Nokia has made much of its relationship with Microsoft in recent months, and it's clear to all who care about such things that Nokia believes its smartphone future lies with Windows. We’re even hearing that Nokia might release a Windows 8-based tablet.
But this does not mean that Nokia has abandoned the Symbian operating system, which it bought and tried to make its own, with varying degrees of success. Symbian has been relegated, though, to lower cost handsets, such as the Asha 201. And for around £60 SIM free and less (£45) on Pay-as-you-Go from Vodafone, the Asha 201 is certainly low cost.
Incidentally, while Nokia has shown off version of the Asha 201 in lurid pink, blue and green tones, with the pink available in the UK, Vodafone is selling rather more sedate white and graphite options.
At first glance the Asha 201 looks appealing. It has a mini qwerty keyboard. It packs a user interface that seems flexible, displaying contacts, social media feeds and more on its home screen. And it seems to offer a lot of features that are shared by smartphones. But lots of compromises have been made to meet the low price, and we aren’t sure the Asha 201 does much of what it promises particularly well.
It is important to note at the very outset that the Nokia Asha 201 sports neither 3G nor Wi-Fi. To lack one of these is considered something of a failing for a mobile phone. Without either the Asha 201 is limited to slow data communications at all times.
That means all connected data activities, from updating social media feeds to browsing the web, are hampered wherever you happen to be. For us, it’s something of a deal breaker and a headline lowlight, even accepting that the Nokia web browser compresses web pages for speedier downloads and that Nokia also provides Opera Mini for good measure.
The small screen is also a problem. Measuring just 2.4in it isn’t large enough to display a web page well, or to display much else well, either come to that. And its resolution of 320 x 240 pixels is entry level by modern standards – which we suppose fits the handset’s price. Still, we found the small screen annoying to use – we’re accustomed to a 4in smartphone day to day.
Side button support is minimal with no volume rocker or camera shortcut. There is a microSD card slot on the right edge, and you will need a card to boost the 10MB of built in storage. The bottom and left edges are silky smooth and free of any buttons or connectors, which means the remainder are on the top.
Here you will find the headset connector, USB port and a tiny round pin Nokia power socket. The handset won’t charge over USB. Nokia claims up to seven hours of GSM talk and 37 days on standby as well as 52 hours of music playback from the 1420mAh battery.
Our review sample did keep going for the better part of a week on a single charge, but sooner or later there will come a time when you’ll need to carry a charger, and when that time comes, the fact that it is not a standard USB type may irritate. It’s fair to argue, too, that with such relatively long battery life, it might be easy to forget the charger, and you won’t be able to borrow a friend’s because your friends could well all be using USB-charged devices.
Beneath the screen there is a large area with a central D-pad and several shortcut buttons. The D-Pad’s outer ring gives you quick access to features like the calendar and messaging, and the remaining buttons include two app shortcuts that you can customise – they are pre set to Opera Mini and again to messaging. There are Call and End buttons in this set too, as well as two softmenu buttons – the Asha 201 does not have a touch screen. The arrangement is nothing special, but it is functional.
The keyboard itself is quite comfortable to use. The key action isn’t up to BlackBerry standards but it is far from terrible, and we imagine most people will find it perfectly acceptable.
The operating system, as we’ve noted already, is S40, though it has had a modernising overlay to make it customisable, flexible and icon rich. The Home screen – there’s just the one – can be customised to display five app shortcuts, live social media feeds and your favourite contacts complete with thumbnail fizzogs.
Nokia doesn’t reveal the nature of the processor behind the Asha 201, but we assume it is a relatively low spec affair. The handset in general felt sluggish – apps were slow to run, there was definite lag in capturing photos, that kind of thing.
And now that we’ve mentioned photos the camera finally gets its turn. It captures 2-megapixel stills and it lacks a flash. It does reasonably well in bright daylight conditions, but photos are predictably grainy. With video shooting limited to 176 x 144 you aren’t going to want to take many videos to keep for posterity.
Overall, then, the Asha 201 is a handset that’s limited by its operating system and by its lack of Wi-Fi and 3G as well as by its small, low resolution screen. It does have good battery life, and can tap into your social networks, but it isn’t an ideal handset for anyone interested in more than relatively basic activities.
Pros: Low cost and with a reasonably good keyboard and battery life.
Cons: Poor screen, outmoded operating system and without 3G or Wi-Fi