As a rule, prepaid cell phones from the major carriers stick to the basics. Just consider the Nokia 1661 from T-Mobile. The candy bar handset won't win any design awards and its feature set is built solely on communication. But unless you're going to keep it only for emergencies, we can't recommend it as a primary phone. We'd never fault a phone just because it's basic, but the Nokia 1661 takes simple to an extreme. The plastic skin feels flimsy, the buttons and controls aren't easy to use, and the call quality is just average. On the upside, it will cost you only $19.
In terms of cell phone design, it doesn't get any more basic than this. The candy bar Nokia 1661 is compact (4.24 inches tall by 1.80 inches wide by 0.53 inch thick) and lightweight (2.90 ounces), while the gray and black color scheme and clean lines are unassuming. That's fine, but we can't get over that the 1661 is too cheap. The handset feels flimsy in the hand and we can't imagine that it can withstand a lot of blows. If you plan to keep it in your glove compartment, it will suit you fine, but active users should take care.
The 1.8-inch display is a bit small for the phone's size. The resolution is also low (65,000 colors; 160x128 pixels), but we'd expect as much on a basic phone. Only the backlighting time is adjustable, but the menu interface is intuitive in either the grid or the list style.
We're not impressed with the 1661's navigation controls or keypad buttons. The toggle is only four-way so you can't use it to select menu functions and icons. Instead, you have to move your finger back and forth between the toggle and the left soft key. We suppose that you'd get used to it, but we don't see the value in such an arrangement. What's more, we can't believe that removing a central OK button makes the 1661 that much more affordable.
The soft keys are small, but they're raised above the surface of the phone. You can program the right soft key as a shortcut. The Talk and End/power buttons are flush and we're not pleased that the handset lacks a dedicated back button and a side-mounted volume rocker. Even worse, the flat keypad buttons feel slippery and flimsy. Dialing numbers was fine, but we wouldn't want to text.
On the right spine, you'll find a 2.5-millimeter headset jack and a proprietary charger jack. The 1661 lacks a dedicated volume rocker so you'll have to use the toggle to adjust the sound level when you're on a call. On the top of the 1661 is its flashlight. Maroon plastic highlights surround the edge of the handset.
The 1661 has a 500-contact phone book with room in each entry for five phone number types. Ringtone caller ID isn't available, but you can pair contacts with one of 26 cartoon images. You'll find choices like a car, a dog, and a star--how you they fit your friends is up to you. Even if you could get your own images on the phone, you won't be able to use them in your phone book. Also, you can assign callers to groups.