Simple, but a classic

A bit less than two years ago I acquired a Nokia 6234 mobile phone and I pretty much hated it from the beginning, as I wrote in a column at the time.

My opinion of it didn’t improve when the keys started dropping off after a year and there were no genuine Nokia replacements available. My provider, Autopage, fitted a pirate part but the paint soon rubbed off of the keys so I couldn’t read them. The phone then refused to switch on and was away for six weeks for repairs.

By the time I had bought a new pirate keypad, which didn’t fit properly, and the phone’s ringer had stopped working, I had had enough. Even though my contract still a few months to run, I decided to cut my losses, and get myself a new handset.

I happened to be near Makro when I hit crisis point, so I went straight in to see what they had available in cheap handsets in any other brand except Nokia. The salesman gave a sort of grin at this and said that he did have a phone at just under R280, including a R29.00 airtime voucher, but that it was a Nokia.

He explained that the next-cheapest handset was about R800 and that put me in a bit of quandary. On the one hand, I really didn’t want another Nokia but, on the other, the shades of my Scots ancestors were telling me not to be too hasty.

The ancestors won the day and I walked out of there with a Nokia 1200, consoling myself with the thought that, even if it was a total dog, I wouldn’t be too much out of pocket. The box it comes is small and cute and I was somehow encouraged by this minimalist approach to the packaging.

The phone is less than 10cm high, weights a massive 77g, and sports a small monochrome LCD screen which is probably less than half of the size of that of my previous one. The small screen is not the big drawback for me that it sounds, however, because the text on it is bigger and much easier to read than that on my older phone.

Because the screen is smaller, the keys on the keypad are bigger and so is the text on them, making it easier to find and type the numbers or letters you’re looking for. The keypad seems to be a single sheet of plastic which is pressure-sensitive, dustproof and, by the look of it, would be able to resist slight liquid spillages.

The list of the phone’s features is not long and, apart from talking and sending text messages, you can use it for very little else. Other features include a built-in LED torch, an alarm clock, a count-down timer and a few simple games, but that’s it! No colour screen, no MP3, no camera, no pictures, no Bluetooth, no Internet.

The upshot of the lack of features, however, is that the menu system is simplicity itself. This makes the phone very easy to use, with a Menu key providing access to its features, and a Go To key providing shortcuts to the most-used items. The shortcuts have to be set up but technophobes could easily get the salesman or a savvy friend to do that for them.

It might not have been their intention but I think that Nokia have produced a real classic which will fill the needs of many people. It’s the right phone anyone who is short of cash, needs a handset that is very simple, whose sight is not what it once was, or who resents the high prices demanded for yuppie mobiles. (Added Aug. 30, 2008: It’s a depressing thought that I now fall within all those categories.)

Anyway, which of the more expensive phones can last up to 16 days between battery charges?

(Added Aug. 30, 2008: I’m now on the 8th day of my charge and the battery seems to have half its charge left. At least the long battery life gives you some sort of comeback when friends haul out their much more expensive units..)

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