Re-review of the Nokia 6188

Nokia6188.GIF (17706 bytes) While it may seem odd to be reviewing a phone that is no longer manufactured, there are plenty of used ones out there, and I felt a second look was definitely in order.

Last Updated: 17-Oct-2002

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

Also read Comparing performance of Telus PCS Phones.

This re-review is specifically about the Nokia 6188, which was a Clearnet-branded version of the Nokia 6185. There are no big differences between the two models, and so virtually anything I say about the 6188 can be applied to the 6185.

I was prompted to do this retro-review because of the horrendous problems Iíd been finding in virtually each and every CDMA phone presently on the market in Canada. I remembered thinking that the Nokia 6188 was a pretty decent-sounding phone, and I wondered how it would stack up against those presently on the market, and how it would compare to the vaunted Motorola Timeport/ST-7868W.

As far as features, menus, and other non-performance attributes are concerned, you can refer to my original review of the 6185/6188. Nothing has changed in this regard, and so there isnít much point to rehashing it in this re-review. Instead, I will concentrate solely upon the performance aspects, such as RF, audio, and battery life.

However, I would like to comment on the slow response speed of the keypad. It was horrendously bad in the earlier versions of the phone, but this was improved slightly over the years. However, the newest version still has a noticeably sluggish response time, and it can drive you nuts.

In terms of performance, the 6185/6188 managed to garner a rather bad reputation for itself in the early days. Nokia had apparently not done their homework, and the phone suffered from extremely high levels of customer-depleting problems such as dropped calls and mysterious resets.

Over the years however, Nokia released various firmware upgrades that addressed these issues. Iím pleased to report that the newest version of the firmware virtually rids the phone of any of these major maladies. So forget any of the old reputation that phone had, but if you buy one of these (or if you own one already), make sure it has the most up-to-date firmware.

Letís begin with sound quality. The Nokia 6188 certainly isnít the best-sounding CDMA phone Iíve ever heard, but compared to many of the current crop of new phones (especially the LG TM-520), it actually sounds quite good. However, it is a little muddy, and doesnít match the sound quality of the old Timeport, or of the current Motorola V60c.

Early versions of the 6188 had a distinct lack of earpiece of volume, but Nokia addressed that early on by turning up the volume settings in the firmware. The phone is capable of quite high volumes, but the volume control doesnít make much difference from approximately level 6 up to level 10. In other words, the phone ďtops outĒ before you hit the maximum settings. However, this does ensure that you get the highest possible volume, even with faint audio sources. Headset volume is also greatly improved.

RF sensitivity is excellent, and it proves that CDMA phones do not need a pull-up antenna to work well. Compared to my old Timeport, the Nokia 6188 was able to pull in signals of equal strength (according to the Field Test screens), and it could maintain calls almost identically in weak signal areas.

Now if RF sensitivity was all there was to RF performance, then Iíd give the 6188 top marks. Unfortunately, the other aspect of RF (namely signal stability) was nowhere near as good as the Timeport. To test this facet of performance, I would walk calls up and down streets that were not in close proximity to sites (yet provided solid signals, and reasonably low EC/IO).

When doing the test with the 6188, I would hear plenty of frame errors, which manifested themselves as small ďholesĒ in the audio, or disruptions of the audio. The instantaneous frame error count shown on Field Test display backed up what I was hearing. However, when I walked a call through the same places with the Timeport, it would always produce either no frame errors, or so few that they were barely audible. The Timeport has a Field Test Mode feature that displays the total percentage of frame errors during a call, and in many instances where the Nokia had trouble, the Timeport said there were 0.00% frame errors.

The above problem was noticeable in all aspects of use, not just during contrived testing. Iíd observed a similar problem with the 6185 used on Bell Mobility, and so I doubt that it was a flaw with the specific 6188 I was testing.

Battery life has always been a problem in the 6188, especially in analog mode. The first release could barely get 8 hours of standby in analog when using the standard BLS-2 battery, and so many were sold with the bulky BLS-4 battery. The current firmware has markedly improved analog battery life, but the digital battery life is still nothing to write home about. Charging the phone nightly, while not a must if you donít do much talking, is definitely a good idea.

So in the end, the 6188 was just as big a disappointment as many of the newer models on the market right now. On the other hand, it certainly isnít a bad choice if you are looking to save money by purchasing a used phone. It has globs of features, a widely loved menu system, and fairly decent ergonomics. If you can pick one up (that has the later firmware) for a good price, you wonít find the 6188 a disappointing phone. However, if you were a previous owner of a Timeport, or an ST-7868W, then I doubt you are going to find much to love about it. However, Iíve yet to find any phone that actually performs as well as those older Motorola models.

Other Reviews of the Nokia 6188

Review by Steve Romaine