Nokia 3310 Review: Selling Nostalgia For Fun And Profit
The biggest surprise that came out of this year’s Mobile World Congress event was the love for the Nokia 3310. It might have been an easy story for journalists to pitch to editors, but the return of the feature phone with the Finnish name on it has captured imaginations around the world. I’ve spent some time with the handset ahead of it’s public release next week to find out if the love is justified.
Tap-tap… ’N’ Tap-tap-tap… ’o’t Tap-tap… ’k’ Tap-tap-tap… ’i’ Tap… ’a’.
If you want to sum up the new Nokia 3310 then inputting text is the best way to do so. I lived with Nokias for a long time, and until the touchscreen revolution kicked off the primary input method was through the number pad. That means either the ‘up to four taps’ on key 7 to cycle through the letters p/q/r/s, or to use Nokia’s T9 prediction engine that could work out the work you were trying to type just by pressing the key that had the letter you wanted (so one tap on the 7 could easily be seen as an ’s’ if it fitted the rest of the word pattern).
The return of the Nokia 3310 as a product name leans heavily on nostalgia, and while many will remember the ridiculously long battery life, the first camera to always be in their pocket, a portable music player before the iPod, and the ability to connect a call even with minimal coverage, the real throwback is the input mechanism.
I was surprised just how much muscle memory I still had for text entry on a number pad and I felt I was back up to speed after a few minutes, but coming for a world of touch screens, voice dictation and swype-style letter tracing the Nokia 3310 solution is clunky. Practical, but clunky.
In terms of design the new Nokia 3310 isn’t an exact copy of the original 3310. There are more curves in the new design, the screen is much larger, and you have a four-way cursor with a central select button (as opposed to the up/down/select that the classic handset has). All the buttons are on the front fascia, there’s no extra volume , power, or camera keys in sight. It’s an updated design, but it clearly harks back to the original with just a few flourishes to take account of modern tech.
There’s no getting away from the fact that this is not a modern smartphone. Running ‘Series 30’ from Nokia, this is the evolution of the feature phone, but it’s still a feature phone. It does come with a web browser – but web technology has moved on. The Opera Browser is reliant on cursor navigation to scroll and choose links, and while it will strip out excess code and crunch the page size down, modern web design is not easily translated to such a small text-based screen.
You’re also limited to 2.5G data connectivity. Two Point Five Gee, that’s not a typo. There’s no super-fast 4G, no fast 3G, not even Wi-fi to fall back on. Welcome back to the start of the 21st century. You’re not going to get a full-blown web experience, but with social networks such as Facebook offering low latency minimal data versions, you can just about keep up to date with your friends activities.
The other big point that many people raised at the launch was the handset came with Snake, one of the first games to run on a mobile phone. I’ll be honest, this is where I feel cheated. There is a game called Snake on here, but it’s nothing like the 3310 original. Developer Gameloft makes sure you know it’s behind this title with a bold splash screen, a wraparound gameplay area, multiple color themes… it’s called Snake, it’s on a Nokia 3310, but it’s nowhere near being the classic game.
If the return of T9 for text input is the prefect representation of nostalgia that reminds you exactly of times gone by, Snake is a reminder that you can never capture history if you try to improve it. There is always going to be a tendency to over-egg the pudding with new things, to try to make it better, to improve it because you can.
In a sense this Nokia 3310 is a bit like the Star Wars Special Edition. It has everything you remember of Star Wars, and if you don’t know any better you’d say you were watching the classic. But if you spent any time with the original you’d miss the matt lines, the bad modelling, Han shooting first, and the rough edges that helped you fall in love with it.
Lots of people love Lucasfilm’s Special Editions (especially those looking at the revenue it continues to generate) and if you’re looking for a copy of the film that is compatible with modern technology, you need the updated version. But I remember a time when there was no ‘Episode IV’ in the credits, just as I remember when the original Nokia 3310 ruled the world.
No matter the mix of nostalgia (genuine or re-imagined) there is a place for this phone. As HMD Global undertakes the frankly mammoth task of launching its own line of smartphones with the help of the Nokia brand, it can tap into some of the most successful remaining Nokia markets in the BRIC territories. Consumers there are still transitioning from featurephones to smartphones, and the Nokia 3310 is a vital step in that process.
It’s the ‘new’ Nokia that people are looking for with a strong marketing message to help it sell. It’s part of a product line that is generating revenue for HMD right now. And it gives
the Finnish start-up a financial cushion that will give it time to understand the market as it works to release the higher-specced Android handsets and become an established smartphone player.
Finding success in western markets is a difficult task for the Nokia 3310. It’s here that the nostalgia card will be heavily played. For those who want ‘just a phone’ there’s a good argument for a phone like the Nokia 3310. If you’re going out to a multi-day outdoor music festival, on a camping trip, a long drive, and you need to have something utterly reliable that is focused on making phone calls, then you need a different mix of software and hardware to devices like the Android-powered Nokia 3.
When you absolutely, definitely, need a phone that can deliver a month of standby and 22 hours of talk time on a single charge; when you need a phone that has the robustness to hammer in nails; when you want to step away from the tyranny of software updates, notifications, and battery life measured in hours; that’s when you realise the Nokia 3310 is a good idea.
It’s not suitable for every occasion (no phone is) but when the time is right, it’s waiting for your call.