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MWC 2013: How Nokia made a great looking £13 phone, the Nokia 105

One of the standout phones of Mobile World Congress costs only £13 and can't surf the web. It's the Nokia 105, a simple voice-and-text phone that looks much classier than you usually get at this price point, and I think it's poised to be a huge global hit.

I spoke to Stefan Pannenbecker, Nokia's vice president for industrial design, about the company's growing design language and how the firm's Lumia line led it to design what is probably the world's most attractive sub-£15 phone.

The Nokia 105 has two markets: It's primarily for developing countries where every penny is precious, and it's also a secondary phone for people with more dough. At its rock-bottom price, though, it has an unusually good looking industrial design; its high quality, wraparound plastic case comes in black and lively cyan, the keypad is water resistant, the battery lasts a month on standby, and the colour screen is bright and lively.

It's no accident that the 105 echoes much of the design language in higher-end Nokia phones: The plastic, the rounded form, and the cyan colour all shout "Nokia." While there's some corporate identity there, that isn't the whole story: Nokia used what it learned building high-end phones like the Lumia 900 to design the 105.

"As we kind of refine our skills in certain material technologies and certain ways of constructing products, we can build those learnings into relatively low cost products," Pannenbecker said.

"It's simple things like understanding the resins and the plastics that we use, to understand how we can translate the quality of those resins into other grade plastics, [and] which types of pigments we can use and must use to get the best colours. This is very detailed work but it's really absolutely crucial," he said.

The 105 also needed to look like a full member of the Nokia family, not a stepchild. That led to the 105's "pure, human" shape, echoing the rounded design of the Nokia phones.

"We're pushing this idea of continuity and consistency," Pannenbecker said. "So we put the same amount of love, sweat and tears into a product like this as we would put into the Lumia 720."

Part of Nokia's recent identity has been to bring colour back to phones, and that contributed to the 105 as well, Pannenbecker noted. It's expensive to make, stock, and manage a range of different-coloured devices, so Nokia couldn't spray out a rainbow of 105s. Instead, the designers could pick two colours, so they took a "neutral" colour, black, and an "iconic" colour, that Nokia cyan.

With the first Lumia phones, he says: "We wanted to complement the purity of the physical design with the purity of the colour, so we used a colour approach we called CMYK, the abbreviation of the basic printing colours … and now when people see a cyan-coloured product they think Nokia, which is great. People identify Nokia with colour very strongly now."

For more on this well-built and inexpensive phone, see our Nokia 105 and 301 hands-on preview.