Ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, banana phone! No, I’m not crazy. That song came to mind as soon as I managed to squeeze through a pack of photographers to spend some time with HMD Global’s banana pho — er, I mean feature phone. If you recall the popular Nokia 8110 that was released back in 1996 (the one Keanu Reeves used in The Matrix), well you’re in for a blast from the past because it’s back with an updated design, 4G connectivity, and far more smarts than any other feature phone.
There are 1.3 billion people in the world that use feature phones — dumb phones that don’t do much else than make calls and send texts — and in less than a year, HMD Global has proclaimed itself the No. 1 manufacturer for these types of phones. That’s largely because it’s licensing the Nokia brand name, which clearly still holds a lot of value to quite a number of people. The Nokia 3310 was the first feature phone HMD revived last year, and now the spotlight falls on the Nokia 8110. But this “dumb” phone isn’t a gimmick, because there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.
Plastic, banana-like body
The black Nokia 8110 4G is subtle and attractive, but there’s no denying the hypnotic lure of the banana yellow color; it’s a bright yellow that’s not afraid to stand out. Compared to last year’s 3310, the 8110 is a lot bigger, especially when you slide out the cover to reveal the keypad. It’s still compact compared to any modern smartphone, and the curved back easily makes the Nokia 8110 one of the most ergonomic phones, as it fits in the palm of your hand perfectly.
It’s made of plastic, and so it feels a little like a toy. The buttons are all clicky enough, though you may need to exert a little extra pressure on the power button on the top right. Sliding the cover down is fun, and we’re sure it will be even more exciting to hang up calls by sliding it back up again.
This dumb phone isn’t a gimmick, because there’s a lot more than meets the eye.
It took a few minutes to get used to the buttons — the end call button is the back button, and you can tap the top left, center, and right keys to navigate different menus and the app drawer. The software was responsive, and we didn’t notice any kind of slowdown. It’s powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 205 processor, which we honestly have never used before, but it feels capable enough for the low-power tasks commanded by the 8110.
The 2.4-inch screen isn’t too sharp, but it’s bright and handily did the job in our quick tests. Don’t expect much at all from the 2-megapixel camera on the back, but it’s there in case you need it. There’s also 4GB of internal storage to store some music and files.
The phone has a 1,500mAh battery, which HMD said offers a standby time of 25 days. That’s a big incentive for these feature phones as secondary devices to your smartphone — especially when traveling.
A.I. and modern apps on a feature phone
What’s unique about the Nokia 8110 4G is how, at launch, you’ll be able to download and use Google Maps, Google Search, and Google Assistant, as well as Facebook and Twitter. The phone doesn’t run Android — instead it runs an operating system called KaiOS — but HMD worked with these companies to bring these apps to the phone, and there’s even an app store where you’ll be able to download even more apps. KaiOS is aimed at being super light-weight, and can perform on phones with as little as 512MB of RAM, though a version for phones with 256MB is coming later this year.
This is the most interesting feature about the phone, but sadly none of the demo units at the press conference had these services installed or available. A representative said they will be available when the phone launches. We can’t wait to see how Google Assistant, an artificially intelligent assistant, works on a feature phone. Snake was installed, and the experience is the same as it was on the Nokia 3310.
You’ll also be able to sync your email, contacts, and calendar through Gmail and Outlook. Since it can use 4G networks, you can also turn the 8110 into a hot spot to provide data for other devices.
Price and availability
The Nokia 8110 4G will only cost 79 euros ($97 U.S.), and it will be available in April 2018. It’s unclear whether it will be available in the U.S., but we expect it to eventually arrive stateside sometime later this year.
We’ll have to wait and see how those smart features perform on this phone, but so far the Nokia 8110 4G may just be the ultimate backup phone to your smartphone.
Updated on February 26: Added information that phone runs KaiOS.