Nokia unveils trio of new budget Asha phones (hands-on)

 
October 22, 2013 1:00 AM PDT / Updated: October 22, 2013 6:17 AM PDT

Compact, colorful, and encased in a glass-like construction, the Asha 500, 502, and 503 are the three newest additions to Nokia's line of inexpensive smartphones. Aimed at developing global markets, the phones will cost $69, $89, and $99, respectively.

Nokia expects to launch both the 502 and 503 starting in the fourth quarter of this year, with the 500 following close behind in the first quarter of 2014. Unfortunately for US customers who are itching to get one of these Ashas for themselves, the handsets won't be making their way to our shores any time soon. Luckily for me, I was able to sit down with these devices and spend some brief hands-on time with them.

Design
In addition to black and white, all three phones come in bold, saturated colors, including yellow, red, green, and cyan.

They are starkly rectangular in shape, with sharp edges and corners. Interestingly, the devices feature unique, clear plastic casings around their colored shells, making them appear as if frozen in ice. Though this adds to the Ashas overall heftiness, these frames appear to reinforce the handsets' durability, and make the phones feel extra sturdy.

Since the Ashas are incredibly portable, albeit a bit thick, I could easily navigate any one of them with a single hand. Though all are roughly the same size, the 503 is the biggest of the trio by just a few millimeters, and it measures only 4.04 inches tall, 2.39 inches wide, and 0.5 inch thick.

The 500 has a QVGA 2.8-inch capacitive display, while the 502 and 503 sport a slightly bigger 3-inch touch screen. In general, the devices aesthetics' are kept to a minimum. The volume rocker and power button match the exact shade of the rest of the phone, and a single home button below the display is the only key feature that adorns the front.

Features and core components
As the lowest-tiered Asha of the trio, the 500 is 2G-enabled, has a 2-megapixel camera (with no flash), and features a 1,200mAh battery that has a reported talk time of 14 hours. Meanwhile, the 502 is also a 2G device and has a less powerful, 1,010mAh battery. But, it has a 5-megapixel camera with LED flash, dual-SIM capabilities, and can hold up to 32GB of additional storage.

The 503 features a combination of specs pulled from the previous two Ashas. For example, it has a 1,200mAh battery, 32GB of additional storage, and an LED flash-equipped 5-megapixel shooter. However, it comes in both single- and dual-SIM models, and most notably, it connects to 3G networks -- the first Asha device to ever do so.

All of these GSM handsets run on Nokia's Asha 1.0 operating system and feature the Nokia Xpress Internet browser. The browser loads simplified, bare-bones mobile versions of Web sites, but does not support Flash. Bluetooth 3.0 and 10 free games from Nokia's app store are included as well.

Outlook
True, the Asha family doesn't have all the bells and whistles of top-tiered smartphones, but that's because they were designed with emerging, developing markets in mind. And despite its low specs, these devices still retain solid build quality.

More importantly, they feature the necessary and fundamental features that enable people to stay connected, including data connectivity and texting. Starting at just $69, the Asha 500, 502, and 503 will surely continue Nokia's goal of putting a phone in the hands of nearly every individual, no matter where they're from.

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Where to Buy

Nokia Asha 500

Part Number: 500

MSRP: $69.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

About The Author

Lynn La is CNET's associate editor for cell phone and smartphone news and reviews. Prior to coming to CNET, she wrote for the Sacramento Bee and was a staff editor at Macworld. In addition to covering technology, she has reported on health, science, and politics.