Nokia has announced a pair of new Asha phones, the Asha 308 and Asha 309, which as touchscreen devices join the previously released Asha 305, Asha 306 and Asha 311. While we, and everyone else, referred to them as “feature phones,” according to Nokia’s press release, the Asha phones have earned “full smartphone classification from global market research companies and analysts such as GfK and IDC.”
So, you may be thinking, the Asha’s run Symbian Belle? Nope, the 308 and 309 still use Series 40 as their operating system, except it’s now called “Nokia OS” according to the specification pages on Nokia’s website.
The press release continues to refer to the 308 and 309 as smartphones, but looking back at the release for the Asha 305, 306 and 311, they were “touch screen devices,” with a “smartphone-like” experience. What has changed about Series 40 between early June, July — when Nokia still referred to it as a feature phone OS — and now? Not much, as this is manipulative marketing at its best.
It has been a long-time coming too, as the new generation of Series 40 phones have been blurring the line between feature and smart devices for a while, and when Nokia sold its 1.5 billionth Series 40 handset it paved the way for the change by describing them as “smartphone lite.”
Asha 308 and 309 features
Here’s what you need to know about the new Asha phones. The Asha 308 is a dual-SIM variant of the Asha 309 and aside from this feature, they’re both identical, so we’ll concentrate on the 309. A 3-inch capacitive touchscreen is your window into the world of Nokia OS and it has a resolution of 400 x 240, while the little device weighs just 104 grams and measures 13.2mm thick.
There’s a 2-megapixel camera on the back, plus Nokia Maps, Wi-Fi, a microSD card slot and an FM radio are all to be found inside. The Nokia Xpress browser compresses webpages for speedier (and cheaper) browsing, there’s access to an app store and a Facebook and Twitter app come pre-installed. Electronic Arts also provide 40 free games to download. Both Asha phones connect only to a 2G network.
While the hardware specification doesn’t scream smartphone, the software is more convincing, and although it’s easy to sneer at Series 40, there’s no denying it looks polished and really quite flash in the video below. To us, “smartphone-like” is still the best description of the Asha range — particularly for those without 3G — but that’s not going to sell any phones for Nokia, at least not where it counts.
Feature phone sales are dropping in the USA, but the Asha range isn’t aimed at those with the means to purchase a Samsung Galaxy S3 or an iPhone 5, it’s for markets where those devices are either prohibitively expensive, or don’t offer the right feature set — dual-SIM for example. These emerging markets are prime Asha hunting ground, but for Nokia to do business, it must compete with endless cheap Android smartphones.
With the software looking its best and installed on full, capacitive touchscreen handsets with a cool, colorful style; the only thing left was to convince the public that they’re buying a fashionable smartphone and not a feature phone that’s one step away from the grave. A task which starts right now.
Nokia will release the Asha 308 and Asha 309 before the end of the year, and both will cost around $99.