If there’s one thing Nokia has done better than its competitors (most of the time, anyway) it’s finding a way to capture the budget market for mobile phones. The new Nokia Lumia 610 is the company’s latest offering in this class with a special emphasis on younger users. At $100 or less, this phone certainly is not going to be able to compete with the more pricey models in the smart phone sector, but it doesn’t appear as though that’s really on the Nokia radar.

The struggling electronics manufacturer was one of the dominant forces in mobile phones before the age of the smartphone. Since then the Taiwanese company has really been on the fringe. But their new Lumia series of phones is making a strong statement that you don’t need to spend a lot of money for adequate technology and functionality. The Lumia 610 does this nicely at a price high school and college kids should have no problem being able to afford.

Windows Phones 7.5

The first point of note with the Lumia 610 is that it’s the first model running the upgraded version of Windows Phone 7.5. This new version of Microsoft’s phone operating system is a slightly polished bug fix which took care of more than 500 known issues with the first version. The nice thing for users already familiar with Windows Phone is that the experience isn’t going to be any different in terms of mechanics should you purchase a new Lumia 610.

The only real disappointment here is that the hardware inside the Lumia 610 is less than what Microsoft recommends for 7.5. The result is that not all of the applications that typically come default with the operating system are included, simply because they either don’t run very well or they don’t work at all. Your apps on this phone may not be what you expect.

The Hardware

In order to stay inside the budget category Nokia cut back on the hardware. You can see from the following specs that the 610 is considerably less beefy than its two big brothers. Under the hood you find:

  • CPU – 800 MHz ARM Cortex-A5
  • GPU – Qualcomm Adreno 200
  • SoC – Qualcomm Snapdragon S1 MSM7227A
  • Memory – 256 MB RAM, up to 8 GB internal flash
  • Connectivity –  802.11b/g/n wi-fi, Bluetooth 2.1
  • Battery –  1300mAh Li-ion

Perhaps the weakest link of the Lumia 610 is the combination CPU/RAM. This setup would be barely enough to run Windows XP on a laptop or desktop, let alone the majority of today’s smartphones. The limitations presented by the CPU and memory really affect software choices to the extent that parents and kids might fight over this phone. Parents will love it because it’s affordable but kids may not be so happy when they compare it to their friend’s iPhone 4S or Samsung Galaxy.

Styling and Design

To make up for the less-than-ideal hardware, Nokia intends to still go after the younger crowd by bringing back a trend we thought had died out at the turn of the century. They’ve designed the Lumia 610 to have a removable back plate that can be exchanged with new plates of different colors. From the factory you can purchase this phone in one of four colors; there’s sure to be at least a small market for companies willing to make interchangeable pieces with wild colors and designs.

  

  

At 12 mm thick the Lumia 610 feels a bit awkward in your hand. But Nokia has done their best to make the case as ergonomic as possible, including using a rubber back on two of their models combined with gently curved edges. Unfortunately, the entire case is made of plastic so it feels extremely light and perhaps a bit amateurish. That probably won’t matter to younger owners however.

Camera Capabilities

It was surprising to see a 5MP on a budget phone in this class. Nonetheless, there it is. The rear facing camera is adequate for those occasional pictures you realize you must have even though you don’t have your regular camera with you. However, Nokia has never been known for being the “go to guy” for heavy picture and video purposes. The quality will be decent but nowhere near as good as some higher end phones. Users also have to contend with the fact that takes several seconds for the camera app to open up. This certainly isn’t like the nearly instant readiness of the camera on some better models.

Nokia Lumia 610 Sample Photos

    

Software and Apps

If you’re the type of person that loves app collecting the Lumia 610 is probably not going to be your cup of tea. The fact that this is a Windows phone, combined with the restrictive nature of developing Windows software, means users don’t have nearly the access to apps that android and iPhone users have. Like many of the Windows phone makers, Nokia has tried to make up for the lack of software by developing a couple of apps of its own.

None of the Nokia based software is all that impressive, though it is functional. Users will notice that some of the apps that come by default on other Windows phones will not be included in the Lumia 610. Most notably anything that requires more than 90 MB of RAM is either going to be doggedly slow or completely dysfunctional. For that reason many have been left out and blocked from being downloaded and installed.

Conclusion

It’s hard to imagine any serious adult plunking down the money for this phone as a primary mobile device for them self. But it’s easy to see parents doing so in order to provide their children with a smartphone. The Lumia 610 is a great vehicle to get your pre-teens and younger teens connected without spending a lot of money and risking a big investment on behalf of kids who can sometimes be careless.

If that’s the market Nokia was going for we would say they hit a home run. If they are genuinely trying to go after more serious smartphone users by simply offering lower-priced gadget, they have probably failed.

The latest in Nokia’s Asha family is the 302, first announced in Barcelona at the Mobile World Congress 2012 and scheduled for release later this year. Nokia aims to take all of the best features of its flagship Asha 303 and enhance them with a few extra toys for the 302. Initial reviews of this phone have been very receptive despite the fact that there are some who can’t say anything nice about a phone unless it is a full-fledged high-end model designed to compete with the HTC or iPhone 5.

Critics notwithstanding, the whole point of the Asha family is to dominate the feature phone market. They’ve done extremely well to that end thus far and there’s no reason to believe the 302 will not continue that trend. This phone is typical of the Asha family with a major focus on sending text messages and making phone calls. That said, Nokia has tweaked the OS a little bit for this model, resulting in a better user experience — via surfing the net, checking e-mail, and so on.

Look and Feel

The biggest thing you’ll notice in terms of look and feel, as compared to the previous models in the Asha family, is that Nokia traded a little bit of screen size for a much better button navigation system. In previous models the soft navigation system was functional and fairly easy to use, but for the 302 Nokia chose to put hard navigation buttons dead center and large enough that most users should be able to work them very easily with a little practice.

Along those same lines, drastic improvements have been made to the QWERTY keyboard. Where the keyboard on the 303 was considered cumbersome and difficult to use, that’s not the case with the 302. The keys are very responsive, they don’t feel bulky or heavy, and even those with large fingers shouldn’t have much trouble.

About the only thing negative we can say in terms of look and feel is that the 302 doesn’t live up to the sophistication of the 303. It can seem a little flimsy and fragile to some people.

Hardware Specs

Like all of the phones in this family, hardware is a little bit lacking if your comparison is a higher surprised HTC or Samsung. But for its class, it’s plenty beefy. On board the Asha 302 you’ll find:

  • CPU – 1 GHz ARM11
  • Memory – 128 MB RAM
  • Storage – 170 MB internal, up to 32 GB microSD
  • Battery – 1300 mAh Li-Ion
  • Connectivity – 802.11 b/g/n wi-fi, Bluetooth 2.1
  • OS – Nokia S40
  • QWERTY keyboard

The most impressive part of the hardware package is the lithium-ion battery. Because of the low resource requirements most users will see a battery life of at least several days under normal usage. That’s pretty impressive when you compare it against higher end phones which need charging at the end of every day.

Display

The display on the 302 is identical to the 303 in terms of its mechanics; the only difference is that it is 2.4 inches rather than 2.6. The transmissive LCD features 320 x 240 resolution, 18-bit color, and a fairly responsive touchscreen. That said, the hard navigation buttons added to this model will probably prevent most people from taking full advantage of the touch capacitive display.

Software and Apps

Early reviews suggest that some of the improvements made in the Nokia OS make the difference between the 302 and the 303. For example, Nokia’s light web browser uses very little of the phone’s resources. Web pages load faster and can be navigated through more quickly; with a decent WiFi connection browsing the Internet using the 302 isn’t bad at all.

As far as the apps go you certainly don’t have access to the hundreds of thousands available to Android and iOS users, but Nokia has seen fit to continue adding to its selection. You’ll find quite a few nifty utilities as well as some games too. Noticeably lacking out-of-the-box is a suitable document reader. That seems a strange for a phone focused on utility, but it is what it is.

For Nokia users ready to upgrade the 302 is an excellent option for affordable utility. You might not be ready to replace your 303 right away, but for a Nokia model that’s two or three years old the 302 makes a very good upgrade.

It’s fair to say that having once being top dog in the mobile phone world, Nokia have struggled to really make an impact in the western smartphone market. However, the Finnish company are going the right way about challenging the dominance of Samsung, Apple and HTC by manufacturing a range of excellent new phones. One of these new phones is the 808 PureView which has been designed to head-up the Symbian range, while the Nokia Lumia 800 and 900 pave the way for Windows Phone. The 808 PureView was a big hit at MWC 2012, but is it going to be good enough to capture the public’s imagination?

Build

The 808 PureView comes in a choice of three different colours: red, white and blue, and has a nice rugged look that is helped by a rubberised finish. The rubber helps to give the 123.9 x 60.2mm phone good grip and this phone feels excellent to hold despite it being incredibly chunky at 13.9mm. The rear camera is a lot bigger than you will probably be used to, although as we will learn later there is a reason for this.

Screen

For a smartphone in 2012, the Nokia’s 4.0 inch 360 x 640 pixel resolution screen is simply not good enough and the 184ppi pixel density is less than many budget phones on the market. That being said, colours are clear enough and doing the basic things such as reading text, social networking and playing basic games is satisfactory. The screen is protected with Corning Gorilla Glass.

Hardware

Again, for a smartphone that is retailing at around the same price as the iPhone 4S and HTC One X, the processor in the 808 PureView is not great. Certainly, the 1.3GHz ARM 11 chipset can handle the Nokia Belle OS, but in a world of dual and quad-core processor, this phone is way off the pace. The processor is backed up with a satisfactory 512MB RAM and there is a healthy 16GB of internal storage and a micro SD card offering the possibility to expand up to 32GB.

Photo from Flickr

Despite being on the low end of the smartphone market the Nokia 808 pureview can still definatly pack a punch. Most known for the ability of its camera its apps are largely forgotten, however due to the high perfomance camera the phone has a high quality processor thats perfect for playing games such as poker, blackjack, slots or roulette. A high quality processor is needed for casino games due to the fact money is involved. If the game keeps crashing you risk missing out on spins, or loosing out on monety if the connection is lost. Therefore high quality phones such as the Nokia 808 pureview are perfect for playing casino on the move.

Camera

The biggest draw of the Nokia PureView is undoubtedly the camera, which is bay far and away the biggest camera ever seen on a smartphone and one that is not likely to be rivalled anytime soon. The 41-MP camera is something usually seen on medium format professional cameras and as always has the Carl Zeiss lens which is teamed with Nokia’s pixel over-sampling technology. Of course, having a large camera does not mean that this phone is going to produce professional quality pictures, but is hard to ignore the sharpness of the pictures in even the most testing of light conditions. Camera features include 1/1.2” sensor size, ND filter, up to 4x lossless digital zoom, geo-tagging and face detection and there is 1080p video recording with LED light.

Operating System

The PureView runs the Nokia Belle operating system which has a decent UI, making menus and apps pretty easy to use with the processor. This OS is far from Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich or iOS but it fits nicely into this phone.

Battery

There is a standard Li-on 1400mAh battery in the Nokia 808 PureView. According to Nokia’s figures, this should provide up to 540 hours standby time on 3G and 6 hours 50 minutes talk time on 3G.

Verdict

While the hardware and screen specs are up too much, the huge megapixel camera makes this phone a very interesting one. The rugged build combined with the camera makes this Symbian phone seem more suited to the outdoor market as opposed to being a mainstream success.

Do you remember the days when a mobile phone was primarily used to make calls and send texts? Nokia does. That’s evident in the Asha series which was released last spring, seemingly everywhere except North America.

At first glance it’s easy to see what Nokia was focusing on with this phone: better functionality of phone and texting features and less emphasis on apps and multimedia. That’s not to say Nokia didn’t include some of the extras found on higher priced smartphones. It’s just to say that the Asha 303 has “utility” written all over it.

Under the Hood

In terms of hardware the Asha 303 is what you’d expect from an inexpensive budget phone. We were pleasantly surprised however, to find a 1GHz processor. Here’s what the phone includes:

  • CPU – 1GHz ARM11
  • Memory – 128MB RAM
  • Storage – 170MB internal NAND, up to 32 GB microSD
  • Display – QVGA LCD with touch capacitive screen
  • Battery – 1300mAh Li-Ion
  • OS – Nokia Series 40
  • Full QWERTY keyboard

With just 128MB of RAM one might expect the Asha 303 to be annoyingly slow. That’s really not the case. Though this phone is limited in terms of all the bells and whistles offered by some of the big boys, what it does is surprisingly fast. This is especially noticeable in terms of navigation. It helps that none of the installed apps are extremely resource hungry.

In terms of the Nokia S40 OS, the jury is still out. Nokia seems to have not gotten out of the ’90s in many respects, but if function is your priority it probably doesn’t matter. The OS isn’t the prettiest girl in the room, but she seems to be getting a lot of invitations to dance nonetheless.

On-Board Camera

The Asha 303 sports a 3.2 MP EDoF rear mounted camera that makes it easy to take photographs and send them to your e-mail. However, if you’re expecting high quality photos in the same league as an HTC or Samsung, you’ll be terribly disappointed. The picture quality of this camera is to today’s smartphones what the old 110 instamatic was compared to a professional 35mm. It’s probably a good thing that the phone’s internal storage isn’t really suitable for lots of pictures.

Screen

One of the more pleasant surprises here was the touch capacitive screen. For a phone with a full QWERTY keyboard it would seem that a touch capacitive screen would be unnecessary and cost prohibitive. At the same time, the combination of both makes the Asha 303 extremely easy to move around. The only strange thing about the touch screen is that the phone vibrates slightly as you move around and swipe back and forth. The purpose behind this we don’t know, and it can be a little unnerving if you’re not expecting it.

As for the display itself it is limited to a resolution of 320×240 and 18-bit color. That’s more than adequate for the phone’s default screen and on board applications. But it’s not going to be very inviting for video or other graphically intense media.

Look and Feel

When it comes to looks the Asha 303 is surprisingly sophisticated. At first glance you’d never expect this to be an inexpensive budget phone with a concentration on functionality. Though the case is plastic it has a brushed metal look that gives it the appearance of a more expensive phone. That said, even the feel of this phone is rather pleasing. It is just over 13mm thick, so it’s not extremely bulky, and it seems to rest comfortably in the average size hand. Texting with the keyboard is another matter altogether though.

The QWERTY keyboard feels very bulky and is not incredibly responsive. Texting with one hand is probably going to be nearly impossible except for the extremely skilled. Furthermore, the keys are small enough that anyone with big fingers may have trouble with rapid typing.

For a budget phone with an emphasis on making calls and sending text messages, the Asha 303 is a great choice. If you want anything beyond the base functionality you’ll need to look at something a bit more beefy.

Nokia’s latest entry in the smart phone wars is the Lumia 900, first unveiled at the CES 2012 this past January. It was hailed as one of the most exciting products at the show and even won the award for Best Smartphone. The award was good news for Microsoft, given their push to gain ground on iOS and Android, but certainly news for the struggling Nokia. Unfortunate for both of them, the good news has not lasted.

As far as smartphones go the Lumia 900 seems to be stuck between a fully functioning device and reliable “call only” phone trying to grow up. In either case it doesn’t do well when compared to other smartphones from Samsung, HTC, and Apple. The best thing going for it is its relatively cheap price. The Lumia 900 can be had for as little as $99 in the US with monthly plans starting at about $39. The low price might be the one thing that attracts entry-level smartphone buyers to this model.

The Hardware

 

  • CPU – 1.4 GHz Qualcomm Scorpion
  • GPU – Adreno 205 GPU
  • SoC – Qualcomm Snapdragon APQ8055
  • Memory – 512 MB RAM
  • Storage – 16 GB internal; no removable storage capacity
  • Battery – 1830mAh Li-ion
  • Connectivity – Bluetooth 2.1; 802.11b/g/n WiFi

The combination of the low RAM and single core processor means the Lumia 900 isn’t going to win any speed and performance races with higher quality phones. And if Microsoft Phone 7.5 degrades the way Windows does, it’s conceivable this phone could get slower and slower as the months roll on.

In terms of networking the Lumia 900 will be compatible in the United States with GSM, HSDPA, and 4G LTE. The international version doesn’t support 4G LTE, substituting instead 3 GHSPA+. This may not be an issue when you read my comments about call quality and reception below.

OS and Software

 

That leads us to the Windows Phone 7.5 operating system. The first version of Microsoft’s mobile phone OS was rife with problems that lead one to question whether or not the Redmond-based company had any business dabbling in smartphones. This second incarnation is said to work much better after Microsoft fixed more than 500 issues from the previous version. I personally don’t think Microsoft Phone 7.5 is still up to par with iOS or Android, but it certainly is better in version 7.5.

One of the things people most love about the operating system is that it is identical to use no matter the phone it’s on. If you can use it on the Lumia 900 you’ll have an identical experience on any other Windows smartphone. For those who hate customization and OS tweaking, this is a good thing.

On the other hand, Windows continues its strict proprietary mindset when it comes to hardware and software requirements. Unlike Android and iOS, there aren’t legions of developers coming up with thousands of apps for windows smartphones. In the case of the Lumia 900, the only non-Microsoft software included are a small handful of apps that come directly from Nokia. If Microsoft truly expects to compete with the big boys they are going to have to put an end to their proprietary mindset. Developers simply cannot afford the licensing fees to develop for Microsoft, so they won’t even try.

Display

 

One of the bright spots of the Lumia 900 is its upgraded display. The 4.3-inch ClearBlack AMOLED panel is covered by a single pane of Corning Gorrilla Glass, and features a very sensitive touch capacitive screen. We can say with all honesty that it’s almost as smooth and frictionless as the iPhone 4S. It makes me wonder why Android phones are still having so much trouble coming up with a capacitive touchscreen of similar quality. Nonetheless, even with pinch-to-zoom you won’t lose a beat on this phone.

As for the ClearBlack display, it provides 16 million colors and a resolution of 480×800 pixels. The ClearBlack technology displays dark hues much better than its rivals and makes the screen much more readable even in bright light. On the downside it doesn’t display text all that well, though that might be more a matter of the Windows operating system then the display itself. Users will definitely see text issues the worst when browsing the Internet.

Overall Performance

 

It’s difficult to grade overall performance because there’s such a stark difference making calls and using the apps. In terms of the software itself the Lumia 900 is very responsive and easy to use. Applications open quickly, the layout makes a lot of sense, and individuals already used to Microsoft operating systems will find the environment very familiar. Unfortunately, the same good things can’t be said about actually making calls.

Within days of its U.S. release the Lumia 900 was experiencing problems with poor call quality and spotty reception. Nokia quickly acknowledged the problems and blamed it on a programming error that was ostensibly rectified with a firmware release in April. While that seemed to help somewhat, call quality and reception still dominate most of the complaints lodged against this phone. There’s no way of saying whether this is specifically a Nokia issue or something having to do with the OS.

Final Thoughts

 

The last three things I want to touch on are the cameras, battery, and the look and feel. As for the cameras, they are adequate for an entry-level phone. The front camera is the weaker of the two offering only 1MP resolution. The rear camera is an 8MP units with 720P video, dual LED flash, and auto focus. Overall picture quality is not bad considering the price and the class of this phone. You certainly could do worse.

In terms of battery life we were pleasantly surprised as to how well the 1830mAh unit held up under normal use. Much of that comes from a Nokia’s choice of the Scorpion processor and the rest can be attributed to Microsoft keeping the resource hungry apps at a minimum. Under normal usage you shouldn’t have any problem with this battery.

Lastly, though the Lumia 900 isn’t necessarily a bad entry-level smartphone it’s very banal look and design could be its one fatal flaw. Given the fact that consumers make impulse purchases based on visual appeal it seems as though Nokia completely missed the boat on this one. To be quite honest, the case makes it look like a child’s toy. If there’s one thing Nokia could do to immediately raise the appeal of the Lumia 900 it would be a complete redesign of the outer shell.

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