Review of the Nokia 6385

The Nokia 6385 is a new model from a company that many people had counted out of the CDMA game after a dismal showing with their 6185/6188 model. The new model should put to rest any doubts that Nokia can build a decent CDMA phone. Even though it isnít perfect, the 6385 still a great effort.

Last Updated: 31-Mar-2003

Before reading this review, please read Some Thoughts on Phone Reviewing.

Also read Comparing performance of Telus PCS Phones.


For Canadian readers, you might wonder why Iím reviewing it at all, since the phone is presently not available through Bell Mobility or Telus PCS. While this is true, it should be possible to import your own from the US, get it unlocked, and have it flashed with the necessary PRL. If youíre really interested in getting one in Canada, the gentleman who loaned me the phone said that I could let him know about any requests. Just send a message to me at, and Iíll make sure it gets passed along.

My first impressions of the new phone were very positive. It looked very much like the other 63xx models presently on the market in Canada, including the 6310i (from Rogers) and the 6340 (from Fido). That makes it about the same size as the venerable 6190 (and indeed the 6185/6188). Unlike these other Nokia phones however, it doesnít use the standard type of battery. Instead, it uses the white boxy internal type like you see on the 33xx and 35xx models. The phone isnít as thin as the 6310i.

As far as battery life is concerned, the phone is certainly a huge improvement over the 6185/6188, as it provides about 2 to 3 days of standby using the standard internal battery. The 6185/6188 could barely give you that, even with the bulky 1500 mAh BLS-4 battery. However, battery life wasnít anywhere near as good as youíd get on many of Nokiaís GSM models using the same capacity battery.

The menu system on the 6385 is pure Nokia, and thatís a good thing. The Nokia system is well known, and very easy to navigate. If youíre already accustomed to another Nokia model, youíll feel right at home with the 6385. For those who are not familiar with the Nokia Way, suffice it to say that itís fairly logical, and easy to master.

The screen is slightly larger than the one found on the old 6190/6185/6188 model, but not quite as big as on the 7190. It provides slightly better resolution than the older CDMA model, especially in terms of vertical pixels. Nokia opted for readability over total characters (though it would have been nice if theyíd given us a font size option).

Backlighting is by way of old-fashioned greed LEDs, but they seemed bright enough for most situations. It also included Nokiaís new fade-in/fade-out effect. It would have been nicer if theyíd supplied the blue/white LEDs from the 6310i, but I canít say the green LEDs were poor.

They keypad feel isnít quite up to the standards Iíve come to expect from Nokia. Overall however, I found the keypad fairly easy to use, and not markedly different from other 63xx models. Like the 6340 though, it has a very hard-to-press power button. For some reason, the power button on the 6310i is of a different design, and it works very well.

The 6385 finally brings industrial strength SMS capabilities to CDMA. With the exception of a few minor GSM-only features, the 6385 includes everything you find on Nokiaís GSM models, including a top-notch T9 implementation, user-defined mailbox folders, cut-and-paste options, and lots more.

The phonebook is also excellent, and it mirrors the capabilities that Nokia has been putting in their GSM phones since the 7190. You can store as many 5 different phone numbers in each entry, along with text fields such as street address, e-mail address, and generic text descriptions. Options for editing a phonebook entry are plentiful and well laid-out.

The other features of the phone are also stock Nokia, and they include: To-Do List, Calendar with audible reminders; alarm clock; games (including the venerable Snake II), calculator, calling cards, caller groups and group graphics, profiles, voice activated dialing and commands, and web browser.

As the phone is a 1X model, it also includes 1X data and a working IR port to connect to your computing devices (or you can use a data cable). Unfortunately, the 6385 does not support Bluetooth as does the 6310i.

The IR port can also be used to import information from other Nokia phones. I used it to quickly copy over complete phonebook entries (with multiple numbers, names, addresses, etc) from my 7190. Or for even easier data transfer, just download the free software provided by Nokia on their web page. It allows you to modify and backup all of the data in the phone using your PC. Connection to the phone is via a DLR-3P data cable, or IR.

RF Performance and Audio Quality

The incoming audio quality is very good, and its tonal balance matches that of the vaunted Motorola StarTac/Timeport. Because this is a 1X phone, it provides better reproduction of higher-frequency components such as ďsĒ sounds, but it sometimes makes them sound a little shrill. The only thing that really dampens my enthusiasm for the audio is an ever-present hiss-cum-rushing sound that was common the early 6185/6188 as well. It isnít exceptionally distracting, but it does make you wish theyíd done their homework a little better.

Outgoing audio quality is also very good, and the 6385 does a much better job of handling background noise than does any of the CDMA phones presently offered by Telus. As you might have noticed in many of my recent reviews of Telus phones, the way in which background noise destroys outgoing audio has been a major sticking point with me. This isnít to say that the 6385 fully escapes the problem, but it does make it seem more tolerable than it is on many other phones.

RF capabilities are also quite good, with the 6385 beating out my ST-7868W when it comes to stabilizing the audio of weak signals. The phone has an exceptional ability to connect under weak signal conditions, and then to provide fairly consistent audio under those conditions.

Okay, so now you have to ask yourself the $64,000 question; why didnít I buy myself one of these phones? It wasnít because I couldnít. As I noted at the beginning of this review, the gentleman I borrowed it from said he could bring one up from the US, unlock it, and program it with both Telus and Bell Mobility PRLs. Believe me, there were times during my tests that I gave serious consideration to getting one to replace my ST-7868W.

The reason I did not buy one comes down to two rather nasty flaws I discovered while testing the phone. The first is that phone drops calls. Even when sites are close by and signals are strong, I heard my calls simply vanish into the ether on 5 separate occasions throughout the 1-week test period. My ST-7868W has probably done that 5 times in the 6 months Iíve owned it.

The second, and perhaps most damaging flaw (in my opinion), is the phoneís audibly higher level of frame errors during calls made on the move. This seems to be endemic with all 1X phones Iíve tested, and so it might be a flaw in 1X, rather than the phone itself. Regardless of where the fault lies, I found it very annoying, and that more than anything made up my mind. If the ST-7868W hadnít been such a great phone I still might have bought a 6385 though, so donít put too much stock in my decision.

For most people the 6385 might very well represent the best CDMA phone theyíve ever used. Granted, it doesnít have a color screen or a strong gee-whiz factor, but it works very well in the areas that count. Letís hope that Telus (and Bell Mobility) forget the troubles they had with the 6185/6188 and start selling Nokia products once again. Letís also hope that call-dropping problem I noticed was just a fluke, and not signs of a serious problem.