While Nokia is trying to impress with the Lumia family, the Asha range is targeting the budget end of the market and the Nokia Asha 311 is the top of that range. Unfortunately, with the likes of the Alcatel One Touch 903 offering feature-packed Android smartphones for £50 or under, the likes of the Asha 311 - with its creaky old OS and basic functionality - is looking very long in the tooth.
Right out of the box, the Nokia loses marks for bad styling. The face of the 311 is almost all Gorilla Glass touchscreen, ruined by a cheap chrome coloured strip across the bottom and an even cheaper grey plastic cap below that. The chrome strip hosts two buttons used for navigating menus and call handling. The call end button also serves as the power button so the only other keys on the chassis are the volume rocker and a lock button on the right edge. There’s a standard 3.5mm headphone socket, micro-USB port and charging socket on the top, though the handset can be charged from the USB as well as with the dedicated charger.
The size and curves of the 311 make it comfortable to hold but the hi-gloss plastic back makes it a slippery customer. A textured finish wouldn’t have gone amiss here, aiding grip and discouraging the fingerprints.
Turning the handset on, it springs into life with haptic feedback and the familiar Nokia sonic logo. The home screen bears bright, vivid colours and the capacitive display makes for a pretty responsive handset. With every touch however, the haptic feedback feels like the 311 is going to vibrate itself to pieces so you might want to head into Settings and turn off vibration.
The Asha range is built on Nokia’s Series 40 operating system so we’re in feature-phone territory rather than smartphone. Email is a doddle to set up, as is Facebook and Twitter through the Nokia Social app. The dialogue box that pops up asking if you’re sure you want to close an app every time gets tiresome though.
The 311 boasts 3G, something unavailable on the lesser models such as the Asha 306, so connectivity to the internet when you’re out and about is much less of a chore. Wi-fi is another welcome feature, saving your data plan when you’re in a hotspot but don’t expect show-stopping graphics on the 400 x 240 pixel, 3-inch WQVGA display. In fact the resolution is so low, browsing websites is absolutely impossible without zooming right in.
There are three home screens on the Asha 311. The main one scrolls up and down and hosts shortcuts to everything the handset has to offer. The user interface has moved on from previous Nokia efforts and has much of an Android look about it with rounded icons and a shortcut tray that folds down from the top of the screen. Swipe right and you’ll land on a customisable screen, displaying the time and date along with up to sixteen shortcuts of your choice, including individual contacts. Swipe left and you’re faced with a full-screen dialler. With a big display and virtual buttons, Nokia wins points for its accessibility and user friendliness.
There’s a 3.2 megapixel rear-facing camera with VGA (480x640 pixels) video capacity but you wouldn’t want to be using either for your wedding album. The images are a bit washed out but it’ll do you for Facebook.
If you need any more reminders that this is a feature phone rather that a smartphone, you also get an old-school FM radio a calculator and GPS gets you connected to Nokia Maps. There’s a handful of pre-installed games and access to the Nokia Store but fear not, Angry Birds is pre-installed.
Inside the handset, Nokia has stuck to the same 1GHz chip from lesser models but with 128MB of RAM the Asha 311 packs a bigger punch than lesser models in the range. There’s a microSD slot under the battery with a 2GB card in the box, upgradable to 32GB. The battery is 1110mAh, which Nokia claim will give up to 6 hours 3G talk time and a month on standby. Testing showed that even with moderate use, you shouldn’t have to charge the 311 more than every couple of days.
The Nokia Asha 311 might be the top handset in the range but it won’t cut it in the current market. The Series 40 operating system feels like old technology, polished to look like an Android, yet for the same money or less, you could pick up a higher specced ‘droid with access to the vastly superior Google Play store.