Nokia's 6234 is a mid-range handset that hides its more advanced capabilities behind a relatively plain exterior. The unsophisticated looks of this handset underscore great ergonomics though, with well-designed keys that are extremely comfortable and easy to use.
However, the 6234's 3G capability is marred by the lack of a front-facing camera, and its music playback suffers from average sound and a shortage of internal memory. But if these things matter less to you than good call quality, pocket-friendly size and solid, basic functionality, then the 6234 might be worth a look.
The Nokia 6234 is available exclusively from Vodafone on prepay and contract. It's free on plans from Anytime 200 and above and costs £250 on pay as you talk.
The Nokia 6234 is a neat and tidy little handset. You might even say it's unassuming. To look at its 108 by 46 by 18mm and hold its 110g of weight you'd think it was a pretty basic handset, and in particular might never guess that it had 3G capability.
The all-silver frontage is quite appealing. Mostly matte in finish, the bursts of shine come from the navigation key and four absolutely tiny buttons beneath the screen. Despite being quite possibly the smallest buttons we've ever seen on a handset, these are easy to hit even with the flat of your thumb because they're well spaced.
We like the navigation key too. It doesn't look very different from the norm, but the large outer rim and slight dip into the select button make both parts very comfortable to use. The other front buttons on the number pad are also designed with ease of use in mind, their camber top and bottom helping you to hit them fast and accurately -- which is especially good for texting. It might all look simple, but it's very ergonomic.
Around the edges of the casing are, on the right, a volume rocker and a shortcut for the built-in camera, and on the left a push-to-talk button, and, covered by a small pull-up cover, a slot for the microSD cards that can be used to boost the internal memory. An infrared port is on the right edge too, and on both edges are speakers that cater for the stereo sound output.
The screen consumes less than half of the front fascia, and it is relatively small in size, but its 320x240 pixels make it very crisp. It's bright enough too, and we found it perfectly usable.
The back of the handset has the look of a digital camera, with the lens and self-portrait mirror surrounded by a silver rectangle bearing the Vodafone branding (that's repeated on the front of the casing too, just in case you forget who your network operator is). The bulk of the back is black, and the finish is such that, while it isn't shiny, it does pick up greasy finger marks easily.
The Nokia 6234 is a frustrating mix of good and poorly implemented features. Take the camera, for example. This is a 3G handset, but there's no front-facing camera. This doesn't mean you can't make 3G video calls, just that you have to choose between seeing your caller on the handset screen and showing them what you are looking at from the back of the handset or staring into the camera while you make your call and not being able to see the caller at all.
When you aren't making calls, the camera shoots video at resolutions up to 640x480 pixels and stills at 1,280x960, 640x480, 320x240 and 160x120. The 6234 also offers music playback through both headphones and side-mounted speakers, and has a built-in FM radio.
Bluetooth and infrared are also built in. It's great to see infrared in a handset -- it's so much easier to share files on an ad hoc basis using this than it is with Bluetooth.
You can synchronise diary and contacts with a PC using Nokia's PC Suite and this is included in the box, but there's no sync cable provided. So you'll either need to use Bluetooth for this job or buy a cable as an optional extra.
Memory isn't exactly plentiful. There's 6MB built in and our review handset had just 2.1MB free -- barely enough for a couple of songs and your calendar and contact data. You get a 64MB microSD card included, which is a step in the right direction, but you may well want to invest in a larger-capacity card as soon as you can if you're keen to carry music around or shoot many photos at the maximum resolution.
The 6234 is a mid-range handset, and doesn't pretend to be anything better. Both signal retention and call quality were fine. The battery life isn't going to break any records, but provided you steer reasonably clear of 3G data you'll be okay for a couple of days of average use between charges.
The camera shoots great video that we found pretty smooth and watchable on a PC, even when we tried some fast panning shots. Stills are reasonably good too, though lacking a certain sharpness of colour.
The music playback is a mixed bag. Output to headphones lacked the depth and quality of sound we expect from good handsets these days, and the provided equaliser didn't seem to make much difference. Oddly, the FM radio delivered a better quality of sound through our headset.
Through the 6234's side-mounted stereo speakers the volume was within our acceptable limits, and quality was okay. As is usually the case with stereo speakers on handsets, we didn't perceive any kind of stereo effect.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide