When you first look at the Nokia Asha 501, you might think it’s a smaller Lumia. The solid and beautiful build is wrapped by a matte polycarbonate body and the device runs on Nokia’s totally new Asha Platform. Is it cute enough to make the cut? Find out in our full review.
“Feature phone resurrected.”
Design and Construction
I’m not really the biggest fan of small phones as I have really big hands. However, when I got the Asha 501, a few things about my perceptions of this feature phone were changed.
First, the size feels like the total opposite of the norm. We have been so fed up with large phones for years now and the idea of a compact phone is just so refreshing. It fits perfectly in the hand even if it is quite thick, and despite that, it is still very manageable.
“I want a yellow phone too.” and “That is so cool / cute.” is what I hear most from my friends.
The design of Nokia’s Lumia line is already fun enough to begin with, so when you take that and put it in a smaller and a more rounded form factor – what you actually create is something cuter and more fun to look at.
As for the placement of the external buttons, nothing is found on the left and bottom sides of the device, while on the right side is where the volume rocker and the power button are placed; and on the top side is the micro USB port, the charging port and the 3.5mm audio jack. One thing to note here is that, while a proprietary Nokia charger is provided, you can also charge via the micro USB port.
The phone does not attract that much dirt, and if it does, it will most likely happen on the back cover (in which it can easily be wiped by a clean piece of cloth). With all of that said, the Nokia Asha 501 doesn’t need to be premium, and it doesn’t feel cheap. Rather, it’s already great at being what it is.
It would be nice to see if Nokia marketed different back covers for this phone though.
At 3-inches at 240 x 320 pixels, the size is still manageable, but it won’t be the nicest experience (movies, reading & browsing). Text and icons look crappy and very pixilated on the screen especially with a pixel density of just 133ppi. However, for whatever is lost in display resolution, it makes up for in colors as everything else was vibrant.
Just as expected from an LCD display, viewing angles aren’t the best either.
OS, Apps and UI
The Asha 501 runs on Nokia’s new OS – the Asha platform. We have an in-depth look at it through the video below.
After taking a look at that, we have a few additional test notes.
- There is no way to click through a popping notification. You need to go through the notification bar.
- Search bars are hard to find, but usually, it can be accessed through swiping down when you’re on top of the list.
- App selection is not the best out there. We’re expecting to find the Facebook & Twitter apps to work very well at least, but not even that was a good experience. It was slow, and syncing took ages.
- We found no way to import Google contacts or group; that may be a problem for some as contacts are really messy.
- No copy-paste functionality.
What we loved:
- Everything is easy to navigate and use.
- Swiping from the sides to close apps feels good on the small form factor.
- UI design elements are polished.
- Works amazingly fast even with low specifications.
- Even with the small display, I found myself enjoying typing on a QWERTY keyboard with minimal error. For T9 enthusiasts, one is also available (Tagalog language too).
- There’s a 5-number security code option for your lockscreen.
- The home screen is very intuitive.
- Glance screen works great and doesn’t drain much battery.
Multimedia & Camera
It’s quite hard to figure out where the speaker grilles are since it’s embedded right into the opening of the battery door. The speakers on this phone never failed to impress; I had music playing in the classroom and people on the other corner could sing-along, and while everyone in the computer shop had headphones on, everyone looked at me when the Nokia ringtone started playing because of an incoming call.
Now, when you think about a 3.15 megapixel camera on a budget-friendly phone, you might immediately think that it sucks. That’s most certainly not the case here.
Nokia does wonders with its high-end PureView cameras, and their imaging prowess is still evident on phones like the Asha 501. The phone has a good dynamic range, and it does pretty well in handling noise. Everything was vibrant and clear for the most part, and we can’t really ask for more.
For a cameraphone of this caliber, you might say that it will eventually turn bad once you bring it to low-light. Again, it does pretty good really. It might not handle motion blur as well as other devices, but it can surely capture some good shots.
The same can be said with video, although sad to say, we only have low-resolution shooting.
Performance & Battery Life
The Nokia Asha 501 is amazingly fast, even with just a 1GHz prcoessor and 64MB RAM. The phone doesn’t lag on regular use, and even if you do add heavy load, it just slows down; it doesn’t drop frames or crash.
For a phone of this size, a 1,200mAh battery should be more than enough and we were actually right. Unfortunately, we can’t loop video playback on this device, so we’ll just have to report on the battery life with usage of the week.
I never turned off Glance Screen, which means the display of the phone is always on, displaying the time and other details. Note that the display isn’t AMOLED, which means even the blacked out colors are lighting up through extremely dark gray pixels.
Only 1 SIM card was running during the test period of 2 days it did pretty well. I brought the phone to school for a day (standby & music playback), I did around more than 2 hours of phone calls, I sent 50 texts and I still have enough juice on the third day. To cut it short, the battery management on this thing is phenomenal.
Of course, since there’s little to no internet connectivity involved, the usage behavior is totally different compared to your standard smartphone.
Potential – that’s the word I’m stuck with before letting go of the Nokia Asha 501. It could have been the perfect feature phone for everyone if it weren’t for the low-res display and the lack of must-have apps.
The Nokia Asha 501 is both a king and a pawn.
The phone has a pretty good camera, great speakers, a beautiful design, and most of all, a very interesting OS. Asha’s Fastlane UI is one of the best I’ve seen, and while it still has a lot of things missing, we should not forget that it’s only version 1.0. There will be a lot of improvements along the way if only Nokia puts more focus in it.
For now, if you’re looking for an affordable feature phone that can text, make calls, take photos, play music, & last for days, here is the Nokia Asha 501; you may just have to live with slow Facebook, Email & Twitter syncing and other minor complaints.
Nokia Asha 501 specifications:
Dual-SIM, Dual standby
3-inch 256K-color QVGA TFT capacitive touchscreen, @ 240×320 pixels, 133ppi
128MB internal storage, 64MB of RAM
Expandable up to 32GB via microSD
3.15 MP fixed-focus camera
QVGA (240 x 320) video recording at 15fps
WiFi 802.11 b/g
Bluetooth 3.0 with EDR
FM radio tuner
Li-Ion 1,200mAh battery
Asha platform 1.0
Dimensions: 99.2 x 58 x 12.1 mm
Weight: 98.2 g
What we liked about it:
- Asha’s Fastlane UI works great
- Amazing camera
- Loud and clear speakers
- Solid, beautiful and compact build
- Fast, even with 64MB RAM
- Long-lasting battery
What we didn’t like about it:
- OS needs a few updates to improve
- Lack of good first-party apps
- Low-res screen
- Not for watching or taking high-res video