Nokia today announced their Asha line-up of S40 devices. These phones do appear to be something more than what we've been considering a "feature phone" until now. The Asha 303 even has a 1GHz processor, faster than many Android handsets on sale now. We're fully aware of the limitations of a Series 40 device, but with the improved hardware, applications and web-browser packed with simple search functionality and a data monitor, S40 feature phones just got a bit smarter.
Nokia Asha 200
Being the most budget of the Asha lineup, we might expect the Nokia Asha to have no real stand-out features, but this isn't the case. In fact, the Nokia Asha 200 features something few other phones have: dual SIM card slots. The S40 interface on board is also tweaked to allow for specific ringtones and profiles associated to each SIM cards. The device also has a full QWERTY keyboard, making the inclusion of WhatsAPP on S40 a really fantastic prospect at such a low pricepoint - watch out RIM.
On the subject of price, this is a budget phone, there's no denying it. Pick it up and it's extremely light to the touch. With a hollow almost toy like quality, we had to switch on the display just to reassure ourselves we weren't using a dummy device. It has a pretty neat plastic backing with dual layered plastic. This just adds a visual flourish to the back cover reminiscent of some Samsung TVs, Laptops and indeed phones (Samsung Omnia 2).
The battery life on the handset is also stated to be great in order to sustain a considerable amount of loud music playback. This we can't vouch for, but we can definitely confirm that the sound from the Asha 200 is impressive in terms of volume, though in the noisy auditorium, it ended up sounding like a loud muffle. As for the QWERTY keyboard itself, it is well sized and keys seemed easy to find on first use. That said, typing on a device that's so light feels a little awkward and may take some getting used to.
You can therefore expect a simple, affordable budget QWERTY in the Nokia Asha 200. Its messaging functionality should appeal to a lot of younger users, as will its price. The Nokia Asha 200 is also available in a single SIM variant (the Nokia Asha 201), so chances are one of these handsets will be hitting stores near you pretty soon.
Nokia Asha 300
The Nokia Asha 300 is the most picture-centric of the Asha line with a 5MP rear camera. It appears to follow on from the X3 / C3 Touch and Type, with a physical numeric keypad and a 2.4" touch screen. The Asha 300 also contains some rather fun elements such as Angry Birds lite on board, pre-installed on the entire touch screen Asha line.
As with the 200, the Nokia Asha 300 also feels very light in the hand and at just 85g, if you're after an inconspicuous handset in your pocket this may be it, however it's manages to come in a pretty conspicuous red as you'll see from the photos and video. There is also a black version for the more subdued customer. The phone feels comfortable to hold with a rounded, curved backing and a very smooth bottom half. It has a matte plastic finish which adds a rich tactility when compared to the glossy Asha 200, and the inclusion of a touch screen definitely adds to the overall usability.
Out of the three devices this definitely feels the most like a recycle, with the Nokia X3 and C3 being so good. Other than Angry Birds, it isn't immediately obvious what the Nokia Asha 300 brings to the mix. That said, when taking into account its 85 EUR launch price tag, it puts things into perspective. So price accounted for, the Nokia Asha 300 becomes a viable option for the cost conscious user who wants a touch screen device with physical keys and a stylish finish.
Nokia Asha 303
The last and most standout of the newly announced Asha line is the Nokia Asha 303. With its touch screen, QWERTY keyboard and 1GHz processor, it isn't your standard S40 fare. We've seen 1GHz on a S40 device before. We've also seen a QWERTY and indeed, a touch screen. Together however, this is the first of its kind, offering all these niceties with some rather striking design.
The 2.6" screen on the Nokia Asha 303 is physically raised above the keyboard to avoid mis-pressing of the menu buttons. The keys are nicely rounded and easily identifiable while the four buttons directly below the screen sit quietly, but are still easy for thumbs to find when need be. With a metal backing, the Nokia Asha 303 is without a doubt the most premium feeling of all the Asha handsets, and rightly so - it's the most expensive. The curved rear sits comfortably in the hand while being light, and pretty compact for a full QWERTY. Our brief interaction with the touch-screen was promising on the whole, with the capacitive panel being responsive and delivering good amount of haptic feedback.
The 3.2MP camera is a bit of a let down, however, with a lack of auto-focus across the S40 range, this shouldn't make too much difference when compared to a 5MP unit. Making up for the camera however is the 1GHz processor. With seemingly unnecessary power, this S40 handset sees performance excel, with the most testing app we could find, Angry Birds, swiping, catapulting and exploding very smoothly indeed.
On the whole, the Nokia Asha 303 feels like a struck balance of affordable and refined. It's not going to satiate smartphone user appetites, but could be the ideal gateway for those not quite ready for the first iOS, Android, or indeed Windows Phone device.
So there you have it, the three Ashas. Simple, affordable and unashamedly S40. We should see them hitting the stores pretty soon, starting in November.