names up to 16 characters along with phone numbers. Search the phone book by entering the first few characters of the name or by using the scrolling soft keys.
Now for the fun part: up to 20 of the phone book entries can be associated with a custom ring tone of their own. So now you can know who of 20 phone book entries is calling you without even looking at the phone. I can only dream of what I have in store for some of my callers! In addition you may restrict certain numbers: up to 10 outgoing numbers and 15 incoming numbers.

Signal Quality

In terms of digital signal strength, I found that especially in fringe digital areas the Nokia did not continuously flip between analog and digital, whereas my Sony did. The boundaries of Telus Mobility's digital service area remain the same regardless of which handset you use, but the Nokia resisted the temptation to go and use an analog signal.

Sound Quality and Control

In digital service areas I found a slightly higher background 'hiss' on the 6188 compared to that of the Sony; however, the voice quality was somewhat better than the Sony. The volume level produced by the 6188 is definitely louder than that of the Sony. The same conditions occurred in analog service areas.

One of the features I really like on both the Sony phone and the Motorola i1000 is the side volume control. If you are talking on the phone, you can easily adjust the volume setting during a call with your thumb. The 6188 uses the two scroll keys underneath the display to adjust the volume. While holding the phone to your ear, I found it required a moderate amount of dexterity to hit either of the scroll keys with my middle finger while avoiding the END key. Most users will likely find that they are asking the caller to hang on while they pull the phone away from their ear and adjust the volume with their other hand.

Other Impressions

If you're the type of person who loves spending hours configuring your personal computer, then you will find that you will be doing the same with this phone. On the other hand, you DON'T have to configure anything if you don't want to and just use the phone with the factory defaults.

Nokia's selection of 32 custom ringers is nice to have and makes your phone ring distinct. Just take a phone with a standard ringer (like the Sony) into a crowded place and let it ring and just see how many people either make a grab for their phone on a belt clip or in a purse. Of course, many of the tunes play continuously, and like my morning alarm clock you will want to stop the noise as quickly as possible.

The phone is lightweight and small -- just the right size. Personally, I would not want a phone smaller than this. Even the charger is quite lightweight and will fit easily into a briefcase, backpack, or pocket. The phone does not come with a flip cover, which many people like since it protects the keys.

One thing I do like on both the Sony and Qualcomm handsets is the date and time display. Both are obtained from the CDMA network, so you never have to set your time or date. However with the Sony, if you turn on the phone in an analog area, it cannot obtain a date and time from the AMPS network and therefore any calls made or received will not have a time stamp. The Nokia retains both settings internally and compares them in the presence of a CDMA network. If there's no service or just analog service you STILL HAVE a date and time. Retaining both values allows the phone to act as a personal date book and an alarm clock as well, even without service. I definitely won't be taking my old analog alarm clock on my next trip!

Having said the above, the Nokia does not show you the date while the phone is idling. The time is shown at the top of the screen, but the font size used is quite small. This is in contrast to both the Sony and Qualcomm handsets that show both the date and time in a large font while idling.

Conclusion and Pricing

This is one very nice phone! It's small, lightweight, and very user friendly. Nokia has spent a lot of time developing a lot of nice 'extra' features for this phone. Of all the different cellular phones that I have tested, this one would definitely be at the top of my list. My number of 'likes' definitely outweighs my short list of 'dislikes' noted in this review. If you are new to the cell phone market or if you are looking for a replacement phone then I strongly recommend that you consider this Nokia handset. Telus Mobility is selling the Nokia 6188 handset for $149 with no contract. Both Bell and Telus Mobility sell the Nokia 6185 with either a one or two year contract for new customers.

Afterthoughts (added August 31/99)

The Nokia 6185/8 has now been in the market for a couple of months and I have received several letters from people regarding their experience with the handset. These are some of the more common complaints and comments with the handset:
Battery Life: At best, expect less than 50% of the stated battery life for the Nokia 6188 on the Telus Mobility network. Nokia states that the battery life listed is tested with Nokia equipment, which Telus Mobility does not use.
To be fair, I have also heard similar complaints from users with 6185's on Bell Mobility. Telus Mobility users with 6188 should note that in early 2000 Telus Mobility provided free upgrades of the 6188 batteries to a Ultra Extended Li-Ion Battery (BLS-4) which provides much better standby and talk times.
Ring Tone Loss: Some users have consistently lost customized ringer tone settings for no particular reason.
Switchable Faceplates: The 6188 faceplate is somewhat unique and other 61xx faceplates do not fit correctly. You can buy a 61xx faceplate, but you will also have to fit a new keypad and power button to your new faceplate. Note that this problem is restricted only to the 6188 model -- the 6185 can use any other 61xx faceplate. Regardless of which phone you have, you'll also need a torx screwdriver to remove the original faceplate and install the new one. Often cellular stores will install the new faceplate for you if you ask.
Part swapping: One nice feature of Nokia phones is the fact that a charger or other accessory (e.g., data cable, ear bud) from a older phone can be used with the 6185/8. This allows people to upgrade their older Nokia phone and not need to purchase any new accessories to go with it. This nice feature also ensures that if you want to purchase an ear bud for your Nokia phone in five years, you will have little trouble finding one.
Flashing Antenna: Cool! An LED on the top of your antenna blinks when there's an incoming call. See your local cellular dealer.
IR Port on top of phone: Some Nokia phones have the ability to transfer information between the handset and another IR device. The IR port is only enabled on European GSM phones and newer Nokia models (e.g., 82xx, 88xx, 32xx, 33xx). The dark red plastic cover at the top of the 6185/8 DOES NOT contain IR hardware behind it.
Important Callers You can program certain callers to have different ring styles, but you can also prefix directory names with a "!' and the phone will sound a rapid alert tone when that number calls your phone. Credit: Nicholas Manara

Field Test Mode

Just for all the cell site hunters and RF engineer-wannabe's. There's a ton of test screens filled with all sorts of wonderful information. See the Nokia 6185/6188 Test Mode Page for more information.

Other Nokia 6185/6188 Reviews

Steve Punter: http://www.arcx.com/sites/Nokia6188.htm