Nokia released erstwhile the Asha series of phone to pump some more life into the dying series 40 phones. Whe microsoft announced the launch of the nokia asha series for emerging markets, it was yet another launch story with the same old ingredients which would not make the phones a roaring success. It is somewhere after this that nokia was completely acquired by MS, and they also somewhat settled onto making rectangular phones with an eye for design.
After their failures with nokia lumia 610 and 710, the x20 series of phones started emerging as the post-guinea-pig-experiment product line having windows phone 8 operating system. It was at this time that MS was seriously considering unifying the desktop, tablet and mobile operating systems into one amalgamation more for the benefit of them rapidly being able to deploy apps on different platforms without much code change.
That the fact that the surface tablet was not such a great hit, and the non availability of MS own windows tablets beyond this, did not make such a great dent in the market. But then the x20 (520,620,720,820,920,1020) series of phones from MS and Nokia have somewhat managed to keep up the sales so far. The one thing I did not much like about the MS sales strategy is to price its dual core phones, in the same pricing leagues as others' quad core phones among the android brethren. MS can give any excuse they want saying "our os can run just on 1GB ram" or whatever such stories, but then the question still remains on the value for money when it comes to anything greater than the 550-600$ mark in India.
The Nokia 1020 with its 40MP camera as the main excitement is priced at 50000 here as well as about 800$ in the USA. I am not sure what MS is pitching as its sales strategy with this product at this price.
Coming to the lower priced side of MS/Nokia products, there were and are phones but there was no REAL phone in the making. That is until the Asha 501 was released. With this little fella, MS has pulled off an Apple within the 80$ mark (Rs.5000) with almost everything on this phone.
This phone boldly speaks some interesting design elements. I love squared phones as they are easier to hold rather than curved ones (cursing my iPhone 3GS). And this phone is the perfect fit in the hand. Its just one piece of back cover all over and it has everything else nicely integrated into that cover beginning from screen and ending with the battery. Sporting just 2G and Wifi it also suits perfectly for the homely-rarely-go-out type of phone user where the WIFI takes care at home and the EDGE takes care outside. Considering that many rural towns still don't even have 3G connectivity in India and considering you need to live life more than be using your phone more, this combination works well with some set of people.
The screen itself is made of hard material (gorilla glass?) and the capacitive touch is brilliant and just about right. It recognises everything that is touched and responds quickly and accurately to whatever is needed. The camera itself is nothing to write home about and one had expected that the falling cost of optics might have made MS rethink about introducing some real good camera element in this phone. But that is not the case. So if you are looking at this phone for Camera related usage, forget it. The screens themselves are reworked upon since the original series 40 and they are a pleasure to use with the fonts, and colours chosen. Each and every native app looks gorgeous to use on such a cute little phone. the responsiveness coupled with good tactile feedback on key press to the user is really a good effort by MS. Nokia has delivered on the hardware front to create a beautiful masterpiece of this phone.
Next up is the keypad on the phone. Compared to the Asha 3xx series of phones, MS has particularly paid lot of attention to matching up the keypad experience on the Asha 501 to the levels of the x20 series of its other phones. You must remember that early reviews of the MS windows phones including windows phone 7 were really very appreciative of the keypad that was extremely snazzy to use and nearly flawless. MS has carried on that tradition to the nokia asha 501 and the keypad is just so outstading for such a small screen size. MS has also reworked on every single native app to choose colours wisely and the size and type of fonts, buttons, and other elements to complement the overall phone appearance and use. At the same time they have ensured that they phone usability is not compromised one bit, though the screen is small.
I still feel the Facebook and twitter applications could have used better fonts, but then these applications are not native, and hence this is always debatable.
The dial pad as expected is large and easy to type on and anything that is touchable and clickable is take care of to be shown to the user accordingly. One thing to note about this phone is that since it emulated apple, there is exactly only one button to navigate back, and out of any screen. The apps screen is divided into the all apps, and frequent apps/ recent apps screens and we can toggle by swiping across. Notifications also appear on the screen and can be clicked/swiped out. The quick access pull down bar from the top, provides access to quickly switch SIM cards - did I forget to mention to you that this is a dual sim phone?, toggle WIFI, and also toggle Vibrate modes. Everything is so responsive and amazingly implemented in this phone.
Don't assume that this phone will provide you with amazing speeds on everything that you use on it, but then its not bad either. If asphalt 6 is pre loaded on this phone, you can imagine then!!
One of the popular and important grouses about this phone is that it does not support the Whats app application yet, and there are many people who don't buy this phone just because of that issue. You must remember that you need to give some time for app developers to iron out their issues and launch something that is stable and that is honestly not in the decision making from MS/Nokia side. A final comment on the battery life - well this is a nokia low end phone, so what do you expect? Guess. Yes. Its almost 2-2.5 days of use without hitting the zero percentile. Again a commendable effort by nokia on this device. I have used this device for long distance calls for almost an hour or more and it does not get hot at all, and is cool on the ears (thereby losing out to the overheating award winner - Nexus 4). People whom I spoke to mostly did not complain about not being able to hear me, but sometimes - just sometimes they said there was some issue in the calls. But I feel it has nothing to do with the device itself.
If you need a dual sim phone, and you don't care about 3G connectivity, whatsapp (for now) or anything more smarter - and have only 4500 to spend on, go right to the online stores and make the purchase on the nokia 501 asha. You will not regret the ingenious design of this phone. Definitely something to flaunt around to people. There are rumours of the nokia asha 502 with probably 3g, and other better things, but thats as always a rumour and no one has clear information on when this would be available in the market. This phone also has a 32GB memory card capability for all your music, it has radio, it has bluetooth and a 1200 mAh battery if you care to know.
The Nokia Asha 501 - a cute little story
Reviewed by Srikanth Eswaran