Nokia may be touting its Lumia range with as much gusto as possible, but the company was once known for spitting out plenty of budget-friendly feature phones back in the day. From the lowly days of the Nokia 3210 to the Nokia Communicator, there was a phone for everyone’s tastes and budget. But while the Lumia series certainly has its strong points, Nokia’s lesser-known Asha series also deserves a bit of attention. This week I played around with the Nokia Asha 501, a phone that packs a surprising amount of features in a tiny body.
Build quality & design
The Asha 501 is best described as a little smaller than four bars of Kit Kat chocolate. The mostly plastic phone is certainly thick, but its small size means that it will pretty much disappear into your pocket or bag. Sporting a number of bright colors akin to the Lumia range, the Asha 501 has a removable plastic back cover that has a smooth finish and feel to it.
At the top you have a tiny socket for the charging port, microUSB for transferring data, and a headphone jack. It’s worth mentioning that the phone does also support charging via the microUSB port if you have a compatible charger lying around. On the right side you have a volume rocker as well as a small button to lock or unlock the screen. At the back you have the rear-facing camera (without flash) and the loudspeaker grille / release button for the back cover. The Asha 501 supports microSD cards, and comes in both single and dual-SIM models (dual-standby).
Benchmarks and Performance
For a phone that’s got just 64MB of RAM, the Asha 501 is quite agile to navigate around and explore. Launching apps took a few seconds of waiting, but after that there was no issue. The phone does bundle with email, Twitter, Facebook, and other apps but they’re all quite basic to avoid slowing down the phone too much. Most of your essential tasks you can get done on the Asha 501, but anything more demanding like HD video will not work on this phone. One rather unfortunate flaw of the Asha 501 is that it doesn’t support 3G, so any Internet-related things you do on the go will be extremely slow.
UI and Apps
The UI on the Asha 501 is supposedly a new creation, though it bears a striking resemblance to the interface used on some of Nokia’s older phones. The UI is entirely gesture based, so swiping left or right will cycle between all your apps or the most recently used ones. You can also use pinch to zoom in the photo gallery, which is admirably quite responsive.
Nokia have bundled a number of apps into the Asha 501, included quite a few games. Most of these are Java based, so load times and performance are strictly average, but given the hardware that’s powering the Asha 501, you can’t expect too much. You also have the option to access and download more apps from the App store, however I kept running into certificate issues which prevented me from completing most of the app installations.
Screen and Camera
In a world where most phone manufacturers are trying to boast the largest screens on their phones, the Asha 501 instead comes in at a timid 3” with a resolution of 240 x 320 pixels. Yes, there are probably watches with a higher resolution than that, but I’m not going to hold it against Nokia. The smaller screen doesn’t feel cramped at all, and typing with the on-screen keyboard was surprisingly accurate. Plus, the smaller and less powerful screen means that there’s less strain on your battery. The only downside is that you’ll probably have to squint at the screen if you’re using this phone outdoors.
The camera on the Asha 501 is 3.2 megapixel, which doesn’t result in the most photogenic images, but they’re quite decent if you’re only doing outdoor photos. Most of the colors and detailing will be lost, but there’s little else to expect from a phone like this.
Sound & Call Quality
Call quality on the Asha 501 was strictly average, with the phone lacking any proper noise-cancelling features, so talking in crowded areas isn’t recommended at all. But the phone’s earpiece provided plenty of volume, so even if you can’t be heard at times, at least you’ll always hear your callers.
While most of us rush to charge our smartphones at least twice a day, the Asha 501 can make through a full day or two without needing a battery boost. With significant Wi-fi use, running apps, and updating social media, I was able to wear out the battery to 8% through the course of an entire day. Reduce that to just simple phone calls or text messaging, and the Asha 501 would probably run for a few days before needing a recharge.
The Nokia Asha 501 is a humble phone that at least has a recognizable brand name attached to it, rather than the myriad of cheap Android phones that have flooded the market. The Asha 501 doesn’t try to be something that it’s not, and at the end of the day is a simple and easy to use phone with basic features that would be great for anyone who’s new to using a touchscreen on a phone.