The Nokia Asha 501 review has been a bit tricky. It’s not your normal phone, but neither is it special. It’s a little toy, really, and at the asking price, it could be a device many people may have wanted, and many people may have needed. But is it worth it? How is the experience? Here, I try to answer those questions.
The Nokia Asha 501 is a dual-sim, dual-standby capable device, letting you use both the SIMs at the same time, with the second SIM being hot-swappable. You will however need microSIMs for both the slots. There’s a slot for memory card as well, letting you expand the paltry internal memory to something much more meaningful. To get you started, Nokia has included a 4 GB microSD card with the box. That should suffice for the majority of Asha 501 users, but if you want to expand, you can go up to 32 GB.
Starting off with the Hardware side of things, the Nokia Asha 501 comes with a 3.0″ TFT LCD display of QVGA resolution. There’s a 1200 mAh battery under that display to keep the device running all day. There’s a 3.2 MP fixed focus camera on the back, with the speaker placed near the bottom. On the right side of the device, you find the Volume rocker and the power button.
The top side houses the microUSB port, the 3.5 mm headphone jack, and the 2.5 mm charger jack. The Nokia Asha 501 supports USB charging though, so it shouldn’t be much of an issue to give it a quick power up when required.
On the face of the phone, there’s the ear piece in its regular location, above the display, in the centre. Below the display, there’s just one button, though. It’s the Back button, and that’s all it does. That’s quite the change for a Nokia featurephone. There’s a lot of change in the UI department for a Nokia featurephone, which I talk about after a while.
Coming to the design of the phone itself, the Asha 501 tries to bring the Lumia design language to lower price points, to featurephones. The Finns have done a great job – the Asha 501 is tiny, and looks great. Even more so if you consider all the cool colours the device has launched in. It looks pretty, and at the same time, Nokia has maintained the quality of the device. The plastic used is good, in that it feels costlier than what the price actually is.
Smartphone UI on a Feature-phone
If you’ve followed Nokia close enough, you’ll know that the Finns had launched a device running MeeGo-Harmattan. It was called the Nokia N9, and was the last N-series device from the company. Unlike much of its other devices, Nokia aced every department with the N9 – the device’s design, build quality, the UI, and the message. Everything blended so well, and it was all such a beautiful experience.
Nokia brought the Swipe UI to the Asha 501. That is really exciting. I’ve always loved the concept of this UI, but I was interested in seeing how they come about implementing it on devices with much lower specs. They’ve done pretty well on the Asha 501.
Nokia has tried to simplify the User Interface with the Asha 501, and it shows. You get only two screens to look at – the Recent Apps one, and one with all your apps on it. Nokia calls the Recent Apps screen as Fastlane – it shows you upcoming events, lets you post to Twitter and Facebook directly from here, and see which apps you’ve used recently. That sounds quite nice, even for a feature phone.
There’s a dropdown Notifications bar on the top, with toggles for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Mobile Data and Sound profile.
There’s a simple philosophy in use here – swipe. Swipe around to get to your notifications/Fastlane/recent apps, or swipe again to get to your apps. Swipe down to get your notifications and toggles. Swipe to unlock the device. Swipe to the left or right to close an app.
That simple. That’s all there is to using the device. There are more intricacies involved, but the basic idea is Swipe. It’s painless, and fool-proof. Of course, there’s the handy back button on the bottom, if swipe is not your cup of tea. Long pressing the back button will let you close an app.
Nokia borrowed (not really) heavily from the N9, as I’ve said before, but there’s another feature that has been brought to the Asha 501 from N9 – double tap to wake. At all times, there’s a clock visible on the screen, and if you double tap the display, it wakes up the device and you get to see your notifications. Swipe on the notification, and you’re taken to the respective app. Very neat.
Coming to the other aspects of the device, you get the Nokia Xpress browser, something like Opera Mini, but with the added ability to pin webpages to the apps menu. The browser fares okay as far as quick searches are concerned. If you are looking to use Facebook and Twitter on the go, it should be okay for that too.
Nokia Store is alive and kicking, and there are some made-for Nokia Asha 501 apps already. There’s a category tile you can tap to get to that list, and my favourite thus far has been TwistMusic, which allows you to create sounds by just moving around the device held in your hand. You’ll be surprised with the results.
Moving on to more important stuff like Messaging and Telephony. The Asha 501 handles it fine, allowing you to select which SIM to use every time you’re about to make a call or send a message. The Messaging app also supports drafts, which in turn show up in Fastlane, letting you know you have a draft sitting there. On the Telephony front, however, there’s no smart dialling.
The Music Player is minimal, and does its job fairly well. I found it slows down the device when in use, something which isn’t all that good. The loudspeaker is average – not the usual loud ones we expect from Nokia, though it’s fairly loud.
Coming to social networking, you can add your Facebook and Twitter accounts to the device, and get those contacts in the Phonebook, but for that, you’ll have to use the Accounts app. From here, you can set up your email. The Email app is basic as well, but with the Asha 501, the focus is on getting about doing your stuff rather than fiddling with settings.
Nokia’s brought over its Maps app to the Asha 501, which is sort of amazing, considering the specs of the device. The app is still in beta, and it’s not smooth, but it does the job. You don’t get offline maps, though.
There’s a Chat app, but it’s mostly useless, what with not many (no one) using Nokia accounts to chat. To get you along with note-taking, the Asha 501 comes with a Notes app out of the box. There’s a recorder and an FM Radio as well. For those who like to manage their files, there’s a File Manager. All basic stuff is covered well.
Coming to the camera. It’s a 3.2 MP fixed focus unit, and allows you to take videos as well. Neither of those two bits are really anything to write home about, but the camera app itself is okay. You get four filters for photos, if you want. There’s a photo-quality setting as well. You can capture images with a long press, and that’s about it.
The accompanying Gallery app is the only thing I’ve been really annoyed about, on the Asha 501. The thumbnails are blurred, and when you tap on one of them, the phone takes a while to load the image properly. Jarring.
The battery that comes with the Asha 501 is a 1200 mAh unit. The device will be able to survive a couple of days of moderate use, even going into the third day till noon. If you make a lot of calls, it should last a day easily.
So, to sum up, you are looking at a feature-phone with a very good UI, an okay display, very good battery life, all in a very neat, handy package. A 4 GB memory card and a pair of headphones, and you have a phone you’d be able to use as a sidekick device if you’re a smartphone user already. The only thing that’s missing is 3G support, but the reasoning for that is the low 3G proliferation in India, and users with a Rs. 5,000 phone are the least likely to use 3G. Fair enough, really.
For Rs 5,000, the Nokia Asha 501 is one of the better devices on the market, as far as feature-phones are concerned.