Nokia's Asha 501 is utterly awesome

There’s no denying it, if sheer cuteness was all that mattered when it came to phones, Nokia’s Asha 501 would have been a runaway winner. For if the likes of the iPhone 5 and the HTC One inspire awe, the compact, colourful Asha 501 gets a similar sounding reaction, minus the ‘e’ -- we have lost count of the number of people who have gone ‘awww’ on seeing it. And we don’t blame them. 

At a time when phones across price segments seem to be designed for people with giant-sized palms (Sony’s latest handset is over half a foot long), the Asha 501 is delightfully compact. It certainly is not slim at 12.1 mm, but at less than ten centimetres in length and a bit under 2.5 centimetres in width, it will fit every palm easily.

Adding to the ‘awww’ factor are the six bright colours in which it is available. Take it from us, the Asha 501 will turn heads, simply because it looks so utterly different from the large screen behemoths in limited colours out there. Yes, it is made of plastic but you would be hard-pressed to see a more stylishly designed phone in its price segment.

And its price has something to be kept in mind while drawing any conclusions about it. At Rs 5,199 officially, the Asha 501 comes solidly in the budget-phone category and has been designed to take on the low-end Androids and feature phones. And while it certainly cannot be called a smartphone in the Android, iOS or Windows Phone mode, the Asha 501 comes packed with a number of features that one would expect in smartphones.

There is support for push e-mail, Facebook and Twitter, a very decent pre-installed browser that does not consume too much in terms of Internet data, and the option to download more apps from Nokia’s own app store, which would sound rather routine by budget Android standards. What makes the Asha 501 different are two factors -- the performance and interface.

Unlike budget Android devices that tend to start stuttering after a while, the Asha 501 generally works very smoothly indeed, be it browsing the Web, accessing social networks or playing any of the stacks of games that come preinstalled on it. And then there is the interface with features like double tap to wake up the phone and swipe to get the latest from your mail and social networks. There is just one hardware key — a back button — on the front of this all-touch device.

In terms of general operation too, the Asha 501 works more smoothly than most low-cost Android phones and just about every feature phone we have used. Some might snort derisively at its relatively small 3.0-inch display, whose 320 x 240 resolution seems to hark from another era, but the stark fact is that it is more than adequate when it comes to browsing the Web and checking social networks.

Similar derision might be directed at the 3.2-megapixel fixed focus camera, but once again, as long as one does not expect the world, it delivers decent results. Even typing is surprisingly easy, thanks to a very good autocorrect system. Round that off with connectivity options that include dual SIM support, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, excellent call quality, expandable storage and a battery that lasts close to three days (yes!) on a single charge, and the Asha 501 comes across as a very good device for any person looking for a relatively smart phone on a tight budget.

Some may bemoan the absence of 3G, the rather basic browsing and the fact that the social network apps and games are not as graphic-rich as on Android, but we would simply point to the price and the incredibly good design of the Asha 501. It is not a spec monster, but delivers a dollop for its price. And looks cute as hell in the bargain. Not a bad combination that. And much better than anything Android can offer at this price point.

Display: 3.0-inch 320 x 240 display display
Storage: Expandable memory upto 32GB 
Connectivity: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi
Camera: 3.2-megapixel camera
OS: Nokia Asha Software Platform 1.0
Price: Rs 5,199

>> Good call quality
>> Long battery life 
>> 3G is absent
>> Apps are not graph-rich as on Android 

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