Low-cost internet features, excellent battery, WhatsApp and push email access, sophisticated social app for a feature phone
As expensive as a full-featured smartphone,
can?t keep programs open when switching to another app
Nokia may be getting all its press for Windows phones of late, but let's not forget its most devoted fanbase is still the basic phone crowd. The Asha 302 is the latest to launch on the Symbian Series 40 OS – aka the good ol' Nokia grid interface most of us are familiar with – but Nokia has introduced several smart features, including a new browser built to optimise websites for lower-end phones. Targeted at emerging markets, it also has lots of efficiency features to minimise your data charges. Bargain, or are you paying for it in other ways?
Build quality has always been high on Nokia phones from its 90s heyday to its less illustrious new millennium portfolio. The Asha 302 is similarly solid, with a lightweight 99g plastic chassis that nevertheless gains an additional layer of respectability via a matt-sheen veneer. A comfortable full QWERTY sits below a 2.4-inch non-touch TFT screen with a low resolution of 240x320 pixels. Between the two, the sizeable navigation panel contains two customisable shortcut keys, a messaging key and contacts key that can be customised to hit social, phonebook or email contacts. Along the top is a 3.5mm audio jack, a proprietary pin charging port as well as a Micro USB port that can charge or connect the phone to the PC for media transfer – but there's no bundled USB cable.
Its no-nonsense design takes cues from Nokia's cult business Eseries, with a well-designed keyboard that includes a dedicated ‘@' symbol and most-used punctuation as secondary options on the main keys. On the inside is an impressively beefy 1GHz processor, a 3.2-megapixel camera and a microSD slot to expand the phone storage by up to 32GB on the paltry 100MB onboard memory. It supports so-called 3.5G mobile internet, for speeds up to 14.4Mbit/s - though that of course depends on your network.
This version of the Symbian OS is basically old-time Nokia with a customisable home screen thrown in. There are three widget spaces customisable with almost any app on the phone, with default set to ‘social', calendar and a shortcut bar that can be further customised with your most-used apps. Also useful is a notifications widget and an inbox widget. It's not quite as intuitive a setup as the Android home screens, but with just the one screen to poke around, it's much simpler to figure out than the bloated Symbian S60 smartphones Nokia was making. If you really have a hankering for the old days, you can choose to dispense with home screen view for a simple time/date display.
For the first time, push email is knitted into this basic OS, supporting Windows Live/Hotmail, Yahoo and Gmail on multiple accounts, with a comprehensive inbox with shortcuts for managing your mail. It's a sophisticated addition for a feature phone and coupled with the excellent keyboard, makes this a great no-frills business phone.
There are a few glitches in the interface – for example, there's no Camera shortcut in the main programs menu and the only way to reach it is via the shortcut bar if you add the Camera shortcut – but in general, this is easy-to-use Nokia.
The Asha 302 has tons of social and email features built in, including Facebook, Twitter and Flickr apps, as well as Orkut, a Google-owned network that's popular in India and Brazil, two of the emerging markets where Nokia is targeting the phone. They're actually apps as well – versus being shortcuts to the websites that some lower-end phones cheat with – but don't integrate with the rest of the phone so that you won't get Facebook profile pictures in your phonebook, or the ability to share photos directly from the camera. Popping the ‘social' widget on the home screen lets you view the latest in the network you designate the main account, with one-click access to post updates.
Facebook and Twitter are both comprehensive apps, but Flickr is strictly for posting photos from the camera gallery. Only the main account will update in the background, displaying new events in the social widget if you use it, but we never received an alert for new messages or posts.
You can set any of the networks to update automatically or manually if you want to save battery and/or data, as well as to resize photos over 100KB before uploading. The instant messenger Whatsapp is also preloaded for free messaging over internet - S40 phones are the only non-smartphones that can access it, another one of the many, rather nifty ways Nokia has built this phone to minimise your bill spend.
The Asha 302 supports linkage to low-cost or free internet phone services, including Sipdroid, however, Skype isn't supported by S40 phones. You can run the preloaded ‘Internet Telephone Wizard' to set up your existing accounts, or create a new one on the several services supported.
Much like the excellent Opera Mini, Nokia's new proprietary browser compresses websites to make them load faster and cost you less in data charges. The search and address bars are hidden in the options menu, maximising screen space, but the size of the screen means that non-mobile-optimised sites render too small to be read without zooming in. Despite slightly grainy reproduction on the low-res screen, sites look decent and the speed of internet coupled with the 1GHz processor mean that you'll be happy using the Asha 302 for more than an odd spot of browsing. However, despite its beefy chip, multitasking isn't supported, which means you can't even keep a program open and static while you switch apps – which would have been particularly useful in the browser.
Downloading apps is particularly quick, especially if you use Wi-Fi, as the S40 OS uses much smaller programs than its smarter counterparts.
You can also select what internet connection to use each time any web-reliant app loads - Wi-Fi or 3G - or set it to always try Wi-Fi first. Manual selection is a small battery saving measure as it means the phone doesn't automatically search for Wi-Fi constantly.
The 3.15-megapixel camera is unimpressive, taking slightly pixelated photos even in daylight, with no flash to light up night-time shots. Calendar, games and organisation apps are much as you'd expect of any feature phone, with no synching to email or social accounts.
Music and video can be transferred via the USB cable, with the players supporting common formats – though you won't be able to (or want to) watch high definition video such as DivX or MKV formats.
There's no GPS, so no Maps application, though it does help the battery easily last two days on moderate use. But the low price point mooted when the phone first launched last year is no more – the Asha 302 starts at free on contracts from £30 per month, the same price at which much higher end smartphones can be bought.
This is the next level of basic phones, with a powerful processor and smart email and social apps bolstered by unique data and battery saving features. Though the Asha 302 lacks the integration of true smartphones, it is ideally built for low-cost internet and social networking on a mobile. Unfortunately, its price is a major sticking point as there are bona fide smartphones sporting social sync and email/calendar integration for similar cash. But if battery and controllable data spend is top of the list, the Asha 302 fits the bill.