Mobile Madness

By Team Digit Published Date
01 - Jun - 2006
| Last Updated
01 - Jun - 2006
Mobile Madness
We put the cells of today under our microscope and bring you the low-down on the best, as well as the rest

Cell Phones no longer confirm to the  brick-like form factor of yesteryear! Their shape, features, performance as well as their battery life has improved substantially over the years. Not only has the cell phone adapted to its user, more and more people in India are getting on to the 'Go anywhere, Connected everywhere' bandwagon. Cell phone manufacturers have also noticed this trend and are making concerted efforts to provide for a vast range of models to pacify every singulare need of thier customers.

A typical urbanite wants something that goes as well as it shows, and typical high-end-device-like features have well and truly trickled into the mass market. For example, a megapixel camera, fully featured MP3 player, and FM radio along with business features such as complete PIM, ability to work with Word and Excel sheets and PDA viewing aren't up-market anymore. A mid-range cell phone now sports all these and what's more, even throws in a couple of extras, making it a true converged device. 

The Indian market is especially competitive, and customers want all possible features on their  cell phones, while they might not be willing to pay exhorbitant prices anymore either!    

Improved network coverage and GSM service provider facilities coupled with the sharp decline in the prices of mobile phones have all gone a long way in ensuring a market that is expanding, even as we write.

In this comprehensive cell phone shootout we've reviewed 47 cell phones from all major players. Will definite winners emerge? Will the big names in the mobile arena reign supreme, or will one of the minnows steal their thunder? Read on to find out...

The cell phones in this category ranged from Rs 10,000 to 22,000, a very large range price-wise, but nonetheless, comparable in terms of features. These phones represented the high- and upper-mid-end products that all manufacturers across the board provided us with. The cell phones we received in this category were perhaps the most diverse, in terms of looks, functionality, and definitely, price. In all fairness, it's impossible to compare a Rs 10,000 phone with something that costs over Rs 20,000-regardless of whether they fall into the same category or not. In order to be objective, we've divided these phones into three categories, based on the assumption that India is a very price conscious market. Moreover, each phone has to justify its price.

Rs 10,000 to Rs 12,000
In the Feature Rich category the first mini battle takes place between the Nokia 6600, 7360, and Motorola E398. The Nokia 7360 is the lightest of the three, and is part of Nokia's L'Amour-phones that women would want to flaunt. The phone looks snazzy, but we were surprised that it didn't offer Bluetooth connectivity (wireless connectivity includes IR only).

The Sony-Ericsson K750i-Small Wonder
The Motorola E398 impressed us with its build quality-very solid! This is a no frills phone that supports Bluetooth, as well as expandability via a Transflash card-Transflash is advantageous as it has a very small form factor along with fast transfer rates. 

The last phone in this group was Nokia's 6600, an ageing model, albeit one of Nokia's bestselling models of yesteryear. The 6600 shows lack of sharpness in its display, which isn't too noticeable at first, but becomes more pronounced as one compares it to some of the newer models. Although spec-wise the screen is a 65K colour, with a 176 x 208 resolution-identical to most Nokia's-the difference is definitely noticeable. Another point against the 6600 is its keypad, which is hard when compared to the newer crop of cell phones. The E398 also has a keypad that lacks feedback, something to note for SMS junkies, who want to do a lot of typing. The 6600 does manage to hold its own when it comes to functionality, this is a fully functional Symbian Series 60 smartphone, and can hold its own as far as PIM functions go. The menu layout is more intuitive and easy to navigate then the other two models.

As far as camera quality goes, with VGA class cameras that offer a pixel resolution of 640 x 480, these cameras were never going to be anything great. The E398 and the 6600 were the losers here, with a slight lead in image quality going to the newer 7360. All in all, the image and video quality across all the models wasn't worth much fanfare, with the video playback getting distorted and blurry at times.

Coming to multimedia playback, the 7360 loses out big time due to lack of expandability, MP3 playback was decent however, with the 6600 and E398 offering similar music and viewing capabilities. Almost all the phones in this category-even the ones in the next price bracket- play both MP3 and AAC files, so it's just overall music playback quality we tested. As far as video playback goes, 3GP is the format of choice of format for cells. Why? Because the format is resource easy, is free and small in terms of file size, therefore video quality tests were done in 3GP format.  Nothing much to report on the music and video front, as all these cells are more or less similar in terms of quality of content playback offered.

In terms of productivity, the Nokia 6600 offers the ability to view MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents, ditto the 6270, the E398 misses out here. As far as editing existing office documents go, none of these phones will allow the user to do any writing or spreadsheet work. Even the other Symbian cell phones have been designed to allow reading only.

How We Tested 
The Segregation
One of the most subjective tests of them all, testing cell phones is never easy. Specifications can be noted down, but there are just so many impressions, so many facets of a cell phone that cannot be numerically represented. We received 47 cell phones for testing. These ranged from the very basic phones to the high-end PDA's, with prices ranging from Rs 2,500 to Rs 60,000. Now that is a very large price band, which is impossible to compare head-to-head.
To start off, we divided the cell phones into 5 categories, based on price and features. First, we classified the basic and mid-end phones into two different groups, with the basic group consisting of phones up to Rs 5,500. The mid-end phones were those that cost between Rs 6,000 and Rs 10,000. These categories were considered budget categories, and the weightage was on basic features and functionality here.
The phones that cost between Rs 10,000 and Rs 22,000 were considered the feature-rich and multimedia cell phones, these were awarded points for expansion, multimedia playback, presence of a camera and its quality, as well as the functionality. In case some phones lacked basic features, we were more severe with our point deductions-after all, a costly phone should have all the features of a cheaper model, and more.
The phones that fell under the Lifestyle category weren't pitted against each other, because of the fact that people who buy such phones are looking to make a fashion statement, and such tastes are very personalised. The phones that made it into this category, did so because of their sheer flaunt value.
The Business category was made up of five phones that offered PDA-like functionality, such as the ability to create and edit office documents (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) and PDF files.

The Process
We tested all the phones for their ergonomics and ease of use, if there were any quirks-such as a hard keypad, un-intutive menu structures, etc.-were noted down, and points were deducted. Even finer nuances, such as the body structure, build quality, keypad backlighting, etc., was all taken into account. The actual phones were tested for menu layout, and ease of use of the features present, besides the usual signal quality and integrity tests, which were carried out simply by dialing the mobile from a landline number, the mobile was carried around to places of weak reception and the voice quality was judged and points awarded. The final score was the aggregate of the max and min signal areas.
The feature-rich category was also tested specifically for camera quality, multimedia playback quality, screen quality, as well as additional functions such as ability to work with office documents. These phones were also awarded points for the expandability they provided. The usual gamut of signal reception tests were also carried out.
The Lifestyle series were also put through the same rigorous testing procedures as the others, but they weren't pitted against each other. Any peculiarities were however noted, and in case of any essential functionality found lacking, this was included in the article.
Finally the PDA/business category of phones, these were tested for office productivity and connectivity like Wi-Fi, the regular multimedia tests done on the feature rich phones wasn't carried out on this category simply because the target audience for such phones will not be likely to go on a photo clicking spree. However music and video playback was tested, as well as the usual call and voice clarity tests.

One problem with the Nokia 6600, which deserves a mention, is its slow processor, one of the slowest across all the categories of phones tested. Using a large capacity memory card will only aggravate this, and video playback can get a little choppy. This is one cell that could use more processing power.

Rs 12,000 to Rs 15,000
Moving up the price ladder a bit, we have a fairly decent number of phones priced between Rs 12,000 and Rs 15,000. These phones represent what the discerning user will actually look at. We were also a stricter as far as music and camera quality are concerned, simply because a costlier phone, while not comparable to a cheaper one, is supposed to do better in most, if not all of the tests thrown at it.

The Sony Ericsson W550i-Looks good, sounds better
Looks-wise the Philips 768 really took us by storm, it's small, sleek and curvy, with mock chrome and a steel grey-silver finish that was as appealing as water in a desert! It's got the functionality as well, with a more than decent camera and integrated flash. The keypad layout is good, the joystick is fluid, and the keypad backlight is a cool blue that is functional without being intrusive. The 768 has a good display that's clear and crisp. If looks were all that mattered we'd have a winner here.

The Nokia 6630, despite its pluses, has an odd shape-the bottom of the phone widens out, giving the base a much larger rounded footprint-that some love to hate, and others hate to love! The Nokia 6260, the only clamshell model here, featured a swivel screen, but is still nothing special. The Sony Ericsson W550i, sported the most unconventional look and colour, with a bright orange and silver body, giving it a young and trendy feel. The Nokia 6670 looks like a more serious version of their funkier looking 7610.

"Symbian is addictive", said a user, very recently on a popular forum. What is Symbian? Symbian is the operating system used by most smartphones these days. This replaces the typical firmware, with an actual OS, which supports installation and removal of compatible applications, to improve usability and productivity of the cellphone.
There are different series of operating systems for different phones. The Symbian 60, 80 and 90 series are open-ended platforms used exclusively by Nokia. Similar is the Symbian UIQ platform used by Sony Ericsson, for their high-end P series smartphones. Some bestselling examples of Symbian devices are the Nokia 7650, 6600, 6630, 7710, N70, and Sony Ericsson's P800, 900 and 910 cellphones.
Symbian based smartphones could very well replace the PDA in the near future. A typical 'road warrior' manager, has to be productive in office as well as in the back seat of a taxi. To do so he typically needs three gadgets, his laptop, his PDA and his cell phone. While on the move, a laptop becomes an encumbrance of sorts, and could actually hinder productivity. The PDA typically alleviates this problem, while losing out on the ability to stay connected. This is where the cell phone, or rather smart cell phone scores.
One of the major reasons why Symbian enjoys advantages like much speedier interface and improved security over even a PDA OS like MS Windows Mobile, is the use of the Symbian C development platform as compared to the .NET framework that Windows Mobile uses. With support for features like multi-threading, memory protection and pre-emptive multitasking Symbian is not only faster, but more robust for day to day mobile needs also.
One of the reasons for insufficient penetration of Symbian in the handheld market is the dearth of Symbian C programmers. The learning curve of Symbian C is such that even C and Java professionals have to spend a lot of time learning its ins and outs. This isn't the case with Windows Mobile as the .NET development environment is very programmer friendly. Another limitation of Symbian is that the OS was designed for use on the ARM series of processors.
One of its biggest merits is the support for third party applications. The Symbian OS is so flexible that keeping a series in mind applications can and have been developed for use on Symbian phones. The best possible example is perhaps the Nokia 6600, one of the first series 60 smartphones. Applications developed for it range from Web browsers to even applications that allow your cell phone to act as a remote control for certain TVs and DVD players. In fact, more applications were developed for Symbian OS phones than all other OS-based cell phones combined! Symbian has another very significant advantage-it's very stable, more so than Windows Mobile, and infinitely more so than firmware phones, which are prone to errors and freezeups.
We must also keep in mind that Symbian was designed not for high-end PDAs but for handheld devices with limited resources, (like smartphones), this makes Symbian the near perfect platform for multimedia phones and smartphones.

Coming to camera quality the Sony Ericsson K750i completely ruled the roost, followed by the Nokia 6630 and 3230 and Samsung X700. The autofocus feature on the K750i works well, we were able focus on the object first and then shoot. What happens is pressing the camera button slightly will result in a small focus window, which automatically focuses just like a camera. The 2.0 megapixel camera also meant that in terms of raw pixel count, this camera was way ahead of the other in this price range.

The Samsung X700-The best screen in its class
The Nokia 6630 was a distant second, with its large lens and camera rated at 1.3 megapixels. A neat feature was the zoom of the 6630, it's absolutely smooth. The smoothness of the zoom was even better than the K750i. The Nokia 3230 and Samsung X700 fought it out for the third place, the quality of images and video being about equal, though the edge would probably go to the Samsung, due to its crisper screen.

As far as overall image quality goes, while these cell phones certainly aren't in digicam territory yet, they are slowly getting within striking distance. Daylight shots are definitely good, with some very high quality images. Engaging Night Mode, or photo shooting in dim or dark lighting conditions is where all the cell phones lose out, and badly.

Video shooting under these conditions is even worse. There is no way that any of these cell phones can be used for after dark shooting. The K750i also gave the best quality video shooting, followed by the 6630.
The Nokia 6260 gave some of the lowest quality shots, testament to its ageing sub-megapixel camera. A surprise bad performer here was the W550i, its 1.3 megapixel camera just did not live up to its technical specs, and our expectations.

As far as screen clarity goes, the Nokia 6630 is just great, owing to a very classy looking set of default icons, with a sort of shadow effect around them, overall a very professional businesslike look! Seeing as it's a 65K colour screen, we couldn't spot any discernable difference between this and the 262K screens. The Samsung X700 also has a very good display with excellent clarity and crispness, maybe more so than the 6630. Views differed about a winner, leading to some heated arguments, followed by more testing, until the decision was made, they're both good! The Sony Ericsson K750i, W550i and Nokia 3230 all deserve a mention here. As mentioned above, the X700 has a brilliant display, one sore point is it could have been a bit larger, (one reason why it lost a couple of points to the larger screen Nokia), which is the same gripe with the K750i. This is one area where scoring was very difficult, kudos to manufacturers for improving the screen quality many fold for the current generation phones.

Coming to MP3 playback quality, which is one of the selling points of multimedia cell phones these days, the winner is the Sony Ericsson W550i. This phone is part of Sony's 'Walkman' series, and features stereo widening, (a DSP effect), which greatly enhances sound clarity and volume. Unlike some of the other phones, the W550i can go really loud, without distortion and we're talking without the headphones! When you plug these in, its like listening to a mini concert, they're really so good. Nothing else comes close! Not in this price category, or for that matter any other. If MP3 masti is all you really want out of your cell, (apart from the cell phone features that is), you can blindly get the W550i! The only pain will be, as we mentioned the lack of expansion.

Second place goes to the K750i, which although a tad shy on the volume, (as compared to its musically brilliant companion above), is high on quality and fidelity. These two Sony Ericsson phones were in a league of their own, as far as music playback goes. The Nokia 6630 and 3230 make a decent showing here, with stereo playback, they both sound more than decent with headphones, and clarity is good, it just ain't got the decibels! The Siemens SL75 along with the 6260 brought up the rear, with the Nokia 6260 sounding pathetic, not loud enough, and with distortion even with the earplugs on. Being an earlier model is an excuse, but look past the 6260 if MP3 playback is important to you.

Another area in which phones in this category are supposed to deliver is storage capacity i.e. expandability. Not much use having a great camera and MP3 player if you cannot store more than a few numbers of video clips right?

The Sony Ericsson W550i and the Siemens SL75 were the only two cellphones in this range that didn't come with any memory expansion. This is a definite minus point considering the need for storing all that multimedia content. The W550i does have a very respectable 256 MB onboard-which is quite a lot for a cell phone, and more than enough for a few MP3's and videos. All other cell phones had expansion in the form of memory cards, with capacities up to 1 GB. Nokia's latest cell phones have support dual volt RSMMC, (or Reduced Size Multi Media Cards), which are around half the size of an MMC card. Sony Ericsson's cellphones that have expansion slots feature the Memory Stick Duo-a Sony proprietary memory card. The Philips 768 featured a Mini SD memory slot, while the Samsung X700 had a Micro SD slot, which is about half the size of Mini SD. Note that these memory standards are incompatible with each other for the most part-except MMC and RSMMC, for which an adapter can be used. For exchanging data between non-alike cards, a card reader will have to be used.

Coming to support for document viewing, once again all the Symbian based Nokia phones had the option to view MS office documents. This is a definite plus, but not necessarily a judge for the other phones, as the Nokia's are classed as Smartphones, with emphasis on the smart features, like enhancing productivity, PDF viewing etc, while the others are more focused on multimedia. This doesn't mean that they give up on functionality in any way, just that the jack of all trades principle is being put to use by manufacturers here, it just depends what combination of features they are focusing on.

The Nokia N70 - Feature-rich beauty
Coming to miscellaneous features and quirks, there was a very notable feature that some of the Nokia phones had, which were absent throughout the board. The keypad on the Nokia 6630, 6681, N70 and N91, (not in this comparison), models intelligently lit up when the keypad was in use in a darkish area. This is achieved by a light sensor placed atop the phone that will cause the keypad to illuminate once you operate it in dimly lit areas. Very nifty indeed, and a small, and not very costly feature to add! We would like to see more cell phone manufacturers incorporating such features that actually work!

Rs 15,000 and Above
Looks-wise the Samsung D600 is ahead of the other two cellphones in this category, mainly because of it's small footprint. The fit and finish of the slider mechanism is also top notch, as is the feel of the keypad, and its layout. Generally slider phones tend to get a bit cramped as far as the keypad layout goes, no such problems here. Second prize goes to the N70, with a steel chrome front and compact looks. One sore point is the slight gap between the chrome bezel and the rest of the body, this becomes a bit of an eyesore after awhile, if you happen to be choosy about fit and finish. Build quality is however right up with the best. The 6681 is the ugly duckling of the lot, by no means an ugly phone on its own, but the chrome call and cancel buttons were just a little too gaudy.

Coming to the cameras of these phones, the quality of the 6681 was found to be lacking on paper-with specs, as well as in practice. The 1.3 megapixel camera just couldn't keep up with the cameras on the N70 and the D600, both rated at 2 megapixels. Picture quality of the N70 was slightly better than the Samsung D600, particularly when using zoom. Video shooting on the N70 was also better.

Note that by zooming we mean a small amount of zoom-any serious zooming distorts the quality of the shot/video, as all the cellphones tested have digital zooms, which unlike an optical zoom, reduces clarity when used. The Samsung was a tad slow in clicking images however, ditto the Nokia 6681, though this was more noticeable on the former. The N70 had no such problems.

The N70 has one camera in the front and one in the rear. This is for video conferencing, and the only issue here is the front camera is VGA, and not a good one at that! It's the rear camera that sports the 2.0 megapixel capture resolution. Both the 6681 and the N70 have sliders that cover the rear cameras, and sliding them down activates the camera mode.

One irritating point noted here-both the Nokia sliders, although smooth to operate, actually rub against the back bezel, and after 50 to 60 times of sliding the 6681 back and forth, the chrome trim surrounding the camera lens actually started wearing off due to this movement. The N70 fared slightly better, but there were scuff marks beginning to appear as well. Quite an eyesore for someone investing as much as these cell phones demand!

Screen clarity is well and truly ruled by the odd man out in the trio-the D600. This screen, (like the X700), was crisp and ultra sharp, Samsung really does produce top quality displays! The icons look lifelike, and the menu layout is just so clean. Text is ultra readable, just as it should be in all phones. Dare to dream, but we wish more cell phones shared Samsung's prolific displays! The 6681 takes second position here, a surprise, since we really expected the newer and more expensive N70 to excel, but this wasn't the case! The Nokia N70 has a larger, but lower resolution screen than the Samsung D600-so obviously the Samsung's screen looks a lot better.

Siemens SL75 - The sliding beauty
Coming to ergonomics the 6681 with its large call buttons edges out the other two phones, while the N70 would be preferred over the D600 due to the former's better button layout. We aren't talking about the number keypad, rather the soft keys present on the outer part of the phone. The navigation on the 6681 is also the easiest to use, although this depends on what a user is already familiar with.

MP3 playback sounded the best on the N70, with the Samsung D600 edging out the 6681 for second place. The N70 with headphones really rocks; not nearly as good as Sony's K750i, and the W series, mind you, but definitely better than the other Nokias. The N70 also has a very loud speaker-around three-times louder than the other Nokia phones we tested. Sound quality wise the 6681 is nearly identical to the 6630, which was in a lower price bracket. The 6681 has the lowest volume levels of the three. The Samsung was also the only one of the threesome to have dedicated buttons for volume control and camera, (chrome finished buttons on the side of the phone), something to watch out for ergonomics and usability wise. It's noteworthy that the media player on the N70 is very plain-jane, earlier Nokia's seemed a bit better as far as layout of the player menu and functionality goes, (including the 6630 and 6681).

When you talk Rs 15,000 or more, expandability isn't an option, it's understood! All these phones featured expandability, with the two Nokia's supporting RSMMC dual volt specifications, while the D600 supported the ultra compact Transflash.

Connectivity-wise all three phones here featured Bluetooth-something that is mandatory for cellphones in this category. Pretty much all the cell phones across the three sub categories had Bluetooth as a connectivity option, with most vendors doing away with IR, Sony Ericsson phones still feature both options however.

This was the most exciting category, and we actually had to sub-divide it, because of the sheer variety available.

The first mini battle takes place at the bottom of the group, (price-wise), where the Nokia 7360 emerges winner, battling it out with its older sibling the 6600, (which is really showing its age now), and the Motorola E398. Youth and beauty win here, as the 7360 really makes a fashion statement for itself.

Siemens ME75
The second group sees the Sony Ericsson K750i emerging as winner, expandability, excellent cam and MP3 playback, compactness, this phone has it all, at Rs 14,995, we feel it's a really good deal. The Samsung X700 comes in a decent second, with the two Nokia's just nipping at its heels.

In the top segment, price-wise, the N70 is head and shoulders above the competition, providing a very good camera, clear, loud MP3 playback and all the functionality you're likely to need. Samsung's D600 takes second place, but if you have a budget of around Rs 20,000, we really recommend the N70, simply because of the gamut of features it brings to the equation.

If your budget is important, but not the only thing influencing your buying decision, and you need a decent feature-set as well, this is the section of phones you will be looking at!

With looks ranging from 'fairly decent' to 'good' you can actually think of gifting these to a near and dear one. The price band we have chosen is broad-from Rs 5,500 to Rs 10,000. Here again we will spilt this category, this time into two, below and above Rs 7,500.

Rs 5,500 to Rs 7,000 
Phones in this segment are characterised by a VGA camera which also shoots videos at a standard QCIF (Quarter Common Intermediate Format) resolution of 176 x 144. All of them have USB connectivity, for synchronising of contacts and transferring images or video. Additional device-to-device connectivity is in the form of Bluetooth on the Motorola L6 and the LG C2500, while the other phones make do with infrared. Bluetooth offers higher speeds than infrared can, and does not depend on line-of-sight transfers.

Internet connectivity is via GPRS on all phones here-the Nokia 6020 deserves special mention for offering EDGE and HSCSD (High Speed Circuit Switched Data). All phones have a WAP 2.0 and xHTML compatible browser. The browser on the C2500 was the slowest amongst the lot, while the L6 was fast-as fast as navigating through the rest of the phone.

PIM and Contact Management
All phones provide a scheduler where you can set reminders for a particular date and time, and you can also attach a note here. So, equal points to all contenders here. The Siemens C75 and the ME75; and the K300i also have a useful notes feature. On the L6 and the C2500, this notes feature is absent, so if you need to quickly type in a note you will have to compose an SMS and save it as a draft.

The Siemens phones offer a whopping 1,000 phonebook entries each, with up to 20 fields! The L6 gives you just an address and picture per contact, while the C2500 gives six fields (apart from name) and a picture per contact. Both, the L6 and C2500 can hold 500 contacts.

Memory Capacity
With Internet connectivity and a camera being standard, enough memory to store all those pictures and videos is important. None of the phones here have a memory expansion slot. Call it cost cutting or a deliberate attempt to differentiate between these and costlier models-you simply can't excuse a measly 3.5 MB shared memory on a phone (Nokia 6020) that supports GPRS, EDGE, and HSCSD. The LG's C2500 comes as a pleasant surprise with a respectable 64 MB of memory. The phone offers MP3 functionality, and you can listen to MP3s without even inserting the SIM card. The sound quality is not comparable to dedicated MP3 players, but at least you have something to listen to while waiting for a friend or a bus to turn up. The good news continues with FM reception. The Motorola L6, Siemens C75 and ME75 have a 10 MB storage capacity while the SE K300i has slightly more room with 12 MB.

Motorola SLVR L7-Sleek and easy to use

Ease of use
The menu and navigation on all these phones is simple and straight forward enough, barring a few quirks here and there. On the L6, for example it will take you a while to get the hang of its menu and navigation select key. The C2500, for some reason had no 'centre click' to select, on a keypad that looks like a 5-way keypad. This means as you navigate to your desired menu, you have to shift your fingers to the left in order to press the softkey and make a selection.

Once you get used to a particular phone, you will invariably find it comfortable to use. Thus, moving from one phone to another takes a while. You'll understand what we are saying if you have shifted from a Nokia to a Philips or to a Siemens. So, if ease of use is an important criterion to you, give yourself some time with a potential purchase before drawing conclusions. If a friend has the model that you want to buy, borrow it for at least half a day and toy with it.

For SMS addicts, nothing is more important than keypad comfort and layout. The Motorola SLVR L6 has the most tactile keypad by far. The C2500 has small but well spaced number keys, but the navigation and softkeys seem like they are jammed together. You can quite easily press cancel when you mean to navigate to the right! The Siemens C75 and ME75 could definitely use softer and less noisy keys. The Nokia 6020's rectangular keypad is easy to type on, but the joystick should have been more responsive.

Show Worthy?
After the RAZR, Motorola's fascination with four lettered names continues with the SLVR which is to be pronounced as 'sliver'. The SLVR L6 comes with a bright and clear blue keypad, and its backlight adds functionality as well as style. Clearly, this is a phone meant not just to talk, but to show off. A striking feature of the L6 is its slimness, but at the cost of being longer and broader than most.

The LG C2500 is small and easy to hold-even toss around! A flash of blue from the keypad, while the phone is in standby, seems like an attempt to grab attention. The Siemens C75 and ME75 have a silver metallic colour, rendering a somewhat retro and laidback look. Nothing special about the K300i and the 6020-they're just average-looking phones.

Rs 7,000 to Rs 10,000 
Compared to the previous segment, the phones here are more expensive, and you will expect more out of them. Only the Philips Xenium 9@9e and LG S5200 have a megapixel camera, while the others make do with the modest 640 x 480 VGA resolution.

If you thought 3.5 MB on the 6020 was too little, well, the Samsung X620 has a measly 3 MB internal memory. Pay more for less?

The Samsung X660 is somewhat better with 8 MB, while the honours once again go to LG-the S5200 has 64 MB and being MP3 capable. The Philip Xenium 9@9e has a passable 20 MB, while the L7 has 11 MB, and is the only phone in this category with expandable memory. Its microSD slot can support cards up to 1 GB.

The WAP 2.0 and xHTML-ready browsers remain standard here as well. The browsers on the X620 and X660 are fast, as is the L7's. The LG S5200 is sluggish when scrolling through Web pages. The two Samsungs can store 500 contacts with 10 fields, while the L7 holds 1,000 names with addresses and photo fields.

LG C2500 - MP3 capability, 64 MB memory

Better Keypads and Design?
The Samsung X620's keypad makes more noise while typing than the tones it generates. This apart, we must say the X620 is handy, and a good white backlight makes life with the X620 easy in the dark. The somewhat evolved version of the X620, the X660 is a clamshell design and has a dual-display. When its top is closed, a smaller display shows the time and the caller number, you can thus choose to take the call or to ignore it: You can use the volume button to 'reject' a call. The keypad is more comfortable than the X620, and with an 8 MB memory the X660 is a better package any day. However, at an MRP of Rs 8,599, it costs Rs 1,000 more than the X620, which is priced at Rs 7,549.

The Philips Xenium 9@9e costs about Rs 1,000 more than the X620, and has an uninspiring and utilitarian look. Its dual-display works similar to the display of the X660. Adding to the retro look is the leather (could be faux-leather) covering its back panel. The keypad here is one of the best in terms of spacing; you'd have to be a bit tipsy to press a wrong key here! For a phone in this category, we would have liked a clearer display. The fonts look a bit too ragged for comfort. Though the exterior build quality creates a good first impression, the display can be a turn-off for the executives that this phone seems targetted at.

At the higher-end of this segment, at Rs 10,000, sit the LG C5200 and the Motorola L7. Now, this C5200 looks and even feels just like the Samsung D600: A coincidence or an inspiration? LG also offers Bluetooth; harping it rather proudly above its display. The number keys are a bit too small, but manageable. However, its small and cramped navigation keys can be a problem unless you have nimble fingers. The keypad could use brighter lighting to make the lettering clearer. For the record, its look-alike-the Samsung D600 has an excellent backlight. The only phone to have an expandable memory in this segment, the Motorola L7 is similar to its cousin, the L6, except for the memory slot. For the difference in price, we think it fair to expect at least a higher resolution camera if nothing else. But this wish remains just that-a wish.

'Can spend just a little more, but want a lot more'. A wish that is no doubt difficult to fulfill. But, with consumer reigning king, this wish it seems, has been catered to. Style, superb build quality, a nice keypad and an external memory slot took the Motorola L7 to the throne-just edging out the competition. Our only rant is that a higher resolution camera should have been included, instead of the VGA camera that it ships with.

Give or take one feature or even slightly better ergonomics and the result for the second place would have changed-that is the closeness of the battle fought. The contenders were the Nokia 6020; and the two LGs-the C2500 and the S5200 with their impressive internal memory of 64 MB. The 6020 and C2500 clock high overall scores in our tables mainly due to their competitive pricing. If you don't mind the higher price tag, you should take a serious look at the LG S2500, which has better ergonomics, a good 1.3 megapixel camera and MP3 playback. However, because of the price difference, the S2500 lost out to the LG C2500, which is the winner of the Digit Best Buy Silver award for this test.

Increasingly inexpensive and convenient to own, everyone from your friendly neighbourhood fruit vendor to your bus driver-seem to be dancing to their own ring tones. The mobile phone is empowering the common man like no technology has done before.

This category is about phones for the masses, or in a word, affordable. Amongst the phones we tested, we classified those that fell below the Rs 5,500 price as Budget phones. Starting at about Rs 2,800, these humble gadgets do just what a phone is supposed to do-make and receive calls and exchange SMS. And, they do so with no fuss or frills.

As price is the major criterion in this category, let us break it further into three smaller price-bands and look at each group separately, to help simplfy your choice.

Below Rs 3,000
In our test, the most inexpensive phones were the Motorola C139, the LG B2050 and the Nokia 2600 priced between the Rs 2,800 to Rs 3,000 range. The C139 could definitely use a better keypad and a more liberal spacing of keys: the cost of an affordable phone need not be sore fingers. The clarity of its tiny colour screen would have been acceptable a couple of years ago, but not today. A positive of this phone though, is its impressive battery life-450 hours of claimed standby time and 11.5 hours of talk time. Surprising for a phone in its class, is that it allows you re-arrange its menu items. Life does offer small pleasures!

LG B2050 - Looks cute, works without fuss
The LG B2050 shares the woes of the C139 when it comes to keypad feedback. However, the placement of the keys is well thought of, reducing the chances of pressing a wrong key. The screen is pleasant to see, as it is with most LG phones. The kill-joy, apart from the keypad is the slow response while composing messages. Considering that many buyers in this segment will be students with an SMS habit, this something that Motorola should look at.

In terms of  usability, the LG phones are as friendly as their Nokia counterparts, as their menu system is inspired by the latter's. This makes the B2050 and the B2070 (reviewed in the next price-band) extremely easy to use, even for a first timer. Some LG uniqueness is maintained though: The right-navigation button in standby mode opens up a shortcut to inbox, voice mail, scheduler and alarm. Overall, the B2050 is an impressive phone.

The Nokia 2600 gives us very little to complain about-we could only crib about the size of the keys comprising its last row-evidently; practicality has been compromised for a more appealing look. As with most Nokias, navigation holds no surprises or irritants in the 2600.

The Nokia 2600 and LG B2050 are phones that you will not be ashamed to use in your college or workplace. They may not look great, but they are certainly not cheap-looking either-from a distance, at least.

Many of us here at Digit found the B2050 'cute', while some just thought it was 'feminine'. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Up on closer inspection though, it does look and even feel very plastic, making the Nokia 2600 look better on the whole.

Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,000 
Next in line were Sony Ericsson's J100i and J220i, priced at around Rs 3,800. The J100i is as basic and barebones as the C139, which incidentally is a whole thousand rupees cheaper. And that Next in line were Sony Ericsson's J100i and J220i, priced at around Rs 3,800. The J100i is as basic and barebones as the C139, which incidentally is a whole thousand rupees cheaper. And that says it all about the J100i. The J220i is the better of the two with a clearer screen and a more forgiving keypad. Its menu navigation is intuitive making this a good first phone to own. The navigation keys on the J100i and the J220i function as shortcuts to the alarm, phonebook and to the SMS compose box-accessing contacts and sending a message is literally a button away.

The LG B2070 is an avatar of the B2050 with an FM radio. Radio reception is good outdoors but can be a concern in a closed environment. Its stereo headphones, which double as a microphone, reproduce vocals very well but not bass.

Nokia 2600-Value for Money
In the sub Rs 4,000 range, the Nokia 1600 tried a new, and unusual, keypad design, but lost points on ergonomics because of its-typing an SMS is an ordeal on this phone. On the brighter side, its clear white backlight and good loudspeaker make up for the odd keypad.

The J100i and the J220i are dual-toned with soft colours that blend in well with each other, but alas, the plastic feel remains. The B2070 shares its look with its cousin, the B2050. 

Rs 4,000 to Rs 5,500 
Joining the FM bandwagon is the Sony Ericsson's J230i at the higher end of this budget segment. The J230i is an avatar of the J220i, packed with an FM radio. Like the other phones we got in this class, the keypad of the J230i feels a bit dead and takes the joy away.

Wrapping up this budget segment at the Rs 5,000 border, are the Nokia 3120 and 6030 phones. The 6030 offers a generous ten fields per entry in its 250 contacts capable phonebook. The 3120 gives you 256 contacts with four fields per contact. There is little else to distinguish these two phones which are separated by about Rs 400. The 6030 has a 65k colour screen while the 3120 has to make do with a screen offering only 4k colours, though the difference in clarity is not very noticeable. On the 6030, we were at ease with its large softkeys, but did feel that the number keys could have been bigger for the SMS junkies amongst us.

The SE J230i offered the best audio quality-through its earphones as well as its speaker. The good news continues with the FM reception: the J230i fares much better than the LG B2070, both in terms of the FM audio quality and the ability to pick up signals indoors. On an otherwise white and silver body, there are two careless spots of orange vying for your attention. This might good if you want your phone to generate curious looks in college, but not quite so in a conference room. The 6030 is a typical block look Nokia-unassuming, simple with no make up. The most graceful of this lot is the 3120 which can pass off as an executive's phone. Dual-tones that work well, good fit and finish-all make it a neat looking package.

Barring FM radio on the Nokia 6030, LG B2070 and the Sony Ericsson J230i, there were no models to go gaga over. With hardly any price differences and features seperating the phones in each price-band, our job was not easy. Giving a fair weightage to the price did not mean that the least priced phones could be forgiven for bad ergonomics. After painstaking calculations, we found the Nokia 2600 to be both inexpensive as well as easy to use, thus being crowned the Digit Best Buy Gold in this category. It also packs a handy expense manager feature and changeable front and back covers.

Others who staked claim to the Gold position were the FM phones B2070, J230i and the 6030. The B2070 is plagued by slow response, the J230i has an ill-conceived keypad-however none of these quirks were found on the 6030. It costs about Rs 1,400 more than the 2600, but for that extra money you get an inbuilt FM radio, a good 65k colour screen (the 2600 has a 4k screen) and a phonebook with 250 contacts, each with 10 fields. We have no hesitation in awarding the Digit Best Buy Silver award to the Nokia 6030.

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