Review by Sunetra Chakravati,
12/12/2011 4:00:14 PM
The mapping experience is top-notch, with fast and extremely accurate pinpointing of your position
The lack of zooming options and auto-fit means a large amount of scrolling is needed when browsing the net
The “affordable” smartphone market is now just as, if not more competitive than the high-end. With each manufacturer trying to offer the best deal without skimping on either the features or build quality, the main beneficiaries are us, the consumer. Handsets such as the recent Orange San Francisco show just how good a phone of this price range can be and in the process have raised the bar. With this in mind, we took on Nokia’s latest “affordable” smartphone, the Nokia C5-03.Now first things first, this handset is not to be confused with the original Nokia C5 that arrived last year and featured a more classic form factor complete with 3x4 keyboard. No, this is the Nokia C5-03, complete with touch-screen display. However, just to confuse things, Nokia, in the main, is referring to this handset as the Nokia C5. Yeah, us neither!
One of the ways in which manufacturers keep the cost of a handset down is in the materials they use to construct the device, and the C5-03 is no exception. Made predominantly from plastic, the results are a mix bag. On the plus side, it feels impressively light. However, we wouldn’t want to drop it from any substantial height for fear of it being obliterated and we take exception to the difficulty we encountered prising the back cover off - which you’ll be doing on a regular basis if you like to hot swap your memory cards. Not only do you have to wedge your fingernails under the chassis, but the cover itself bends in such a way that it feels millimetres away from snapping.The C5-03 is particularly pocket-friendly device in terms of size. Not only is it light, its breadth also means it can easily slide into even the tightest pair of jeans. While this may have a detrimental effect on the dimensions of the display, Nokia has still managed to cram in a respectable 3.2-inch screen, though you’ll more than likely have to turn the handset into landscape position to get the most amount of content at any one time. This is particularly the case when typing text. Due to the narrowness of the display, Nokia has little choice but to opt for a 3x4 keyboard, using a T9 predictive text method to help speed up proceedings. However, utilise the accelerometer and you’ll be presented with a horizontal virtual QWERTY keyboard. While it was responsive enough, we found the positioning of some of the keys took a little getting used to. For example, the confirm or enter key (symbolised here by a green tick) is in the top left corner, when the bottom right corner is far more common.
Over recent months, and particularly in light of the rise of the Android, we’ve been critical of the dated Symbian OS. That said, with the Nokia N8 came a new and improved OS in the shape of Symbian ˆ3. While it didn’t convince us that the future lay with Symbian, it was a huge step forward to previous Symbian operating systems. Which is why it’s so disappointing to find the Nokia C5 loaded with the inferior Symbian Series 60. A common gripe with this OS is the lack of customisation available. Whereas with Android and now Windows Phone 7 you can pimp up your home screens with your favourite links and widgets, with only one home screen, your options with the Nokia C5-03 are drastically limited. What you can do is choose what four shortcuts appear at the bottom of the screen, add your most dialed contacts and edit the order in which your features appear in the menu.
Of course, you can change the themes and wallpapers, but it’s not enough to make the C5-03 really feel like your own. Symbian Series 60 also means you have to revert back to that annoying system of having to actually exit programs rather than simply pressing the home key. Failure to do so results in the programs continually running in the background, draining your batter life in the process.
Though the Nokia C5-03 is kitted out with HSDPA, HSUPA and Wi-Fi, the browsing experience was painful. It’s not the speed at which we were able to surf that bothered us, it’s the tools that are provided, or rather lacking. There’s no designated zoom function on the C5-03, despite the fact that the volume keys are suitably placed to perform this function. Instead, the only way you can zoom in is by double pressing the screen. However, you can only do this the once and there is no auto-fit facility, so whichever way you hold the phone, a large amount of scrolling is required, which in itself was sporadic and frustrating, largely down to the fact that the screen is of the resistive variety. We also found a number of website pictures could not be displayed. Of course, lenience needs to be shown for low-cost handsets, but these misgivings border on the unforgivable.Thankfully, the Nokia C5-03 does have a saving grace in the shape of its sat nav experience. Nokia has long been renowned for producing exceptional mapping services, and despite its entry-level status, the C5-03 is no exception. OK, so the screen might be a little too small for drivers, but pedestrians will be navigated with accurate voice directions, which is something that not even some of the highest-end smartphones can claim. Yet what really impresses is the accuracy of the GPS fix. Displayed at the top of the screen is not only the road you’re walking down, but also the door number of the building you’re walking past. It’s flawless in terms of its accuracy.Cameras are another of Nokia’s forte, but while the C5-03’s five-megapixel snapping credentials are more than adequate, we did bemoan the lack of a dedicated camera key. This means you not only have to fire the camera up through the menu, but to actually take a snap you’ll also need to press the touch-screen, which we’ve already established is a little temperamental. There’s also no flash, and Nokia has taken the strange decision to use a large part of the display as a means of displaying the camera’s settings option. The result is that you’re viewfinder only encompasses about two thirds of the display. Surely a better idea would be to have had the icons floating at the bottom of the screen?To achieve an appealing price point of course, manufacturers have to cut some corners. However, with the C5-03, Nokia has failed to achieve a key aspect of low-end phones; ease of use. This is largely down to the fiddly Symbian Series 60 OS (why didn’t they go with Symbian ˆ3?), but it’s not helped by an unresponsive touch-screen. The browsing experience as a whole was a big disappointment, and while the camera was ok, the C5-03’s sole stand-out feature is the excellent mapping service. With other entry-level smartphones offering just as many features, and often on the more friendly Android OS, it’s difficult to see the Nokia C5-03 proving as popular as say Orange’s San Francisco handset.