Nokia Asha 501 Review

Introduction and Design

Colorful, cheap and boxy - that is what the Nokia Asha 501 looks like. With a touchscreen and a touch gesture based user interface, the Asha 501 almost looks like a smartphone. Almost.

It lacks the apps of course and with them a lot of the functionality is missing, so do not be fooled - this is a Series 40 device like most other basic Nokia phones.

With its cheerful colors though can it stand out among many budget Droids, though, and ultimately does the Asha 501 have what it takes to compete? Let’s find out.

In the box:

  • Headphones
  • Wall charger
  • User manual


Design-wise, Nokia is clearly taking its Asha series closer to its Lumia devices. The Asha 501 is colorful and features a similar rounded-edge rectangle form as Lumias. It comes in six color versions: cyan, bright red, yellow, bright green, black and white.

The Asha 501 is a chubby little device measuring nearly half an inch thick, but its compact size makes up and it does not feel bulky. It is also very light at less than 100 grams (some 3.5 ounces). Build quality is good, the device fits well, with no moving parts yet it is easy to disassemble. The matte shell feels nice and a bit soft to touch.

Buttons are all on the right - a volume rocker and a lock/unlock key in the middle. There is no dedicated physical camera key. You’d need to take out the back cover to change SIM cards, microSD cards or battery.


The Asha 501 features a 3.0-inch LCD display with a resolution of 240 x 320 pixels and with only 262K colors. The low resolution means that you can easily see individual pixels as the density of the display comes at the very low 133ppi.

Overall, the display is dim with peak brightness reaching only around 230 nits and in direct sunlight you’d definitely have a problem making out what’s on the display. Colors on the screen are vivid and contrasted, and viewing angles are average.

Interface and Functionality

The Asha 501 runs on a modernized version of the Series 40 platform and it borrows a lot of features from the canceled MeeGo operating system. First, Nokia has optimized the system to work using the swipe gesture - there are no navigation buttons on the display (and only a single physical back key on the bottom). You do everything including closing an app with a swipe.

Navigation is all very intuitive, or at least easy to learn. Swiping left or right brings you back to the 2-panel homescreen. Swiping from the top brings a notification shade with quick toggles for switching between the two SIM cards and other settings like Wi-Fi connectivity. Finally, there is a contextual swipe from the bottom that works in most apps and brings all relevant options for that particular application.

To save battery, Nokia uses its ‘Glance screen’ feature so you can see what the time is even when the phone is locked. Once you unlock (with a swipe to the left or right), you have two main panels. The first one is called ‘Fastlane’ and is basically a vertical list of all your most recently opened applications and actions. The second panel called ‘Home’ is an app drawer.

Everything works extremely smoothly, there is no hint of a lag in these main menus.

If you are wondering what are the limits of the functionality of this feature phone, let’s mention that it does come with a built-in mail, gallery, music, Internet browser, calendar and even basic Facebook and Twitter applications. One unfortunately missing option is to import contacts from the cloud. The handset can only import from an extracted contacts file or from another device connected via Bluetooth.

The on screen keyboard works surprisingly well and we are happy to report that even on a tiny 3-inch display we caught ourselves typing very accurately. It’s a full QWERTY keyboard, even in portrait mode.

Nokia is also bundling 40 free applications by EA that you can activate within 60 days of purchase. This includes titles like Need for Speed, Plants vs Zombies and The Sims, but these are basic Java-based versions of the popular games and not the full-blown smartphone apps.

An awesome addition to the Asha 501 is the HERE Maps that you can download free.

Dual SIM functionality

The Asha 501 comes in both a single SIM and dual SIM versions with availability varying across markets. We have the dual SIM version and it uses two micro-SIM cards with dual stand-by. Dual stand-by (as opposed to dual active) means that while you use one of the SIM cards, the other one is not active.

There are two ways to manage your SIM cards here. You can either swipe from the top and tap on the dual SIM panel, or go into settings and select ‘dual SIM’ then ‘SIM settings’.

From there you can assign contacts to either one of the SIM cards, and use either one of them to call or text. You can also select which is the active SIM card for cellular data.

Processor and Memory

We already mentioned that the Asha 501 works very, very smoothly with no hint of lag in the main menus and only a slight slowdown in heavier operations like opening images in the gallery or browsing the web. This is a great achievement for a phone that has only 64MB of RAM memory.

If you are buying this for your kid, the basic Java game titles in the application catalog would suffice, but if you want to do some more serious gaming, this is not the device for you.

Internal storage comes at only around 40MB available to the end user. Luckily, you can expand that with microSD cards of up to 32GB.

Internet and Connectivity

While Nokia calls the Asha ‘smartphones’ (even though they clearly are feature phones), there is one key feature missing in connectivity that differentiates all Ashas and that is the lack of 3G cellular connectivity. Wi/Fi connectivity comes at b/g/n and it’s a single channel 2.4GHz one. Other connectivity options include Bluetooth, but there is no GPS.

Limited at only 2G EGDE data, browsing the web on the go is not all that fast, but you have to remember that this is not a phone that is web-centric. Still, a basic Nokia Xpress browser is there, so if you need to check something online there is a way to do so. The browser is slow to start and has some weird quirks – you have to reload a page whenever you change the orientation of the phone. It is however data savvy as it compresses webpages at up to 90%.


The Asha 501 comes with a very basic 3.2-megapixel fixed-focus rear camera and no front facing shooter. The main use of the shooter would be in well-lit situations where it does a decent job of capturing images. The resulting pictures are ok for sharing the moment on the web or in social networks, but they are not good by any means.
Colors are inaccurate, with heavy purple fringing all over them. There is a sore lack of details, but let's keep in mind that the handset does not have sky-high camera ambitions. You should also remember there is no flash and that fixed focus cameras like the one here do not allow for macro photography.

On a more positive note, the camera is very quick to start and shoots images with only a slight delay that's totally tolerable. The interface is intuitive and you can set white balance, a timer and choose between three live scene modes – greyscale, sepia and negative.

The handset is capable of recording video at a very low resolution of only 240p and a low frame rate of around 14 frames per second which makes the footage skippy. The captured video is of such low quality it simply won’t look good enough on any larger display, limiting its use to the small 3-inch display of the handset.


The 3 inch screen is on the small side for watching videos or checking out images, and its lowly resolution gets in the way, but on the flipside of things - it does not consume too much energy. The built-in video player handles video smoothly in native resolution and plays back MPEG and AVI files.

The Asha 501 music player comes with Metro-like visuals dividing your music by songs, artists, albums and playlists. The device gets pretty loud and the sound quality is above average. The speaker is located on the back part of the device and gets slightly muffled when you place the phone on its back.

Call Quality

Call quality ranks around average. There is no fancy dual-mic noise cancellation technology, but the microphone is decent and our callers reported hearing us just slightly distorted, but otherwise loud enough.

The earpiece is good, providing plenty of volume so you can use it in louder environments as well. On our side of the line, callers sounded clean, in the natural tone of their voices.

Battery life

With a 1200mAh battery and quoted talk time of 17 hours, the Asha 501 is well above the average lifespan of a handset. Average use of the device will require recharging every three or four days, and that’s definitely great compared to most smartphones, lasting just a day.


Nokia is selling the Asha 501 at a retail price south of $100 contract-free. As low as that sounds, at this price there is already a number of Android device like the Samsung Galaxy Pocket with better functionality. If you want the most apps and possibilities, an affordable Android phone would be a much better fit.

Still, you have to appreciate the effort Nokia has put into making the Asha 501 a fun and easy to use device. The vibrant colors and interchangeable back covers, the dual SIM option and the swipe-based interface all come together for a nice experience and the addition of Nokia’s HERE maps is a welcome bonus.

If you don’t care much about apps, but want the basics (calling, texting and mail) covered, the Asha 501 will not disappoint. The days of feature phones are numbered, but if there was a way to extend them, the Asha 501 is one.

Nokia Asha 501 Video Review:

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  • Colorful, fun and compact device
  • Great swipe-based interface


  • Still a feature phone lacking good apps
  • Captures below average images

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