The Nokia Asha 201 sits firmly at the budget end of the handset market -- available for a measly £45 on pay-as-you-go with Vodafone.
At this rock bottom price, the competition includes lots of other Nokia handsets such as the, and , alongside other brands' budget blowers, including the and the slightly more pricey .
Should I buy the Nokia Asha 201?
The Asha 201 runs Nokia's very-long-in-the-tooth Series 40 operating system, so it's 'smart phone lite' at best. At least our Finnish friends have crammed in some smart phone-style features, with Facebook and messaging notifications pumped directly to its dinky home screen.
The menu system is fiddly, but at this price, some software awkwardness is a given. Once you get used to the menu system's quirks, it's not unbearable to use, although it's frequently frustrating. For £45, you can't really complain though.
Sadly, there's no 3G or Wi-Fi so web pages are often sluggish to load. But if you want a very cheap phone for making calls, Facebooking, messaging and listening to music, the 201 does offer a lot of value for your cash. There's even an FM radio app on board and a microSD card slot to expand the storage up to 32GB.
Screen, buttons and navigation
The 201's home screen packs a lot into a small space -- the screen is just 2.4 inches. It can be customised to display social updates from your Facebook buddies and other info such as calendar appointments or favourite contacts, email, your chat communities, shortcuts to the music hub or the radio app.
The screen is not a touchscreen so all navigation is done via the multi-directional Navi key and twin selection keys. There are also two shortcut buttons that can be customised to fire up email or the web browser, plus a call key and an end/power button.
If you select the 'Social' option, the home screen will include updates from accounts you have linked to the device -- such as Facebook message notifications or, if you keep clicking the Navi key, recent status updates from your mates. What you can see at any one time is very limited by the lack of space, but the Asha's an undeniably affordable way to keep up with your social circle.
OS and performance
Nokia's Series 40 operating system is as old as the hills. Navigating its confirmation-based menu system feels like stepping back to a gentler mobile era -- when people actually had time to click 'ok' and wait for a big, reassuring green tick. It involves a lot of going back and forth, which can get frustrating. Typing a URL in the browser takes you to a separate typing screen, for instance.
The interface is typically plodding, with slow menu selection bars making it feel like you're operating underwater. But the lag isn't terrible, once you've gotten used to the sedate pace of Series 40 life.
The lack of 3G or Wi-Fi is more of a bugbear -- making it slow to access websites and other online data. Web pages don't render very well on the 201's Nokia browser and diminutive low-resolution screen. Don't expect to surf like a pro -- it's more like paddling in the cyber shallows. Drilling down into web apps such as Facebook after they have loaded can take a time toll.
Nokia's Ovi Store is especially sluggish to boot up and tedious to navigate. But most apps and functions open promptly, with minimal loading times.
The OS has been given a social skin on the home screen -- as previously mentioned -- which helps reduce the number of menus you have to dip into. There's also an icon-based secondary screen, where you can quickly access apps and features.
While the OS generally plods along without complaint, it soon becomes flaky when the device runs low on memory -- crashing and throwing up a string of error messages. You'll certainly want to expand the available memory to get the best experience from the 201.
Call quality was average, with voices on the other end of the line sounding muffled. If you're talking to someone in a noisy environment like a busy street, it can be difficult to make out what's being said.
Memory and storage
If you want to load your music collection onto the Asha, you'll definitely need to factor in the cost of a microSD card to expand the storage. Nokia's spec sheets says there's up to 10MB of free user memory. However, as previously mentioned, without any extra storage in the microSD slot, I soon ran into 'out of memory' errors and was being asked to delete media on the phone to free up space.
Even checking older messages via the Facebook app caused problems when the phone was in this memory-strapped state.
Design and build quality
For a budget handset, the design is impressive. It sports a stylish and not-too-cluttered facia and a pleasing, rounded back. The whole handset sits in your hand like a smooth pebble. Build quality feels very sturdy but its plastic surfaces are a dust magnet.