Nokia’s Asha 501 launch was a grand affair, so much so that Nokia’s very own CEO Stephen Elop flew down to our nation’s capital for the big unveiling. The Asha series hasn’t exactly been a runaway success mostly because, even at its selling price, the user experience left a lot to be desired. Local smartphone makers have changed the perception of a cheap mobile phone. After being exposed to Android ICS at prices as low as Rs 5,000, the Asha series paled in comparison.
The Asha 501 is the first in the new series of Asha phones with which Nokia hopes to gain better traction against the never ending horde of budget droids. We’ve had a chance to spend some time with the phone so here’s our first impression of the device.
It’s no coincidence that the Asha 501 resembles Nokia’s Lumia series. This deliberate design choice was taken in order to give the 501 a premium look, without actually being so. The matt-finished shell is inter-changeable and is comfortable to hold. The soft, rubberised texture offers good grip too. The volume rocker and power button take their place on the sides while the top houses the 3.5mm headphone jack, thin-pin charging port and microUSB port. There’s just a single ‘Back’ button at the bottom and nothing else. Around the back, we have a 3.1MP camera and a speaker opening at the bottom.
The display is probably its weakest link
The back cover pops out easily to reveal the 1200mAh battery. There’s also support for two microSIM cards and a 4GB card comes bundled along. Overall, the handset feels really snug in your hand and the selection of vibrant colours will certainly appeal to the youth.
The 3-inch display feels a little too small for a phone without a keyboard. Not only that, the resolution (240 x 320) is very low which makes everything pixelated. Don’t be fooled by the crisp and vivid display seen on Nokia’s website or the press shots; it looks nothing like that in reality. The screen sensitivity is pretty good however and even slight gestures are registered. There’s no ambient light sensor onboard, just a proximity sensor and accelerometer.
A good looking handset
The Asha 501 debuts Nokia’s brand new Asha software platform v1.0. The UI is quite a bit faster as compared to the older Asha series but not what we’d called smooth. With just 64MB of RAM onboard, the interface gets sluggish quite fast. The other issue that’s parcelled with a new platform is apps. The ones available for the previous Asha series will have to be ported over so apps like Whatsapp is still not available for the 501.
The new UI gets rid of Nokia’s typical S40 homescreen. Switching the 501 on will take you straight to the list of apps on your phone. Nokia has added a new feature called ‘FastLane’ which essentially keeps a track of any and all activity performed on the 501. This means, you can just swipe right from the homescreen to see your recent activity and jump to that app directly.
The SIM and microSD card slots
The audio quality is quite good given the size of the speaker. Music and alerts can be heard clearly, even in relatively noisy environments. Video playback is not great due to the low resolution screen. The camera has a fixed-focus and quite frankly, it wouldn’t have made a difference if it weren’t there.
The bottom line
The Nokia Asha 501 is definitely a fresher and more interesting offering compared to its predecessors. A couple of features you’ll find lacking in the 501 is 3G and a front-facing camera but we won’t hold this against it since it's supposed to be an entry-level phone. Looking at the market however, we do feel the pricing is a bit high especially since you can find Android handsets with better specifications around the same price (the Karbonn Smart A4+ is one such example). The low resolution screen and lack of popular apps could be the two big factors to hold back sales of the device.