Plenty of mobile makers have in the past been prepared to get their phones up on the ramps for a bit of Vodafone modification, but the 6234 marks the first time that the top brand on the leaderboard has given the thumbs up for a bit of Vodafone live! with 3G customisation.

As such, the mid-priced 6234 is bit special for a Nokia 3G phone - although there is a near-identical model without the Vodafone branding, the 6233 for other networks.

The 6234 puts 3G multimedia content right at the front of the grid, and on top of its download-friendly demeanour, it has other features worth shouting about such as a 2 megapixel camera, music player, swappable memory and an FM radio.

From the front on, the 6234 doesn't have the swooning good looks of some mobiles, or the ultra-sophisticated styling of other 3G Nokias.

Features

It looks simply like a fairly straightforward candybar with large numbers keys and spaced controls. However, its smooth chrome styling and matt black rubberised backing make it a tactile pleasure to hold.

Featuring a large 262,144-colour, 320 x 240 pixel QVGA colour screen, the phone's facia is arranged in an elegant fashion; the main key array is simple and uncluttered, with four thin control keys and a central menu rocker between the numberpad and display.

Unfortunately, the thinness means it's not that clear which of the control keys are used to make, answer and end calls. However, you do get used to it quickly, and the softkey functions are easy to follow.

This phone is a bit of a marriage of two systems; on the one hand, it offers Nokia's signature design with an easy-to-use menu structure (a quick access bar of shortcuts sit at the top oif the screen in standby), but the Vodafone branding also comes through with graphics, icons and menu texts and themes.

Users can get easy access to Vodafone's 3G services, with a live! softkey option a default setting that pops up on the bottom right of the standby display, plus links within the menus to download videos, ringtones and so on.

Go Live!

Pop the live! button, and you're soon up and running on the Vodafone live! with 3G portal. This presents you with plenty of download options, plus streamed video. As well as videos and music tracks, you can opt to subscribe to Vodafone's Mobile TV streaming service.

Commendably, the 6234 has the option for full-screen presentation for video playback: by turning the phone sideways you can watch widescreen-style across the optimum width of the display. The 3G browser also offers fast access to other information and services outside of Vodafone's portal.

The 2 megapixel camera is one of the other main focus points here. A quick fl ick of the menu rocker upwards takes you straight to picture-taking mode, whereupon the screen instantly changes to a horizontal widescreen mode making framing much easier.

There's a number of useful features onboard, including an 8x digital zoom, three effects modes (greyscale, sepia and negative), plus five white balance modes to ensure you get the right tones in your pics.

There's also a night mode and an Image Sequence mode, which takes three snaps in quick succession. You can also take video clips, too - choose between the default length of around 20 seconds, or the maximum setting; this, of course, depends on how many pictures and videos you've already stored on your phone or memory card.

Saving an image in high quality mode takes quite a while, which can be frustrating when you want to take quite a few pictures in succession. Both pictures and video clips can be sent to other phone users via a number of different transfer methods, including Bluetooth and infrared, or via a USB cable.

As the phone is 3G-enabled, this means that video calling comes into the equation. But here's where you'll find disappointment. The phone only has a back-mounted camera lens, so full face-to-face calling is a no-no. While you can see your caller on the screen during a video call, they can't see you - unless, that is, you turn the phone around.

Musical leanings

Another big selling point of this phone is its music capabilities. It has a multi-format digital music player (MP3, MP4, AAC, eAAC ). The phone features stereo speakers with 3D sound effects, and a number of creative music controls, such as seven equaliser settings to optimise your listening experience. It also comes with stereo headphones supplied.

Tracks can be downloaded and transferred to your phone via the Nokia Audio Manager application, or you could download tunes directly over the air from Vodafone's music store on its live! portal. The phone comes complete with a hotswappable 64MB microSD card, which you'll need as the internal memory is a meagre 6MB, and an FM radio is also part of the deal.

The phone only comes with two games as standard - Snake and Sudoku - but other Java games can be downloaded. However, there is a potentially cool language translator tool which allows you to translate a whole host of common words from or to English, French, Italian, German and Spanish. In addition, aA dedicated button on the side accesses the phone's Push To Talk feature.

As expected, the phone also boasts the usual calendar, calculator, countdown timer, stopwatch, voice recorder, unit converter, world clock and alarm clock functions. There's also an email client to enable you to retrieve email from pretty much any account, which is great when you're on the move.

Performance

With a quoted battery standby time of 340 hours, the 6234 didn't disappoint - we managed to make a number of calls, videos and take plenty of photos before the battery fi nally gave up after around 4 days. Call quality was good, too.

We were impressed by the picture quality of the photos, especially after zooming right in, and the large screen makes it much easier to use the camera as a functional tool, rather than as a snap 'n' send gimmick.

Nokia's first Vodafone-branded model delivers on most of the 3G deal - it's a shame that face-to-face video calling isn't possible because of the camera arrangement. Music and video-wise, it's a first class handset that will definitely keep you entertained, though you might prefer to spend a little more and be sold up to an N-series model with a bit more smartphone firepower. Tracey Smith

Camera: The 2 megapixel lens is located at the back of the handset, and the small mirror cube is handy for self-portraits

Display: With a 320 x 240 QVGA screen, icons and graphics are clearly displayed while photos are displayed in widescreen

Memory card: The microSD card fits into a neat slot on the side of the phone, so you don't have to take the battery out to change it

Layout: The keys are neatly designed with minimalist menu and call answer/end buttons, but these aren't clearly marked