The Nokia Asha 303 Reviewed!
As we have already done our First Impressions on the Nokia Asha 303, head over to the link if you missed. It’s now time for a full review of the device.
Let’s start with the design.
Talking about the device let’s start with the dimensions, 116.5×55.7×13.9 mm and weighs only 99gms. Asha 303 is basically an upgraded version of the good ol’ Nokia C3. Even though the device has a hardware QWERTY it doesn’t look bulky nor feels heavy in the hands.
The front we have the ambient light sensor, a 2.6-inch Capacitive QVGA resolution touch screen. The 303 is the first from the S40 line to have a Capacitive touch screen. Talking about the screen, it’s quite good in-doors and also performs well under direct sunlight, at least for me, I didn’t have any issues reading text or whatsoever as the fonts are large enough. We’ll talk about it later in the software part. Horizontal viewing angles are not that great, vertical angle seems to be good enough. The screen is pretty good and responsive, no delays in response, well some of it goes to the 1GHz processor which is tucked in under the hood. Haptic feedback is also present, which vibrates on touch. This feature by default is turned ON, so everytime you tap on the screen the phone vibrates, it can be turned OFF should you wish (Settings-> Device -> Touch Settings)
Below the display we have 4 utility keys in a single row. Call and End (also doubles up as Power button) keys on the sides and Messaging and Music keys laid on a single slab. Messaging key is a shortcut to Create a new message and view conversations, where as the Music key starts the FM Radio/Music Player which ever used last.
There is also a notification light between the Messaging and Music key, which illuminates in case of a missed call or a new message.
We’ll discuss the QWERTY keyboard later, On the left we only have the lanyard, right side consists of a volume rocker, and an unlock button. Yes, since the 303 is a touch and type device there’s an unlock button to turn the screen ON/OFF. Both buttons are of the same type and have decent feedback.
On the top we have a 2mm charging pin, Micro USB slot and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The phone can also be charged with the MicroUSB cable so you don’t have to carry the 2mm charger everywhere. Also there is USB On-The-Go support so you can plug in your thumb drive and access files from it on the go.
The microphone is integrated into the keypad so there’s nothing at the bottom.
Moving towards the back, the back panel has a brush metal finish which gives a premium look to the device. The back of the device is curved; which actually results in very natural posture for the palm while holding the phone.
On the top there’s a 3.2MP Camera, then the battery panel with the NOKIA branding embossed and the speaker grille below.
The speaker grille is huge the speaker however is situated only in the center. Its small, but that doesn’t mean that its low on volume, let me tell you the Asha 303′s speakers are quite loud, well not as loud as the X2-03 which is a music phone, but they are fairly loud and there are less chances of you missing a call.
Removing the back panel will disclose Nokia BP-3L 1300mAh battery, below that we have the SIM card and micro SD card slots. Since the Micro SD card is below the battery, you won’t be able to hot-swap the micro SD cards.
The difference between the screen glass and the QWERTY keypad almost gives a feeling of an open slider phone for the glass screen edges on top of the QWERTY keypad.
The Asha 303 has a four row hardware QWERTY keypad with decent sized keys. All keys lie on a single pad and are right next to each other. Personally I didn’t have any issues typing on them. I always say nothing can beat the typing experience on a hardware QWERTY. It’s true at least in my case. The keypad is solid to type and feedback is also pretty good. Keypad lighting is also decent. The light is in the center of the keyboard and spreads across very well. The keypad only lights up when there is not enough light thanks to the Ambient light sensor on the top.
Asha 303 also comes with word prediction and auto correct support so even if you misspell a word it will be corrected with the help auto correction.
Nokia Asha 303 comes with a touch enabled version of the popular Series 40 OS. The touch version comes with new icons similar to the ones found in Symbian Anna and also features some other usability improvements.
Talking about the homescreen we have the standard home screen with Active Standby. The active standby divides the screen into 4 parts, i.e. it lets you display 4 different widgets on the homescreen. Users can choose which 4 widgets to display from Clock, Calendar, Chat, Social, Mail, Notifications, Radio/Media, WLAN, Favourites (Contacts) and Shortcut bar basically 4 app shortcuts.The personalize option lets you personalize the Active Standby screen and add/remove widgets of your choice.
There is also a swiping feature on the Homescreen. Homescreen swipe can be configured to open a specific app when swipe left/right. By default its‘New Message’ on the left and ‘Applications/Games’ folder to the right. This can be customized as I said, by long pressing the home screen, which will give you a pop-up menu to personalize and swipe gestures.
Virtual softkeys are there on the homescreen on the Asha 303. On the homescreen, the menu key is at the bottom-center, left and right soft keys are user configurable. Glad that the Go To shortcut is still there so I can have 9 most used applications/shortcuts in one place and access them quickly.
The menu is simple enough, view can be changed between grid and list view. Lockscreen is also very basic, shows date and time, missed calls/unread messages and the unlock button. Yes there is a two stage unlock, first press the Hardware lock button on the side and then tap on the Unlock button on the screen to unlock the device.
With the device running on Series 40 software there are decent amount of java applications and games which can be downloaded free/paid from the Nokia Store on the device itself. The OS lacks multitasking and other features which any smartphone in the market offers. But Series 40 offers decent amount of features one needs on a phone.
Asha 303 has the standard messaging app present in most Series 40 devices. Since this is QWERTY phone texting input is pretty quick. Common options such as SMS, MMS, Audio Message and Flash Message are present in the messaging app. By default conversations view is enabled, you also get the old inbox view from the options menu.
Mail app is similar to the one’s found on the C3 and X2-01. Mail offers push mail, works on POP and IMAP4 protocols, supports leading service providers as Gmail, Yahoo, Ovi etc. As the app supports push mail protocols, emails arrive quickly.
In addition to that we now also have Mail for Exchange support for the Asha 303, it utilises the Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync protocol. So that you can have all you corporate Emails, Calendar and Contacts synced between Microsoft Exchange servers and the Asha 303. The app is currently in beta stage and can be downloaded from Nokia Betalabs.
Another part of messaging is Chat. Asha 303 supports various chat services like Gmail, Yahoo, Windows Live, Facebook, Myspace IM etc. The app runs in the background and notifies you in case you receive an IM. The Chat app offers multiple chats at a time with a simple tabbed UI. During my tests, I was able to quickly switch between chats and didn’t face any issues.
Music on the Asha 303 is pretty good. No Changes here too except touch support. It plays all popular music formats such as MP3, AAC, AAC+, WMA etc. You can stream music to stereo Bluetooth headset via A2DP. Audio quality on the supplied headset is also decent, even the loudspeaker playback was quite clear the voice didn’t seem distorted. With the presence of a 3.5mm headphone jack it is easier for us to connect our favourite pair of headphones. Basic equalizer presets are present on the device as well as two empty profiles for the user to set as per his/her preferences.
Unfortunately everytime you enter the music app and press the red button to exit the music player will stop, for this the user has to go to options and select ‘Play in Background’. This is kind of annoying as everytime I entered the music player to change from one album to another I’d have to go through two extra steps that means to two taps to return to the homescreen, in a real world scenario it can be deeply irritating. Of course for changing to previous or next track there is a dedicated music button which works pretty well.
In addition to this Asha 303 also comes with Nokia Music Unlimited for 3 months from the date of activation. Nokia Music lets you download DRM Free tracks for no charge for that period. Apparently it didn’t run on my WiFi connection and failed to update on my data connection. But our friend Nitish Kumar was able to log-in and download songs on this trial unit.
FM Radio comes with RDS support and is also pretty decent. With RDS support you can search for available channels in your region.
Internet Radio is also a part of the package, so you can stream songs from various Radio Stations
Video player comes with Xvid/Dvix support but the file has to be around 700MB. As for the interface it plays videos in portrait, to shift to landscape just need to press the * button from the keypad. This is a good thing, trust me.
Asha 303 comes with Nokia Browser pre-installed. Nokia Browser has decent UI but lacks tabbed browsing. Just like Opera Mini, Nokia Browser also comes with compression technology which compresses the web page before loading it on the device. Image quality can also be set from Best, Good, Average, and also there’s an option to disable images for saving data costs. Auto suggestion is also present when entering the URL as it saves a few clicks by guessing the complete URL or search the web for it.
At the bottom we have shortcuts for Browser, History, Downloads and Apps. The last one is to exit from the browser.
Scrolling thru long pages is also good enough with the help of kinetic scrolling. Nokia browser has two zoom levels. The only feature I miss here is tabbed browsing, but for that we already have Opera Mini which works nicely on the 303.
Nokia Social on the 303 is another touch friendly port of the existing Social app available on other Series 40 devices. Social offers basic Twitter and Facebook features.
Twitter lets you view your timeline, mentions and messages. Search for users and allows posting pictures to twitpic. One handy feature is that when you upload a large photo it asks you whether to compress it and then upload. Picture compression offers speedy upload and saves data costs at the same time.
Twitter via Social still lacks the Retweet feature which irritates me a lot. It’s a necessary feature and I can’t believe it’s still missing.
Facebook section offers basic functionality like viewing timeline, messages, events, notifications, friend requests and of course posting of status updates. Photo upload is also present, just as in Twitter, it will ask you whether to compress the picture before posting or not.
There are no notifications for mentions/messages on Twitter and Facebook respectively but you can add the Social widget on the homescreen and pick the default account. When you set the default account it will open first whenever you open the Social app and in order to navigate to another account you will need to press the back button to exit the current account and will be taken to the accounts screen where you can select the account you need to check.
Yes! Asha 303 comes with the popular Nokia Maps application. This app was released back in Nov’11 for Series 40 devices and comes pre-installed on the Asha 303. Maps app functions the same way as it does on Symbian devices and includes features such as Offline maps, turn-by-turn navigation. Now you’ll ask that the 303 dioesn’t have GPS so how will this app work? Nokia Maps for S40 is specifically designed to use network based positioning. Maps data of your country/region is pre-loaded on the device, you can update or install other maps data by using Nokia Suite desktop application.
In addition to the above the Asha 303 comes with some cool pre-installed apps and games such as Angry Birds, Asphalt 4, Bejeweled, BookMyShow, eBay app, FIFA 12, NewsHunt, Shazam, Nokia Life Tools etc.
Asha 303 comes with a 3.2MP full focus camera with a max resolution of 2048 x 1536. The camera app is touch friendly. The camera shutter is a virtual button which is in the center, the back key on the right is basically to exit the app and there is an options key on the left. Options key gives you various settings like shift to video recording mode, select frames, effects (Grayscale, Negative, Sepia, etc.), self-timer, adjust white balance, exposure etc. All of these options can be re-arranged with the organize option.
Along with that there are two small bars on the left and right. Right one is for ‘Zoom-In’ and ‘Zoom-out’. Left one offers you quick shift to video recording, photos and self-timer.
Coming to the image quality the Asha 303 doesn’t have a LED flash so low light pictures are next to impossible. Daylight photos are pretty decent. Color representation is also good enough in sufficient lighting conditions. Indoor pictures appear to be noisy due lack of flash.
Here’s my attempt for a night shot, it’s not that great but it is good enough for a 3.2MP camera
Some Camera Samples (click to expand)
Asha 303 does video recording in VGA quality at 15fps with a resolution of 640×480 in high quality. There is 320×240 for medium and 176×144 for low (MMS) quality. Video quality is decent;there is nice colour representation and decent amount of details. Audio recording is also great on the device; it’s a Nokia afterall. Nokia’s micis actually quite decent and quality of the sound captured is good.
Video recording is not a plain jane affair, one has the freedom to play around with quite a few settings – white balance, mute microphone, grid, exposure, self timer, and also other settings like video quality, video length, camera sounds etc.
Here’s a sample video shot with the Nokia Asha 303:
You can access the camera app, view your photos and videos from the Photos App present in the Menu. In addition to that there’s also the Timeline feature, which displays photos/videos date wise.
Asha 303 comes with a 1300mAh BP-3L battery it easily lasts 3days with continuous mails, chat (Whatsapp) running in the background, little bit of music playback, some social networking and web browsing. Call quality and signal reception are as very good even on the loudspeaker. I did have any call drops or signal issues whatsoever. Not to forget Call Recording, Asha 303 comes with call recording built-in just press the Options button -> More and select Record from the call screen and you will see the Voice Recorder app in action.
Asha 303 comes with Bluetooth, WLAN, MicroUSB (MTP Transfer), USB OTG, as connectivity options. Connecting to a WiFi network is easy; all you need to do is press the space bar for about 3 seconds, and presto! You’ll have a list of networks you want to connect to.
Overall Nokia Asha 303 is a good buy considering the price. It offers great quality (for the price) sound, in ear as well as via loudspeaker. The Asha 303 offers decent camera and video recording quality. Social Networking, Mail and Chat work pretty well on this device. The inclusion of 3G allows users to experience 3G speeds without breaking their bank accounts and then WiFi connectivity is also present to even further save on recurring costs. The Asha 303 is a good balanced phone. It looks a bit different, but affords great features to users. The ability to let users play Angry Birds is an added advantage. It might seem trifle, but it represents a big aspirational quality being fulfilled. A well rounded product from Nokia that out and out ‘Value for Money’.