With RIM currently in the doldrums, it's a good time for other manufacturers to try to get a look in when it comes to QWERTY keyboarded devices. After all, how hard can it be to come up with a handset design that incorporates a really well made and easy to use mini keyboard, manages to cram plenty of services into its innards, and delivers a good screen?
Well, in my time I’ve reviewed lots of handsets that have tried to achieve this feat, and seen many that have failed. Nokia has itself made plenty of attempts and the Asha 302 is another in a long line.
Still, it has immediate allure thanks to its price. The Asha 302 is currently available free on contracts as low as £10.50 a month and costs £69.95 (inc VAT) SIM-free.
It has to be said early on that anyone looking for a whizz bang, modern, feature laden, thousands of apps supporting phone isn’t going to find what they want here. Nokia has tried with the user interface, there’s social networking support, a fair few apps are pre-installed (including WhatsApp for your IM needs), and there is an app store.
While you won't get anywhere near what Android or iOS offer, many people will be perfectly content with what is here, and Nokia’s work breathing life into the old Series 40 operating system that sits on this handset is, arguably, doing the company some favours.
The general specifications are also quite impressive considering the price of this phone. You have Wi-Fi and 3G, and I found the former perfectly functional for use much of the time.
There’s a 1GHz processor on board and this does a reasonable job of keeping things moving along nicely. I did find it irritating to have to wait for some things to happen but the waits were rare, and tasks that can cause some low cost handsets to irritate, such as streaming YouTube, were smooth.
There’s 100MB of built in storage, and a microSD card slot on the left edge of the chassis. The handset quickly picked up music I 'side-loaded' from a memory card.
There’s no front camera, and the 3.2-megapixel back camera won’t win any prizes, but it isn’t dire and you can do things like multi-shoot up to five photos and use a self-timer. To be frank, when paying this kind of money for a handset a great camera is not a top priority and what’s here is adequate.
On the hardware side of things, the tale is mixed. The chassis is unashamedly plastic apart from the backplate, which is a thin sheet of metal, and that means the phone doesn’t feel all that stunning in the hand. Still, it's not a brick and its rounded corners and sliver highlights are fairly good-looking.
I’m really not a fan of the Nokia AC-11 charger. Yes, it’s nice and compact at the plug end with its retractable upper pin that helps when toting it. But you shouldn’t really have to carry a 'round pin' charger these days. You can administer a charge via USB too; unlike with lower end Nokia Asha handsets, so I can’t really see the point of the round pin alternative.
Fortunately, there is real win for this handset when it comes to battery life, with the Asha 302 easily giving me a day of life without the need for a recharge. Running a relatively small screen must be a key factor here. I think some users might be able to go a couple of days without the need for mains power.
Incidentally, both USB and proprietary charger slots are located on the top edge of the chassis, alongside the headset connector.
Nokia knows how to do a good job as far as key design and keyboard usability is concerned. The QWERTY keyboard itself is fantastically well made. The keys are rounded and depress nicely when pushed gently, giving a little click as they go down. There’s a numberpad centrally located and a long press on any key gives you the number or other second character that’s marked on many of the keys.
Along the bottom row, there’s a key for toggling Bluetooth and a long press on the space bar gets you into Wi-Fi controls so you can do a quick Wi-Fi search when you are out and about.
Above the keyboard is a comparatively vast area containing a responsive D-pad and six other keys. Call and End keys are here – and they’re important as the screen is not touch-sensitive. There are also two small side keys that are marked for messaging and contacts but you can customise them. You can also customise left and right on the D-pad ring. Two larger keys correspond to soft menus on the screen.
All this doesn’t make for the very best mini keyboard I’ve ever seen, but it does make for a very good experience. I was able to tap out messages at a perfectly acceptable speed.
What lets this handset down is its small screen and the way the S40 operating system is implemented.
Taking the screen first, at 2.4in it is tiny and its 240 x 320-pixel resolution is low. You won’t want to do much web browsing even though it's fast, and streamed video is squint-inducing too. For mobile email users, the amount of text shown on screen is small and can be difficult to read.
The structure of S40 as a user interface has its irritating moments. You can customise the home screen including deciding what app shortcuts you want there and having live social media feeds. Being able to tweet direct from the home screen will appeal to some people, I’m sure.
Where it falls apart a bit is in the apps menu. Some apps are grouped into folders, others stand alone, whereas apps you have downloaded are buried under two menu levels. It’s not a deal breaker, but it feels a bit clunky and old fashioned. Still, it’s nothing you can’t learn to live with, and given that you can slap app shortcuts on the home screen you can get to your favourite apps pretty quickly.
The Nokia Asha 302 is an attractive phone in terms of price and keyboard quality. Its fast processor is a boon, and the battery life is good too. The screen is necessarily squished, and not ideal for the web or lots of reading, and in some respects S40 feels dated. But overall it is a good value handset that might turn a few people working on a tight budget away from a BlackBerry.
Next page > Specifications
Manufacturer and model
Nokia Asha 302
GSM 850/900/1800/1900 HSDPA 850/900/1900/2100
2.4in, 320 x 240 pixels
116.5 x 55.7 x 13.9mm