Feature phones still exist, but the definition is changing

Nokia Asha 303When you’re a phone geek it’s easy to get tied up with thoughts of 4-inch-plus touchscreens, big megapixel cameras and multi-core processsors; effectively forgetting the low-end of the market entirely.

The truth is though, feature phones are still out there and they’re selling at an astonishing rate. This morning, Nokia announced the sale of its 1.5 billionth Series 40 feature phone, and that it’s still selling 12 similar devices per second.

The monumental sale went to a young lady in Brazil who purchased the Nokia Asha 303, a device that was one of several new feature phones unveiled during Nokia World last year.

Hold on though, is the Asha 303 really a feature phone? Let’s take a look at the spec sheet to see.

  • A capacitive touchscreen that measures 2.6-inches and has a 320 x 240 pixel resolution.
  • A 1Ghz single-core processor.
  • 3G connectivity, plus Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1.
  • Social networking apps pre-installed.
  • Access to the Nokia Store and the ability to download apps, including games such as Angry Birds.
  • Nokia’s own web browser, which uses a similar compression technique to Opera Mini.

All this plus a QWERTY keyboard, a 3.2-megapixel camera, music and video playback, a microSD card slot and a quoted 35-days of standby. Is that spec really all that different to the BlackBerry Curve 9350/9360, a device almost everyone would call a smartphone?

No, like Samsung’s Bada platform, Nokia’s Series 40 devices have blurred the lines between feature and smart too much, and have become neither one nor the other.

To find true feature phones, one has to look at Nokia’s 100 and 101 or the older C1 and X1 models, all equipped with 128 x 160 pixel screens, no cameras, no Wi-Fi and definitely no Angry Birds. Samsung’s E class phones all offer something similar, and are again, true feature phones.

This type of device is very important to both these manufacturers as they continue to fight it out for overall market supremacy, but Sony Ericsson, a company with no chance of matching the two giants, has begun phasing out its feature phone range to solely concentrate on smartphones. Meaning they’ll be competing with the likes of HTC and Apple, so good luck there too.

From all this emerges a need for a new category of phones, as there’s now something in-between feature phones and smartphones, a “smartphone lite” or “feature phone plus” if you like. The next question is, how much longer does the Asha and the Nokia 101 really have against the onslaught of the true smartphone?