Nokia Asha 302 & Series 40 vs. Android

Series 40 today has a bit same kind of an active today screen Symbian S60 used to have. It's nice thay have managed to integrate Exchange calendar, contacts and e-mail this well.
Series 40 has a bit same kind of an active today screen Symbian S60 used to have. It’s nice they have managed to integrate Exchange calendar, contacts and e-mail this well.

Even though most of the media publicity around mobile phones is about smartphones, more affordable feature phones are still important for Nokia in emerging markets. However, Nokia has lost attraction in countries like China and India, where very affordable Android smartphones have gained more market share. Nokia and many analysts claim the Nokia Series 40 feature phone platform has become close to smartphones. Is this really true? I wanted to try it myself.

Asha 302 is one Nokia’s latest QWERTY models with the latest Series 40 OS version.  Having used this for two weeks now I have mixed feelings. One thing I am sure about: It definitely is not competing with even the low-end Android smartphones from Huawei or ZTE, but there are many benefits too.

First, the pros: the battery lasts for many days, the thumb QWRTY keyboard is rather nice (compared to typing with touch screens) and the latest version of Series 40 has a decent active main menu with a few widgets. There are many apps and games from the Nokia Store too. For example, I have surprised how they have managed to bring Mail for Exchange client (currently in beta) Activesync on Series 40 calendar, contacts and e-mail synchronization, and it was quite easy to setup with my corporate Exchange account and security lock code

The device has surprisingly good video playback performance, even though the screen is too small for this in my opinion. MP3 music playback from a microSD card was good enough for my background listening.

Posting status updates and images to Facebook was quite easy too, and you can even add a social media widget to the main menu.

Then the cons:  The web browser is still very slow and renders even many mobile sites very badly.  I would have expected some kind of multi-tasking features so that I could leave the basic applications (such as the browser) in the background in an idle mode.  There are some good improvements, though. The  URL address bar and search tools have been merged so that accessing new sites is easier.

Some say “use Opera Mini”, but at least at the moment didn’t work properly due to a few bugs (with the keypad, for example).

Most of all, I disappointed with how sluggish the Series 40 user interface actually is on Asha 302, even though it looks quite simple and this device supposedly has a 1 GHz processor. Or maybe it’s been too long since I’ve used Series 40?

Earlier I have tried the touch screen based Series 40 device Nokia X3 Touch and Type which was terrible. The resistive touch screen combined with a user interface not designed for touch screens is not a good combination. I will try this again after Nokia has updated the Series 40 platform for touch screen devices which they are working with the help of technology and know-how acquired with the Norwegian Smarterphone company.

I have also tried Samsung Wave with the Bada platform, and it showed you can actually bring simple multi-tasking and a decent touch UI to a feature phone platform too.  The problem was getting software developer support, and I guess that’s why Samsung decided to merge Bada with Intel’s Tizen platform.

As a summary, I don’t think Nokia Asha 302 with Series 40 is a bad device. I actually liked it as a backup device for phone calls and text messages. I just don’t see it capable to compete with even the low-end smartphones, mainly Android devices from Huawei and ZTE which I’ve also played with.

Stephen Elop and vision for Nokia

Yesterday I attended a short media briefing and Q&A before Nokia’s annual general meeting in Helsinki, where CEO Stephen Elop and the new Chairman of the Board Risto Siilasmaa answered a few questions. It felt like one more missed chance to convince things are improving at Nokia.

Mr. Siilasmaa emphasized Nokia’s Finnish cultural roots, but we didn’t hear any news on how he could actually help Nokia proceed with its new strategy.  However, he is just starting in his new role, so he deserves time to show he can help Elop’s team.

Stephen Elop appeared like he wouldn’t have anything to share about Nokia’s vision and battle strategy against competition. I assume they cannot get growth just by cutting costs and laying off people.

Elop has had time to communicate Nokia’s new strategy and vision for almost two years now, and I’ve been surprised how little we have heard about this yet. Yes, Nokia is using the Windows Phone platform, but so are many others too. How does Nokia compete with Apple and Samsung, and what’s their future strategy? Are services like navigation bringing results?

Nokia’s former Symbian executive Lee Williams said in an interview for CNET UK there seems to be a lack vision for future. I have to agree Stephen Elop has not been able to convince yet. Mostly we have heard about cutting costs, and earlier those famous statements about how bad Symbian is.

I also attended Nokia’s press conference at Mobile World Congress in February where they announced a few new Lumia phones and the ”monster camera-phone” Nokia 808 PureView. The latter is impressive technology, but it was still considered a technology demo, because Symbian has been called almost obsolete by Nokia themselves.

One kind of a sad irony is that Symbian finally has a quite decent touch user interface and many nice apps after the latest Belle software update. Almost no one just cares anymore. Unfortunately some people could not even update their Nokia E7 or N8 to Belle, because the update was not anymore available over the air (FOTA) or using the Mac OS X client.

How could Nokia inprove their public image? I think they should quickly tell more about what kind of cool stuff their talented people are working on.  I have met many designers, software specialists and R&D engineers from Nokia. They seem to be excited about their work, and they are developing interesting things. I think Nokia should communicate this more openly. Bringing their camera team specialists ”Juha and Eero” to the MWC press conference was a good start, but we should see more of this.