Nokia has been busy talking up its new Lumia handsets - fancy Windows 8 models that sit right at the top of the phone manufacturer's table. But further down you find the Asha range.
The Asha handsets don’t have highfalutin features and they aren’t really smartphones. The line is primarily intended for less advanced markets than ours, but some models have made it to the UK and they do have a market here. Some of the handsets in the Asha range are really quite impressive. The Asha 302, with its keyboard, is a neat phone for texting fans who don’t need a lot of features, for example.
But not everything in the Asha range has the same appeal, and the Asha 306 is very disappointing even considering its relatively low £80 price tag. There is no 3G, which immediately means any connected features are going to be hampered unless you are within Wi-Fi range. And I was constantly frustrated by the poor quality of the touchscreen.
At just 400 x 240 pixels, the screen doesn’t have a hope of delivering readable text on a full web page which means zooming is required. This is achieved with a single tap on screen, and the result is readable text but you need to pan around to see it all. There are only the two zoom levels, and no pinch to zoom support. Thank heavens for automatic screen rotation, which helps a little, though not much.
The screen is small at just 3in, and it's of the resistive variety. It felt terribly clunky to use and was inconsistent in its response to touch. Not content with needing quite a press to register a touch, it was also keen to register touches when sweeping across it. I often found myself dealing with options I had not chosen. Well, I had chosen them, but I hadn’t intended to.
Nokia has tried to make the Asha 306 appeal visually by giving it a quirky design. The top and bottom edges are cut at angles and on my black review sample they had a sort of deep purple shiny finish. It’s a nice idea, but not well executed. The end sections seem almost stuck on to the main slab, which is characterised by a very large screen bezel. I much prefer the way the chassis' sides meld into the backplate, though - worthy of a much more expensive handset.
The Asha 306 uses Nokia’s proprietary round pin charger – with a connector in the top edge of the handset. You can also charge over USB and again the charger is at the top edge. Nokia really should ditch that round pin option.
The internals aren’t very impressive. Nokia doesn’t specify the processor on its website, but third-party sources suggest it is a 1GHz processor supported by 32MB of RAM. It certainly doesn’t feel very fast. I encountered wait icons regularly and got frustrated waiting for apps to load. There isn’t a lot of internal storage – just 10MB, but there is a microSD card slot and it is readily accessible on the left edge of the chassis under a hinged cover. Cards seemed quite a tight fit, though, and I really had to tug to extract them.
As for the operating system, well it is S40, but not as you might know it. This OS has been around for a long time now, and has been through a number of refreshes. It’s had another refresh here, and been given a new skin. The whole phone interface hinges on the apps screen, which presents every app in a long, vertically scrolling menu. There are two more screens that you swipe to get to – the dialler and a quick shortcuts screen. You can customise the shortcuts and the dialler screen but the latter only offers up the music player or FM radio. These three screens rotate, so you can keep sweeping left or right to pan through them.
There’s also a pull-down screen that lets you access the music player, messages and the dialler as well as toggling Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and mobile data, and to choose a profile. The lock screen shows how many messages you have but won’t let you unlock straight to them. Implementing this feature could have been an easy win for Nokia.
As far as apps go, there are a fair few here. You get Nokia Maps, though it is hamstrung due to the lack of GPS. There’s also an FM radio, a calculator, timer, voice recorder, weather app, and, erm, what look like separate Facebook and Twitter apps. I say 'look like' because they're not discrete apps; just icons that take you to the relevant areas of the Social app at which you log into Facebook or Twitter without requiring the several preamble key presses that Social does. The Social app also gives you accesss to Orkut and Flickr.
A Chat app is present too, again requiring several key presses before getting you to any of Facebook, Google Talk, MSN Messenger, Nokia Chat and Yahoo instant messaging services. Chat and Social are both a bit of a drag to use. Social in particular annoys when you consider that other handsets, and indeed other implementations of S40, simply put live Twitter and Facebook data onto a home screen.
In addition, there are some games pre-loaded onto a provided 2GB microSD card. And you have the opportunity to download 40 EA games for free via what’s labelled on the handset as 'Games Gift'. You have 60 days in which to download your 40 freebies. There are some neat titles here including Tetris, Bejeweled and even FIFA 2012. It is a nice idea, but whether you’ll like using them on the small screen with its dodgy touch support is another matter.
It is a pity that this latest refresh of S40 has been used in such a poor handset. Let down by a low-resolution screen with poor touch support, lacking in 3G and GPS and with a terrible camera, it is really hard to see why anyone would choose the Nokia Asha 306. My experience suggests you’ll get about two days of battery life from this phone, but I can’t see why you’d want to. Spend your £80 on a low-end Android phone instead – please.
Manufacturer and model
Nokia Asha 306
3in, 400 x 240 pixels
110.3 x 53.8 x 12.8 mm