Nokia Asha 501 Review

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A nice little phone that looks fresh both on the inside and outside. That’s what we took from our first encounter with the Nokia Asha 501 and we do hope we managed to get that point across. You know, with phones that go a dime a dozen, you always risk making it sound like a condescending pat on the head.

The Asha 501 is better than that. Yes, it’s an entry-level package. A cheap, dual-SIM phone that fits the Asha description to a T. Yet, it’s a fresh take on the touchscreen dumbphone concept – in terms of both industrial design and software.

It seems Nokia is no longer looking at the Asha lineup as a back-office operation or a way to hedge its bet on Windows Phone with minimum investment. After years of living on the Symbian leftovers, the Ashas are finally getting the respect and treatment they deserve. They have been consistent earners in developing markets but the Asha 501 is, for the first time, likely to make the lineup relevant on a larger scale.

Of course, bargain-hunters and first-time buyers continue to be the main target, but a winning combination at last of a fresh, contemporary design and neat and clever interface will certainly raise the Asha 501’s prospects.

Nostalgic Nokia N9 users buying it for their kid, or people after a sensible – and perfectly capable – backup phone. Why not the kind of users too who value looks over features, or any other group of non-geeks. Though it might help if they’re just geeky enough to get the joke in “My other phone is a Lumia 1020”.Nokia Asha 501

Key features

  • Dual-band GSM, GPRS, EDGE
  • Optional dual-SIM support, dual stand-by, hot swappable secondary microSIM
  • Nokia Asha software platform 1.0
  • 3″ QVGA capacitive touchscreen, ~133 pixel density
  • Proximity sensor
  • Accelerometer, display auto-rotation
  • 64MB RAM, 128MB ROM, 40MB internal storage
  • Data-efficient Nokia Xpress browser
  • Nokia Store and 40 EA games for free
  • 3.15 MP camera, QVGA@15fps video recording
  • microSD card support (up to 32 GB) and 4 GB microSD card in the box
  • Wi-Fi b/g connectivity
  • FM radio with RDS
  • Bluetooth v3.0
  • Standard microUSB port, charging
  • 1200 mAh Li-Ion battery
  • Excellent loudspeaker performance
  • Solid codec support

Main disadvantages

  • No 3G
  • Low-resolution screen
  • Fixed-focus camera
  • No smart dialing

The thing about Ashas is that they’d been trying too hard to offer a near-smartphone experience on the cheap. They always got near but not quite there, and the build and finish were the usual casualty of a tight budget.

With the Asha 501, the Finns are on the right track to fixing both issues. There’s nothing revolutionary in the level of equipment: there’s optional dual-SIM support and Wi-Fi connectivity, the updated Nokia Xpress browser, a lowly 3MP camera and an FM radio.

A capacitive screen is making the right difference (not a first for the series anyway) and there’s even a proximity sensor – finally. A fact that speaks to the Ashas’ rising standing in the pecking order.

A fixed-focus camera and a low-res screen are things most users should be able to live with, considering the phone’s price. No fast network data is a thing to consider but if you can’t have both 3G and Wi-Fi, the latter is the more sensible choice, particularly in a cheap package like the Asha 501.

But it’s not all about the features. More importantly, it’s a good-looking, compact handset with a battery that lasts.

There’s only room for the basics in the Asha 501’s retail package. An old-gen Nokia charger is supplied, as well as a single piece pink headset (for the Black Asha 501 flavor). You’ll also find a 4GB microSD card already inserted in the memory slot. There is no USB cable inside though. We should note however that the Asha 501 can charge off USB with standard microUSB cables and chargers.The Nokia Asha 501 is a pleasingly compact device at 99.2 x 58 x 12.1mm, and one that weighs just under 100 g. It’s an absolute pleasure to handle – it fits snugly in the palm and everything on the screen is within comfortable reach – and that capacitive screen is quite responsive too.

The design and build of the Nokia Asha 501 has got little to do with the older Asha generations. And we mean that in all the good ways possible. The phone manages to make an impression with its colorful outer shell. The back cover that folds around the inner body comes in a candy-box variety of colors.

Up front, the 3″ screen has an ample bezel, but that’s nothing out of the ordinary in the price bracket. The bigger problem is that the black front is a bit at odds with the bright-colored rear. On a positive note, the capacitive touchscreen is quite responsive and comes with a scratch-resistant coating.

The hardware Back button is the only control below the screen, the earpiece symmetrically placed across. The microphone is in the bottom right corner.

There’s no brightness sensor but Nokia has included a proximity sensor, which turns the screen off during a call. The back button is pleasingly firm and springy, slightly raised above the surrounding glass surface and therefore easy to locate by touch.

The Asha 501 essentially breaks down to two parts, which is obviously the second most solid construction after unibody. The colorful shell folds around the inner body, resulting in a slim colorful frame around the screen as an accent. At the back we find the 3.15MP camera lens along with a Nokia logo and a nub at the bottom to push the phone out of the case.

The plastic used is nice to the touch, with a soft matte finish that completely rules out visible fingerprints.

Overall, we quite like the Asha 501’s design. The phone is extra pleasant to hold and work with. What we’re most impressed with is how such a simple design makes a huge difference compared to the older Asha generation. The Lumia influence is easily spotted – a great way to update an old, stale look while providing consistency and continuity in the Nokia portfolio – from feature phones to smartphones.

The eye-popping colors also add to the fresh feel of the device.

Overall, the Nokia Asha 501 is a perfect mix of affordable and portable, but also good-looking and up-to-date.