Nokia’s S40 Asha smartphone has always been long forgotten by consumers today, as the world gets dominated by Android, iOS, and Windows Phone, people are debating most of the time which are the strongest phones and have the best multimedia capabilities, and they some how forget that they simply don’t need such a powerful phone at times. Let’s face it, a phone is just for calling and texting, that’s the main purpose of it. Period.

Meet the most unpopular feature smartphone from Nokia – the Asha 501, which isn’t even running on any modern smartphone operating systems that you know of today, and doesn’t even have a Quad-core processor or any PureView camera. We got hold of the unit from Nokia and we find this little thing a really cute and user friendly smartphone.

Hardware

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The Asha 501 does not have the powerful hardware that you know of today, the processor in the Asha 501 is unknown and not stated by Nokia in its spec sheet. However, here’s the specs that you need to know of:

3” QVGA TFT 262k Multi-touch screen (2 points)

GSM/EDGE 900/1800 Dual SIM

128MB Built-in memory

4GB MicroSD Memory Card included in package expandable up to 32GB

3.2 Megapixel Fixed-Focus Camera

BL-4U 1200mah removable battery

Bluetooth 3.0

WiFi B/G/N

USB 2.0 (supports charging via USB)

Accelerometer, 3.5mm headphone jack

99.2mm x 58.0 mm x 12.1 mm

Talktime up to 17 hours, Standby 624 hours

SAR Value: 0.96 w/kg (ear)

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The display of the Asha 501 is plastic and colors look washed out with bad viewing angles, we don’t expect IPS quality on the screen but Nokia could have packed a better LCD onto this phone. Touch screen sensitivity is good but you may accidentally press on something while using the screen. What we love the most about the hardware is its back casing, which is a hard plastic casing unlike Samsung’s flex ones, and its quite difficult to open but you’ll get used to it after some time.

Check out our unboxing video below on the contents in the Asha 501’s box.

Software and Apps

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The Asha 501 runs on Nokia’s proprietary S40 operating system, which has been long forgotten by many consumers today, and it is still running strong. The latest iteration of S40 shares many resemblance to Nokia’s Symbian and killed Meego, and you will also find instances of Windows Phone in it. We feel that Nokia is trying to make current smartphone users easily transition to the Asha series easily without too much of learning, which is a good thing. You will find all the usual PIM apps such as Contacts, Calendar, Calculator, and Messages to be the same, which doesn’t provide as much functionalities compared to today’s smartphones, we wished Nokia could actually bring support for syncing online accounts such as Google, Windows Live etc.

The user interface of the Asha 501 consists of two main screens – Nokia’s Fastlane and App Screen

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Nokia’s Fastlane allows you to view recent activities performed on your phone, it will show your recent calls, messages, app launches, browsed webpages etc. We have a love and hate relationship with Fastlane, which is good for recalling what you’ve done with your phone but at the same time it becomes a privacy issue, people that have access to your phone freely will immediately know who you’ve been interacting with or what you’ve been doing on your phone, we recommend to clear Fastlane every few days or set a PIN code to deny access to your phone.

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The App screen is straightforward, you can rearrange icons by holding and dragging on an app or uninstall by just holding and press the “X” button.

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The Internet browser of the Asha 501 supports full HTML browsing, which can render pages quite accurately but do not expect performance to fly, we recommend loading mobile versions of the website to enjoy a smooth experience.

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Apps and Games run on the Java platform, the Nokia Store has a lot of useful apps that are mostly free. Popular messaging apps such as WeChat and Line are available however there’s still room for improvement in terms of app speed and quality.

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Nokia Slam is a reliable feature that allows you to transfer content between devices by just bumping the Asha 501 with another phone, which saves you the time on Bluetooth pairing and searching for devices.

Camera

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The fixed focus 3.2 Megapixel camera of the Asha 501 doesn’t take quality shots, pictures looked grainy and lacked detail, however the camera does support filter effects, timer and white balance adjust. We are surprised at the camera software that Nokia offers on the Asha 501 because we won’t usually find them in entry-level smartphones,P1020511and we seriously think that Nokia can afford to pack a better sensor into the Asha 501 since they’re a leader in mobile photography, and lastly, we don’t expect Zeiss or PureView quality. Check out the sample shots below.

Music Playback

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Music playback on the Asha 501 is decent, the speaker is able to output decent volume and sounds even better when plugged in with our own high end ear buds, there is no equalizer for us to configure, but the sound quality is certainly good enough for the majority – audiophiles, look somewhere else.

Call Performance and Battery Life

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Call performance over Maxis and Celcom network is quite OK, callers have no issues listening to us and we haven’t had any issues listening to them either. Additionally, the loudspeaker is able to produce nice volumes at a room level, don’t expect it to work properly in a noisy environment. The Dual SIM feature work similarly to other Dual SIM phones, which one network gets disconnected when the other is being used.

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Battery life on the Asha 501 is fantastic, we get up to 2.5 days of usage before needing a full charge by turning on data connection all the time and having 3-4 calls per day with a duration of 3 minutes, do also note that the data connection is turned on based on an on-demand basis and we have lots of IMs coming in from WeChat and Line.

Verdict

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We enjoy using the Asha 501, and had a break from all the frustrations that we had on Android, iOS and Windows Phone – yes, we’re serious, we never had any lagging issues or restarts when using the Asha 501, we answered calls, replied messages without any hassle and never have to worry about battery life. We hope Nokia continue to improve its Nokia Store to support more apps especially voice calling ones such as Skype and Viber. The Nokia Asha 501 retails at the price of RM299 and comes in 6 colours, we rate it at 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Pros:

+ Great battery life

+ Decent phone performance

+ Great build quality

+ App store is OK given at a feature smartphone level

+ Great call quality

Cons:

– Poor camera

– App quality can be improved

– No 3G

– Touch screen sensitivity causes accidental presses

– Washed out colors and bad viewing angles

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