Nokia Asha 501 review: A phone for the masses

Nandagopal Rajan        Last Updated: July 30, 2013  | 17:31 IST

Nokia Asha 501
Price: Rs 5,199
Rating: 4/5
Bag it or junk it: The next step for feature phone users
Specs: Nokia Asha OS, 3-inch 320 X 240p touchscreen, 3.2 MP camera, GSM dual-SIM, 2G, Wi-Fi, 1200mAh batter, 91 grams

Nandagopal Rajan
Nandagopal Rajan
The buzz has all been around smartphones for a few years now. But the fact remains that over 85 per cent of phone users are still on feature phones. Even five years down the line, half the world's phones will be these affordable, no-nonsense devices.

However, people are aspiring for smartphones, even if they can't really afford them. This is why most feature phones these days give you some smart features like access to the web, apps, social networks and even games and content. As these new features become better by the day, we have a new segment of 'smart feature phones', led by Nokia's Asha series of phones. Asha has been a great success around the world thanks to its affordability and smart features.

Nokia has now created an Asha software platform just for these phones, inspired by its now forgotten Meego OS. The Asha 501 is the first phone to feature this new operating system and is Nokia's answer to how to connect the next billion.

Nokia Asha 501
Nokia Asha 501's homescreen reminds you of Symbian

DESIGN
Design is certainly one of Nokia's strong points at the moment. The Asha 501 takes the Lumia design language forward with similarly vibrant colours and unibody-like built quality. It is small and, though I hate the word, cute. The phone can easily be held within your palm, even hidden in it if your hands are large. This means the phone will easily slip into any pocket.

The primary SIM goes behind the battery and there is a second SIM slot to the right of the battery. This is a hot-swappable slot and you can change the SIM here even when the phone is running. I guess this is among the first feature phones with micro-SIM. There is a micro-USB and charging port on top. Power and volume keys are on the right. Just below the three-inch touchscreen is a tiny back button.

Nokia Asha 501
The Xpress browser on the Asha 501

That is all you need as the touchscreen is really responsive. However, we were a bit put off by light leaking in from the sides of the screens, especially the top. Plus, the keypad is tiny and with some letters I needed multiple attempts to get a hit.

OPERATING SYSTEM
Yes, the operating system will remind you of Symbian, but it is different. For instance, any app can be disposed of by swiping from right to left. The homescreen is a collection of all the apps you have. Swipe to the left and you get you reminders, recent messages and mails as well as music player -- all very simple and intuitive. Drap from the top to bring in the settings for network, wi-fi etc. From any page you can always click the back button to return to where you where. Scroll through the apps and you see no lag at all, indicating that this is an operating system that fits perfectly on the hardware it's been assigned.

This phone tries to be a smartphone in all respects. So you have access to all mails, Facebook and Twitter. However, we had trouble configuring Gmail. You can also download apps from the Nokia Ovi Store within seconds. Another great feature is the Xpress browser which compresses the pages to reduce data usage and render them faster.  But the phone has a QVGA screen with 320 x 240p resolution and that makes the content look a bit in your face, with large fonts that needs some time to get used to. But then I am someone who has been exposed to a smartphone browser. Most people who use this phone will also be using a phone browser also for the first time. This also gives tabbed browsing and you can have multiple pages open at the same time.

Nokia Asha 501
Asha 501 can easily fit in the hand.

MUSIC, CAMERA AND GAMES
The music quality on the speaker is good and loud, though you also feel a lot of it on the back of the phone. We didn't find the Nokia Music Store here. The camera is nothing to write home about. Low-light performance is what you would expect in a sub-$100 phone. Daylight pictures, however, are decent and definitely good enough to post on social network. But, yes, this is no Pureview.

We played the demo version of the Asphalt 6 game that comes pre-loaded and were really impressed by the touchscreen and the rendering of the scenes. But this is a Java game and don't compare it to an Android version of this game. There are a lot of other games and software that also come pre-loaded on this phone.

This phone has the best battery life I have seen in a touchscreen and lasted over two days with all the playing around I did with the device. It comes pre-loaded with a 4GB card and this slot is good to take cards of up to 32GB, a big plus for those who like to watch movies on their phones.

Nokia Asha 501
Asha 501 looks tiny in comparison with the BlackBerry Q5

VERDICT
In my books, the Nokia Asha 501 is the best touchscreen phone at this price point. Since Android really drags on cheap hardware, a phone running a platform optimized for the hardware it has it always a better bet. Plus, the phone has a very likeable form factor and good smart options to satisfy the entry level smartphone customers. This is truly a phone for the masses.

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