Meet the Nokia Asha 311, Nokia’s attempt to end the war between smartphones and “dumbphones”. This 3-inch touchscreen phone packs a 1GHz processor, 3G and Wi-Fi for location skills, but it’s running Nokia’s power sipping S40 operating system, which you probably last saw on that ageing Nokia candybar phone you bought back in 2004. It’s had quite the facelift since then, but is it enough when smartphones can be had for so cheaply in the UK?
For an operating system that has its roots in early 2000s feature phones, it’s remarkable what you can do with S40 on the Nokia Asha 311. You can browse the web, get email, peruse Facebook and Twitter, chat over instant messaging or even with smartphone-owning mates using the popular WhatsApp. You can even use Nokia Maps, and it’ll make a good stab at showing where you are using network positioning.
The Nokia Asha 311 is also, surprisingly, an incredible gaming machine. Head on over to the Nokia store and you can download 40 free games from EA, no less. There are also other juicy options now, including Rovio’s Angry Birds for S40, and even - gasp - the entire first installment of legendary roleplaying game Final Fantasy. That’ll keep you absorbed for hours. And then days and weeks.
That’s the good: the bad is that this is still an operating system from the early 2000s. It may mean a long battery life of days rather than hours, but it also means slow loading times, and more pop-ups than a children’s picture book. “Error this”, “Problem that”. It should just work these days.
Those problems spill into the hardware too. Yes, there’s a 1GHz processor, but it’s tied to a tiny 3-inch screen with an incredibly low 240x400 resolution. It looks bobbins, just like the pictures the 3.2 megapixel camera around the back grabs.
A few hours with this, and you’ll be itching for an upgrade to a land where software makes sense and is easy to use, and on-screen keyboards have individual keys and the ability to let you spell correctly. Especially when you can have a smartphone in the UK for the same price: we’d plump for one of Nokia’s own Windows Phones or the £99 Android-toting Huawei Ascend G300 instead.
The bottom line
Given the age and low power requirements of S40, it’s incredible what Nokia’s pulled off here: it can do just about anything a smartphone can in a pinch. But here’s the thing. The UK mobile market is so heavily subsidized by the networks, there’s just no point bothering with a phone like this, when smartphones can be had for just as little. Case in point: the Asha 311 costs £115 unlocked, but you can get a Windows Phone powered Nokia Lumia 710 for less than that on Pay As You Go. Avoid.