Considering how much noise Nokia makes about its Microsoft partnership in recent times, you would be forgiven for thinking all its phones ran Windows Phone. Au contraire. Nokia continues to be creating a Series 40-based line of cheaper, basic smart phones primarily aimed toward budget-conscious mobile users — its Asha range of handsets.
Early Ashas were Qwerty or keypad-clad creations however the once Mighty Finn has now unboxed some fully touchscreen options, including the Asha 311, that’s available SIM-free for around £100.
Nokia is hoping these swipe-friendly Ashas can be snatched off shelves by Brits seeking an inexpensive alternative to the cheap Android. But is that wishful thinking?
Should i purchase the Nokia Asha 311?
The Asha 311 is unquestionably cheap but it is not affordable enough to place clear blue water between itself and the gaggle of budget Androids clamouring to your cash.
To compete with the might of Android, the Asha 311 really has to be £50 or £60 cheaper to even begin to be worth considering. Instead, it’s currently in regards to the same price. It’s now possible to pocket a terrific ‘droid for £100 — giving access to scores of apps on Google’s Play store, a 1GHz chip and a roomy 4-inch screen.
So you get much better value to your hard-earned cash buying into Android, and a slicker, more capable smart phone on your pocket, so there’s really no reason to decide on the Asha over a respectable budget ‘droid.
The Asha 311 is an improvement on Series 40 devices from years passed by — having had a spit and varnish within the usability stakes and key apps pre-loaded — but it’s still much more gnomic, frustrating and flaky than a number of ‘droids in its budget.
The 311 might entice dedicated Nokia fans who’re already well versed inside the ways of Series 40. But everyone else is healthier off adopting a capable budget Android reminiscent of the Huawei Ascend G300, the T-Mobile Vivacity or — for a smidge more money — Sony’s Xperia U.
Design and build quality
Nokia hasn’t pushed the boat out for the Asha 311’s design — beyond offering a typical candybar blower in some bright shades (including popping pink and brilliant blue). It’s no stunner but it is not hideous either.
The front of the telephone is all touchscreen aside from a plastic cap on the base, topped off with a silver bar that wraps all of the way round the back of the telephone. At the front, this bar houses Nokia’s trademark call buttons (one in all that is also the facility/cancel key). At the right-hand edge you furthermore may get a volume rocker and a physical lock key — which i discovered just a little stiff to press.
Siting the ability key at the front isn’t amazingly intelligent design — if you are cramming the telephone right into a packed bag, i discovered it will probably turn itself on if switched off.
Overall, the telephone has a really plasticky feel and — because of its high-shine curved backplate — a habit of tumbling from your hands at inopportune moments.
Build quality feels pretty rigid, but applying pressure will generate a couple of plasticky squeaks. I also found that since the back is so shiny, it’s annoyingly hard to take away to get on the battery, SIM and microSD card slots. It is a case of applying both thumbs and keep pushing.
There are three external ports all sited at the top edge: Nokia’s proprietary power port, a micro-USB socket for transferring media to and from a pc and a three.5mm headphone jack.
The 311 stands proud from fellow Ashas together with the 201, since it lacks a physical keyboard or keypad. Instead, you get a three-inch full touchscreen display, toughened with Gorilla Glass.
Its resolution is simply 240×400 pixels, which equates to a lowly density of 155 pixels per inch. At this resolution, when fully zoomed out of a desktop website comparable to the CNET UK site, text is absolutely illegible and you’ve got to tap to zoom in to read every block of text.
Overall, the display lacks crispness and has a hazy appearance — so photos and internet sites look murky and poorly defined. Colours also look more muted than vibrant.
The touchscreen’s responsiveness isn’t bad, but it surely feels sluggish when responding in your taps. A slight feeling of inertia accompanies everything you do. This lag is likely to be the fault of the Series 40 software than cheap screen hardware.
Series 40 and apps
Series 40 is one among Nokia’s legacy operating systems from mobile days passed by. In these smart phone-dominated times, it lags far behind the Speedy Gonzales duo of Apple’s iOS and Android.
On the Asha 311, Series 40 isn’t as old-fashioned because it was once, displaying various borrowed elements from iOS and Android — equivalent to a grid of round-edged icons and a tray which might be swiped down from the end of the house screen to get to certain settings.
When you flick to scroll throughout the icons, they arrive to rest with a bump and bounce after the last row is reached (just like the iPhone’s icons).
So, at the surface, Series 40 seems like familiar smart phone territory — with friendly looking icons and swipeable home screens. But legacy baggage soon shows its face inside the kind of inscrutable error messages and parades of confirmation pop-ups, very like the dialogue boxes that haunt Windows PCs.
This kind of user interface is how things was once within the bad old days of mobile devices. Happily, UI design has swiped on elsewhere, so there isn’t any should tether yourself to any such neurotic system unless you are a diehard Nokia fan.
One neat touch for those that do a variety of calling is that the dialler entirely occupies one of the vital home screens, meaning you will get to it quickly simply by swiping left from the key screen.
If you’re wondering about apps, they’re available via Nokia’s Ovi store. Some also come pre-loaded, including perennial favourite Angry Birds (the game’s maker Rovio is, of course, a Finnish company). There’s Twitter and Nokia’s Social app, which allows you to gather social network updates from Facebook et al into one highly social hub. Nokia Maps also comes pre-loaded.
While the variability of apps on Ovi is less extensive than iOS or Android, Nokia has done a handle games maker EA so that you can download 40 of its titles free of charge — provided you achieve this within 60 days of opening up the Games Gift icon.
Series 40 is not the slickest or easiest OS to make use of, neither is it the foremost error-free. I encountered a variety of errors — especially in the course of the set-up of functions which includes email — which temporarily derailed elements including web browsing and social apps.
Some of the apps also are flaky and/or buggy. Nokia’s Social app, for example, indicates you’ve new Facebook messages when there’s nothing new on your inbox.
At other times during testing, the app flaked out entirely — throwing up this less-than-useful message:
The web browser — when it really works — manages to be quick but it is also distinctly low-fi. It loads pages speedily since it serves up a compressed version of the sites, which implies graphics look blurry and poor, but are usually quick to seem. There is a second advantage in that they do not gobble up loads of your data download allowance — so in case you are really keen on 3G data costs, this may be handy.
The other annoying section of the net browser is that because the resolution is so poor (and the screen so small), you will want tap to zoom in to read text. And, as there’s just one level of zoom, reading a full web site means a number of swiping around as you end consuming each small block of text for your immediate visual field. The end result can feel like attempting to read a dictionary by searching through a keyhole.
The virtual keyboard at the 311 is a keypad-style offering, in place of an entire Qwerty, so there isn’t any denying you are the owner of a candybar blower.
Like the OS, apps are generally a touch sluggish to run, so it’s hard to shake the sensation that everything you do at the 311 is ever so slightly behind what your fingertips are asking. In case you are an impatient type, this foot-dragging will soon grate, but when you’re zen about marginal delays, you could not care.
The 311 has both front and rear speakers and might pump out noise pretty loudly — that can come in useful at the school bus. Call quality was ok but voices sounded a tad muffled to my ear.
What hardware do you get on your cash? A 1GHz chip, 128MB of memory and both a 3G and Wi-Fi radio plus Bluetooth — an entire connectivity complement which you aren’t getting on every Asha.
There’s also a GPS chip so that you could make full use of the pre-loaded Nokia maps app.
Also on board is a 1,110mAh battery, which Nokia reckons is nice for as much as 6 hours of 3G talktime, 40 hours of music playback or 744 hours on standby. It’s going to easily last you a day’s poking and prodding, provided you are not an ultra-heavy user.
The 311 has a three.2-megapixel camera at the back. You actually shouldn’t expect anything great from this lens. Test snaps I took came out really blurry and speckled, with chromatic aberration (colour fringing around sharply contrasting objects), grainy noise, haloing and lens flare.
There’s no flash so that you can’t add additional luminosity when snapping in dingier conditions either.
The 311 records video at a resolution of 480×640 pixels. Again, results aren’t amazing but it’ll serve for making YouTube-quality clips.
The Nokia Asha 311 could be the most easy to make use of Series 40 device Nokia has ever made, but that’s damning it with the faintest of praise. It’s saddled with legacy baggage that throws up cryptic error messages and annoying confirmation requests far too often to make it a pleasure to exploit. Here’s old technology given a brand new lick of paint to check out and pass it off as a significant competitor to slicker rival operating systems.
Unless you are a dyed-in-the-wool Nokia fan, you’re much better off spending your budget on a good ‘droid. Indeed, it’s possible to get a robust, capable Android handset — comparable to Huawei’s excellent Ascend G300 — for a similar because the Asha 311. So unless there is a radical price drop or some really compelling contracts coming down the road, there is no reason to harass with Nokia’s candybar.