Hands On With Nokia’s New Android Phones, Retro 3310
BARCELONA—Guess who’s back? Nokia at Mobile World Congress on Sunday announced plans to take on the mobile phone industry again, unveiling a quartet of new phones: the Nokia 3, 5, and 6, and a reboot of the classic Nokia 3310. We got a chance to check them out at the show.
We say new, but that somewhat stretches the accepted definition of the term. The Nokia 6 is not strictly new—it was launched in China last month—but it’ll be hitting shelves worldwide later this year. Then there’s the Nokia 3310, which is really a faithful retread of an old favorite with some new and improved features. In terms of nostalgia factor, it’s essentially the mobile phone equivalent of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It’s lots of fun, but basically the old version tarted up a bit for the modern age.
The only two genuinely new phones Nokia unveiled to the world today are the Nokia 3 and the Nokia 5. New or not, the four phones are Nokia’s way of announcing that it’s back in the game—this time, it hopes, for good.
“We are aiming to be one of the top smartphone players in the industry, globally,” said Juho Sarvikas, chief product officer of HMD Global, the Finnish company that now owns the Nokia brand. Sarvikas took care to emphasize that the custom UI of Nokia’s new Android phones would embody “simplicity, ease of use, quality, and a human touch,” pointing to the streamlined design and total absence of bloatware.
Nokia calls its stripped down Android UI “Pure.” On the surface, it appears to offer an experience similar to what you get with a Google Pixel. The home screen is refreshingly uncluttered, coming with just a folder containing the basic Google apps, a Chrome shortcut, clock widget, and an app drawer. That feeling will only be solidified now that every device running Android 6.0 and above will also be able to play with Google Assistant, a previously Pixel-exclusive feature. This can be accessed by a long press on the home key of any of the three new Nokia Android phones.
At the launch event, Google’s Jamie Rosenberg took to the stage to confirm that Nokia is “working close with Android” on Pure, which means the Nokia range promises smooth upgrades to future versions of Android as they become available. How far into the OS roadmap this will extend is, of course, another thing, but it’s more than most manufacturers can claim. Another bonus is the promise of monthly security updates from Google.
During the brief hands on time we had with the entire range at the show, we couldn’t see if any other Pixelish features, like a Wi-Fi Assistant clone, were present. Here’s what we can say, however.
Nokia 3, 5, and 6: Premium Design, Affordable Price
As you might be able to tell from the names, the Nokia 6 (pictured below) is the biggest of the Android gang. It’s milled from a single piece of aluminium and feels hefty. Fittingly, it will come in a range of metallic colours, including copper, silver, and “tempered blue,” as well as the de rigeur matt black.
Equipped with a 5.5-inch 1080p IPS LCD, what it lacks in terms of pure pixels per inch (400ppi vs. 534 for the Google Pixel), it makes up for by featuring a technique that sees the panel laminated directly to the 2.5D Corning Gorilla Glass cover. The absence of an air gap creates a pleasing effect and only at seriously extreme angles does any telltale discoloration kick in–if you squint, you might mistake the panel for an AMOLED. Maybe. As well as a large screen, the Nokia 6 features two Dolby Atmos-certified amplified speakers. Other specs include 64GB of internal storage expandable via microSD and 4GB of RAM.
We weren’t able to get anyone to confirm what the official ceiling limit of memory expansion is, and were a little dismayed to see that the SD card appears to double as a second SIM slot. This is something we’ve seen on Android phones like the Huawei Mate 9, and while folks are now probably used to having to choose between a second number or more storage, it would be nice to see this current design trend come to an end.
You may want some more space, too; the Nokia 6’s main camera features a 16-megapixel sensor, so that 64GB of storage will fill up fairly quickly. The front-facing camera’s an 8-megapixel shooter; as are all the cameras in the range.
Next up is the Nokia 5 (pictured above). It too is milled from a piece of aluminum and available in the same four color variants of the Nokia 6, though some models, like the silver one, are topped and tailed with a smooth plastic trim.
Nokia spokespeople were keen to talk up the new antenna configuration, which sees aerials sat at the top and bottom of the phone, with no obvious disturbance to the milled metal body. Apparently the new design is more of an aesthetic consideration than a practical one; spokespeople confirmed that all of the phones in Nokia’s new Android range feature Category 4 LTE radios–so don’t expect bleeding edge speeds here. Under the hood, there’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 CPU and an Adreno 505 graphics chip.
We spotted two discrete card slots on the side. We were told that there will be single and dual SIM versions of the phone. Again, it looks like you’ll have to decide whether or not you like separation between work and your social life, or extra storage.
The Nokia 5’s 1080p screen measures 5.2 inches across and features the same pillowed 2.5D shape. A smaller screen means you get a hair more detail than the Nokia 6 (423ppi vs 400), though at a glance that doesn’t amount to much. The sensor of the main camera’s a little smaller than the Nokia 6 too, at 13 megapixels.
Then there’s the Nokia 3 (below). While hewn from a block of aluminium, the back of the Nokia 3 is coated in polycarbonate, the same type was used in the Lumia 800, Nokia’s first Windows Phone champion back in 2011. The blue version we saw looks an awful lot like the same shade of blue sported by the original 3310 back in the day. Apparently the intention was to combine elements of previous Nokia designs to hearken back to the age when everyone’s batteries lasted forever and phones were practically indestructible.
The Nokia 3 doesn’t quite feel indestructible in the hand, but like the others in the range, it feels reassuringly weighty. In terms of cameras, both the main and front cameras feature 8-megapixel sensors.
Price-wise, the Nokia 6, 5, and 3 will set you back $240, €189 $199, and $145, respectively. There will also be a limited edition Arte Black version of the Nokia 6, which features a lustrous shiny black body and goes for a heftier $315. The phones are due to go on sale at some point this summer.
While we’re not exactly blown away by the specs Nokia’s touting here, it’s hard to argue with those prices. What could seal the deal for potential buyers is that none of the phones look midrange. Premium-feel milled metal plus those laminated screens could be more than enough for some.
Nokia 3310: What’s Old Is New
Nokia didn’t dwell on the new 3310 (below) too much, although it’s getting the most love on the internet right now. Running Symbian 30, it’s not going to replace your smartphone anytime soon, but with a staggering 22 hours of promised talk time and a solid month of standby, it could be a great backup phone to have for emergencies, festivals, camping (or anywhere you wouldn’t want to take your regular phone).
We liked the fact that it didn’t take too long to reacquaint with that old three-by-three grid of icons at all. There’s no volume control on the sides; you can assign two of the number keys to double as volume up and down.
We don’t like that there’s two very similar icons for the web browser (a big ‘O’ for Opera) and the app store (a big ‘O’ for Ovi), which is confusing enough itself, but they’re also right next to each other. Again, you’re probably not going to be spending a lot of time browsing the web on this, but you might want to download some more games once you get bored of Snake.
Yeah, Snake’s back, but depressingly, neither of the 3310s we got to play with had it installed. We can only assume that it’s just as good as we remember it…
There’ll be both single and dual SIM editions, going for the same price—a low, low $50. A retor phone with a retro price. As with the new Nokia Android phones, the Nokia 3310 will hit stores this summer. Check back for more details and reviews as the phones become available.