Not so long ago, on June 24, at an event in New Delhi, India, Nokia announced the Nokia Asha 501, a new full touch smartphone, as the Finnish manufacturer—recently acquired by Microsoft Corp.—chooses to call it. This quirky new phone comes in a variety of bold new colors, and a sleek clean form factor, with minimal disruptions on the sides and the body of the device. There’s just a single Back button below the touchscreen, and the 3.5mm jack, MicroUSB port, and the 2.0mm Nokia charging connector—yes, this one still exists—are neatly nestled on the top surface of the phone. The volume rocker and the power button are placed on the right side of the phone. The back cover is easily detachable and replaceable with one of another color. Sadly, you don’t get the new MicroUSB cable or charger, but a conventional Nokia charger bundled with the phone, at least in India. And the color of the headsets is red, by default, irrespective of the color of your phone, sadly.
The good part—and the most important development—in this phone vis-à-vis previous Nokia Asha models is the touchscreen and the new touch-based Asha platform. All previous Asha models ran on the popular S40 platform, which has been the bread and butter of Nokia for quite a while now. But this model runs on a completely re-imagined operating system, with a beautiful smooth UI.
A prominent feature of this OS is something Nokia calls Fastlane, which is an archive of all tasks you’ve performed over time—sorted by day/date—and your reminders. Fastlane reveals recent actions like calls placed, texts sent/received, notes, or whatever app you’ve visited in the past. A swipe downwards and it reveals the most immediate appointment on your calendar. And in between is the “What’s on your mind” bar, from where you can post straight to Facebook, or make a quick tweet.
The 1GHz processor in this phone works quite efficiently. The 3.2MP camera is quite frankly not too good, but is excusable considering the price of this phone. It retails for roughly 5,000 rupees (works out to roughly US$80) unlocked in India. The phone comes bundled with a 4GB MicroSD card, but can support cards up to 32GB, hot swappable, and offers Dual SIM capabilities (in India). It uses a MicroSIM—which you see in most phones nowadays—unlike the conventional SIM, which eats up more space for its excess plastic around the chip. The phone weighs in at a neat 98g and is unbelievably light. It features a 3” 133 ppi LCD capacitive two-point touch display and fits snugly in your pocket.
Unfortunately, there is no 3G or NFC. But again, that is excusable. The phone has built-in WiFi capabilities, which is a real relief. The phone detects and connects with WiFi networks seamlessly. Using the Internet, you can sync all your Facebook and Twitter contacts, and surf the Web using Nokia’s Nokia Xpress browser, again a brilliant piece of software. The apps works just as they should. The OS boasts an Android-like notifications center, which you can slide down from the top of the screen, but there are no app notifications as such, like in Android. The only notifications you get are mail, missed calls, calendar reminders and alarms, and of course, text messages. And possibly it could support WhatsApp notifications as well, but as of now, WhatsApp seems to be surprisingly missing from this OS.
I’ve been using this phone for about 2 weeks now, and it has been a great experience using this phone. No lags, no chrome (unwanted graphics) and bugs. The battery lasts for about 2 days, even with decent WiFi usage and normal calling. The phone’s compact form factor makes it really comfy in the pocket. The Glance Screen is a really cool feature. It shows me the time and my notifications—missed calls, mail, etc. Unfortunately, the phone does not come equipped with a camera flash, which comes in handy as a torch/flashlight when in need. But it has lived up to my expectations of an affordable smartphone.
The platform being nascent and this being the first phone on the platform, it is not rich in apps, but there are the essentials, like CNN, Foursquare, HERE Maps, Facebook, Twitter, The Weather Channel, and also LinkedIn. Nokia also offers some free games. EA have some cool games on the Store too. But what’s missing and is most complained about is WhatsApp. But that’ll be there soon too. WhatsApp is already there on S40 and other platforms, and will get on the Asha bandwagon too. As alternatives, there’re LINE and WeChat though.
Given the commendable build quality and head-turning design, and the kind of features it offers for the price it retails for, the Nokia Asha 501 shall take the Indian market by storm. It is the one ray of hope for the Finnish smartphone maker in the entry-level market, with rising tough competition from Indian and Chinese phone-makers.