Dual-SIM handsets have been around for many years, but they are a rare occurrence in the UK. It isn’t that manufacturers can’t see the point of a phone that accommodates two SIM cards, or that people don’t like the idea. It’s more that operators don’t like dual-SIM phones. And with operators not keen to range dual-SIM phones, they tend to get minimal exposure in the wider market. The point of launching a handset into a market that isn’t going to give it much chance of being sold is moot.
But still, dual-SIM handsets do creep in. The last one I looked at was Acer’s Liquid Gallant Duo. Nokia’s Asha 308 is the latest dual-SIM phone to come my way, and, as what I’ve just written indicate, it isn’t that widely available in the UK. You can find it and it is relatively inexpensive at around £100. In fact, the Asha 308 and its single SIM partner the Asha 309, are Nokia’s least expensive ‘capacitive touch-screened’ phones to date.
A key feature of any dual-SIM handset is that it lets you make the most of the fact that it can handle two SIMs. Nokia has done very well in this respect.
The Asha 308 incorporates a feature called ‘Easy Swap’. This means you can remove one SIM and insert another while the handset is switched on. This is made doubly easy by the physical design of the phone.
One SIM card slot sits under the backplate while the other is located on the right edge of the handset where it’s easily accessible and protected by a hinged cover. This slot is labelled ‘SIM2’ and it is the ideal location for the SIM you are likely to want to swap out for an alternative at short notice.
You can make a generic setting to always use one SIM for a particular task, or you can get the phone to ask you which SIM to use every time you make a call, create an SMS, use MMS or use data. The settings are easy to make and change. To make life easy in terms of using different SIMs for different tasks, you can rename the SIMs. You might want to call one ‘Work’ and one ‘Personal’ for example.
The information bar at the top of the main screen shows a signal status for each SIM, and has messaging notifications with a small number indicating which SIM they relate to. When you sweep downwards you reveal a much larger notifications area showing each SIM’s personalised name and giving you quick access to the SIM settings area – you just tap the SIM icons to get there.
This notifications area also lets you toggle mobile data and Bluetooth, select an audio profile and get to incoming messages, the music player and contacts.
So, you’ll have gathered that the Asha 308 is a touch-screened phone. It runs S40, a smartphone operating system so old that it’s barely credible that it continues to exist. Nokia has consistently repurposed this OS since it bought originator Symbian outright in 2008, and the OS is now used in Nokia’s handsets that are destined primarily for emerging markets. That said, the Asha range in which it features prominently can be found in the UK too, where it occupies a slab of the low cost handset arena.
In the Asha 308, the OS has the full title of Series 40 Asha Touch (or Series 40 Developer Platform 2.0). It is based on a series of pre-installed apps and themes with in-app purchasing and provides support for full multipoint touch operation on a 400 x 240 screen.
There is a lock screen that gives you a shortcut to incoming messages, and three home screens that you sweep between with a horizontal finger swipe. One screen is a dialler, another is a home screen with shortcuts to apps and contacts, while the third is the apps drawer with three vertically scrolling screens showing all the onboard apps as icons. You have things like a calendar, music player, gallery for the camera, Facebook and Twitter icons, web browser, video player, voice recorder, FM radio, alarm tool, calculator and a range of other bits and bobs.
But don’t get too excited by all this. There’s an EA games deal, which might appeal with its free 40 games, but in general third-party apps are very limited. Nokia mentions video-streaming through the web browser from sites like YouTube, but there’s a major problem with this and with all other data-related activities, and it is to do with connectivity.
There is no Wi-Fi, and the handset only supports 2G connections. The result is that Internet connections feel painfully slow, and streaming is a terrible experience. Many of the videos I wanted to watch were tagged as not available, and those that did stream were poor quality and full of long gaps while data segments were downloaded. This is in marked contrast to the general handling of this phone, which is responsive to screen taps and pretty smooth.
The screen, too, isn’t conducive to a lot of web-based activity. It measures three inches and its WQVGA resolution of 400 x 240 pixels is poor indeed. Web pages are almost all impossible to read without zooming, and while this is easily accomplished via a little on-screen icon - and fast too - once things are readable there’s a lot of scrolling to do and there is only one zoom level on offer. By default, text entry in portrait mode is based on an old mobile phone keyboard layout, though you can select a tiny QWERTY arrangement or flip into landscape mode for a larger QWERTY layout.
The Asha 308 a fairly small handset, and the design is not bad. I was sent a gold one, which makes a nice change from the other colours I see day in, day out. The plastic is obviously not top quality, but it is fairly solid, and a patterned effect on the back is rather pleasing to look at. I’m not convinced the shiny front or back won’t scratch fairly quickly, though.
I’m a big fan of dual-SIM handsets, and would like to see a lot more of them. I also fully appreciate what Nokia is doing with the Asha range, bringing a level of sophistication to markets that might not have 3G and can benefit from messaging-based features. But without Wi-Fi to compensate UK purchasers for the lack of 3G, the Asha 308 is hampered (the Asha 309 offers Wi-Fi and a single SIM). The bottom line is that for around £100 you can buy a much better equipped Android handset, and anyone but a very devout UK-based Nokia fan would do just that.
The Nokia Asha 308 isn’t primarily designed for the UK market, and it suffers against better specified Android-based alternatives for the same price. That’s a shame, because the dual-SIM support is really well executed. These two factors side-by-side make this a tricky handset to score fairly, but I’m letting the poor general feature-set take precedence.
Manufacturer and model
Nokia Asha 308
20MB user accessible
3in, 400 x 240 pixels
109.9 x 54 x 13mm
Series 40 Asha Touch