Product Type: Panasonic mobile phones
Newest Review: ... has Sonic), colour screen, Calendar... The extra things are that it has a big button on the hinge, that when pressed will flip the scre... more
A taste of things to come with the Panasonic VS6
Member Name: tomshanks
Advantages: Incredibly fast phone, very simple to use, amazing display, built-in Sonic the Hedgehog game, camera
Disadvantages: Slightly suspect build quality, no memory card slot, no external display, file size limitations
This is the last Panasonic phone that the British market will see for a while. This is due to the fact that the company have decided to making what could be called 'normal' phones (i.e. those which do not have 3G capability) and concentrate on bringing out a new range of up-to-the minute devices to be released some time in the next 18 months. This is a shame, because, if the VS6, introduced in late 2005, is anything to go by, then they are certainly on the right track.
The first phone which attracts attention about the VS6 is its screen. This is a completely astonishing feature of the phone, and is probably the only phone that you can buy today which displays 16 million colours. Not only this, but the brightness of the screen is quite something. Only things like the much more expensive Nokia 7390 and the new N95 can compare with this, and those phones are at least three times as expensive as the VS6. Admittedly, there were a whole raft of Panasonic flip phones of similar size released at the same time as the VS6 with exactly the same display, but slightly better or slightly worse features, but the VS6 has the best combination of availability, price and features, in my opinion. It is also rather thin and very light.
Irritatingly, however, the company decided not to include an external display, relying instead on a multi-coloured LED, similar to the one found on the old X70. The top of the range models (MX7, VS7 and SA7) had this feature, and it is a welcome addition, since although the LED can be set to flash different colours to display things like incoming calls, charging, new text messages and even when the flip is closed, this is no substitute for an external display. The lack of a memory card slot in the phone also dates it a little bit, but none of this series of Panasonic phone had them, so at least the VS6 user is not missing out on anything compared with the rest of the range.
Another welcome surprise is the 2 Megapixel camera mounted on the outside of the flip which although it lacks a flash (I do not think it would have been too much to ask to turn the extremely useful LED into a flash as well), does take very good photographs. However, this is only achieved by careful manipulation of the manual focus control located underneath the internal display. There are only two modes, macro and micro, and sometimes the focus required falls somewhere in between these and the photograph is pretty bad in any case. Still, it is not bad considering the price of the phone, and the screen shows the pictures very well indeed, as one may expect. The camera can also take video, but, as with so many phones, it can only record at QCIF resolution (176x144 pixels) which looks ludicrously bad on such a large screen.
Another unique feature of the phone (once it has been opened using either the normal way or the handy spring-loaded automatic opening on the side) is found in the gaming section. Those of you of a certain age (probably between 20 and 35) will be very happy to find the FULL version of Sonic the Hedgehog hard coded into the phone, as released on the Sega Megadrive in 1991. No downloads needed, no Bluetooth file transfer, no cost to pay to obtain extra levels, the full game, and not just a demo, is already in the phone. It even boasts the same sort of music as the original (although fortunately this can be turned off if necessary) and some of the original sound effects, although most of them are not there, which is a shame. However, the game looks superb on the screen as it is, and is probably the single biggest reason why I used to sell these phones in rather large numbers when I worked in the mobile phone industry.
I bought my first VS6 about a year ago, and swapped it for an LG S5200 within a week because it was faulty and I fancied trying both at the same time. However, the second one is still one of my current phones and despite being more than a year old has not had any massive reliability concerns. Very occasionally, the phone will switch itself off, but this is nothing in comparison with other problems that I have seen on phones in the past few months (for that see some of my reviews about Siemens phones). Actually, the principal reason why I still use it as a main phone (I run two or three at once) is due to none of the factors I have mentioned so far.
The VS6 is probably the fastest and easiest to use phone I have come across in recent times. This is not an exaggeration. I have had just about every make of phone on the market, and this is by far the fastest in terms of writing text messages, viewing photographs and performing just about any other operation. Where other phones lag and say "please wait", the VS6 just speeds through with instant response to keypresses. This is particularly noticeable with text messaging, where I cannot keep up with the phone, rather than the other way round which is seems to be with so many other handsets that I have used. The menu system is also absolute child's play.
There is a quick shortcut from the standby screen to the messaging menu, and, like in a lot of phones, another one to compose a new message and access the phonebook. Even when scrolling through a phonebook with more than 100 numbers in it by letter, there is just no lag at all. There is a slight delay when loading the camera, but then there is on any phone. Additionally, the main menu is simply laid out, and even allows for customisation of the main icons, i.e. to be able to choose whatever picture one wants for them, which is something I have never seen on any other phone. The whole system also has only up, down, left, right, a select button and two softkeys, unlike the fifteen or so navigation buttons found on many modern handsets. I would even go so far as to say that a modern Nokia or Sharp, previously the easiest phones to use on the market, is not as simple as this. The basic features are particularly well handled.
Calling is excellent, with a separate volume control on the side of the phone, and the flip design means that the microphone is very well-placed for picking up clear sound. There is also a speakerphone, which is loud, and as previously mentioned, the phonebook is excellent, although adding individual entries to the SIM card from a text message or call list can be a little bit more complicated than necessary. The phone also works flawlessly with my Siemens HHB-600 Bluetooth headset, although one has to remember to make the phone visible every time before linking the two, which is a pain as the default setting cannot be changed on this. Text messaging is also good, although there is one problem.
Once the user has breezed through the menus to compose a new message, the text can be configured to be different sizes (I have it on the smallest, which means a message and a half will fit on the screen), and capitalisation, one of my bugbears, is no problem at all. The keypad is well-spaced and responsive, and the phone will keep up amazingly well. There is also a character counter, but this does not actually count the number of messages too. However, there is an option in the menu to do this (I only found it recently), so if one is worried about going over, then this can be used before sending the message and the phone confirming how many parts there are before it is sent. This is the only flaw I can find, and it is a minor one at that. However, there are a couple of other more major issues than this.
The first seems to affect all the Panasonic phones which I have come across, and this is build quality. Despite the fact that my VS6 seems all right, it does give off an air of cheapness and fragility which others do not. This is a common Panasonic problem it seems, but it is not bad enough to ensure that the phone breaks every time it is dropped.
The second concerns data transmission. The phone has Bluetooth and infra-red, thus being one of the few models on the market still to have both, but these have a limitation. Whilst being nowhere as bad as something like the LG P7200, which will not read any image file bigger than 460kb or thereabouts, it is impossible to get the phone to accept anything bigger than 1MB. This is probably due to the small onboard memory, and is probably a precaution Panasonic themselves have introduced to stop the memory from filling up too quickly, but it is annoying nevertheless.
The third is to do with playing music files. MIDI and MMF format tunes present no problems, and some might even say that they are too loud on the VS6's speaker. However, MP3s, which is what most people these days use, are far too quiet, and even with the slightly inadequate vibration, it is all too easy to miss calls and text messges, not helped by the lack of an external display. However, this not that bad compared with some of the other problems I have seen on recent phones.
The VS6 is a rare breed of phone, the sort that gets better with use. Reception and battery life are perfectly adequate, and so is the feature set. The screen, camera and selection of games also set it apart from the rest of the handsets in the 50-60 GBP bracket where this phone sits, but when one discovers just how easy it is to use, and just how fast the processor in the phone operates, then it is obvious just what a little gem this phone is. Minor inconveniences, such as the lack of external display, memory card slot and a decent ring volume with MP3s, can be brushed aside because of this, since the VS6 is a good phone in the old-fashioned sense. For making and receiving calls and for sending and receiving text messages, it is surprisingly good. The other features are a welcome added bonus. The main trouble is that it is now out of production, and can therefore only be picked up on Ebay. If the new generation of Panasonic phones, due out in 2008, are any bit as good as this, then I should get my name for one immediately.
Summary: An understated exterior hides a remarkably easy to use phone with an amazing display and good games
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