The Nokia Asha 303 may blur the lines between a smart and feature phone but, SEAN BACHER finds, its high price keeps it out of reach of its target market.
Walk into any cellular retail outlet and you bound to be bombarded with smartphone after smartphone, and sales persons barking at your heels with technical jargon like Near Field Communications (NFC), mobile wireless hotspot, geo-tagging, Long Term Evolution (LTE) or 4G networks. While many users who will use one or two of these features, most don’t know what they are and don’t have a need for them, yet end up paying for them anyway.
However, the new line of Nokia Asha phones released last month may change this. The Asha phones are considered feature phones, meaning they offer services and functions not found on basic phones, but do not have upgradeable operating systems, can’t be extensively customised and offer limited interactivity. This also means they are not smartphones and therefore should not cost as much.
The entry level Nokia Asha 201 retails for under R1 000 and the top of the line Asha 303 retails for R1 799.
But, at a cost like that, you have to ask what Nokia has added to give it a smartphone-like pricetag? We put the Nokia Asha 303 through the Gadget Ten Task Test to find out.
1. General look and feel (aesthetic judgement, differentiation in look and feel)
The Nokia Asha 303 looks like a smartphone, with a capacitive touch screen and full QWERTY keyboard. Its shell is made from plastic, apart from the battery cover, which is metal.
The grey finish on the unit looks as if it is made completely from brushed aluminium, but it does look a little dull and gives it an all-business, no-play look. Other colour choices, including bright orange, will appeal to the younger market of people who want to flash their new phone around.
Overall, the Asha 303’s design could not be faulted. Its battery cover clipped off with ease, but not that easily that it would come off when dropped, and access to the full-size SIM and microSD slots didn’t require the use of a magnifying glass and pair of tweezers.
2. Slippability (Weight and size, ability to slip into a pocket unnoticed)
The Asha’s curved back and rounded corners mean that it will fit comfortably in your jean’s pocket. Although it is rather fat, measuring 14mm, it feels great in your hand.
The 2.6‚ capacitive touch screen is easy to control with just a thumb, while the raised keys on the QWERTY keyboard give a sense of confidence when typing without looking. The keys also feel robust, a real bonus given the fact that they will be used thousands of times to tap out text after text message.
The phone measures 116.5 x 55.7 x 13.9 mm and weighs 99 grams, so it won’t go unnoticed in your pocket.
The Asha 303 is easy to use in one hand, its robust keyboard with raised keys is a real benefit and, although its not the slimmest phone on the market, it’s size does not disappoint.
3. General performance (speed, responsiveness, multi-tasking)
The Asha runs a 1Ghz CPU and has 128MB of RAM. This is meagre compared to current smartphones, but the Asha does not have to run a resource intensive operating system. Instead, it uses the Nokia S40 Symbian operating system first introduced on the Nokia 7110 in 1999. Although old, the OS runs well and, because it doesn’t use much CPU power, launching and running apps like Angry Birds is fast and smooth. The birds zoomed through the air without any freezing or jolting.
One drawback of the S40 OS is that the phone’s multitasking abilities are limited. For example, you can only play music and perform one other task at the same time. You can’t open an application and then switch to another, leaving the first one running in the background like you would on the Nokia Lumia.
Although the phone boots up quickly and handles applications well, the lack of multitasking is a big drawback.
4. Life as we know it (How’s the battery life?)
As expected, Nokia does not disappoint with its battery. The 1 300mAh battery lasted for more than two days of solid use. According to Nokia you will be able to get up to seven hours of talk time on a single charge when the phone is connected to a 3G network. It also offers 840 hours of standby time.
5. Vision of the future (picture, video and browsing quality)
The Asha’s browser is one of the easiest I have used. Four menu tabs, including Favourites, Options, Apps and Home, are positioned at the bottom of the screen, quickly accessible when the browser is open. Pages are opened without problems, but the lack of a pinch-zoom option is distracting. One zoom option is available, which is activated when you tap the screen. From here you navigate the page by swiping horizontally and vertically. I would have liked more control over the zoom, not just one zoom option.
The Internet browser on the Asha 303 is Cloud-based, meaning that a page is compressed and then sent to the phone. The pages therefore load faster and, according to Nokia, are 90% cheaper to view in terms of data cost.
A rear 3.2MP offers a maximum resolution of 2048X1536, but with a fixed focus. The camera also works as a video camera, but only offering VGA quality at 15 frames per minute. Rather substandard and a feature that needs more attention at the price.
The 2.6‚ QVGA 256 thousand colour capacitive touch screen is also a let-down. Its resolution is 320X240 pixels with a pixel density of 154 pixels per inch. This results in images appearing grainy and fuzzy.
The Internet browser is a real benefit in a country like South Africa, where data charges are still quite high. But the phone really disappoints with the below average camera and screen.
6. Talk to me (quality of audio)
The loudspeaker offers good sound when using the speakerphone option, but when the volume is cranked all the way up it tends to get tinny and even distorts. When earphones are connected to the 3.5mm headphone jack, the phone is able to pick up radio stations, complete with Radio Data System (RDS). Bluetooth connectivity is also included.
In general, sound quality is mediocre, with no extras that set it out from the rest.
7. Message in a bottle (range, speed and efficiency of messaging solutions)
Applications to access Twitter, Facebook and other social networks are all easily accessible from the home screen, but all are displayed in a single timeline, which I found confusing. However, if you log into the Nokia Store, third party apps can be downloaded that will let you view separate timelines in their respective programs.
Hundreds of games, utilities and tools can also be downloaded from the store.
Overall, the messaging applications are average.
8. Keep control (How effective are hardware and software controls?)
A volume rocker is located on the right of the phone. A dedicated Key-Lock button below that performs a mundane task, but one that is so useful, it should be mandatory on any cellphone.
9. The new new (innovations, unique features)
The Asha 303 does not score well here. The phone offers nothing unique, nor are there any features that set it apart from the rest.
10. The wallet test (Is it competitively priced?)
The Asha 303 costs R1 799, which is hardly the cheapest feature phone by a long shot. Far more seriously, it is R300 more expensive than an entry-level smartphone like the LG Optimus L3. This is a clear indication that Nokia needs to rethink its price.
The Asha 303 is advertised as a handset designed to blur the lines between a smartphone and feature phone and it does this well. After using the phone for a few days, I found it difficult to find the differences and, after a week or so, forgot that I was using a feature phone at all.
But, its high price means that it fails as a phone designed for South Africa’s youth.
* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher
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