Nokia 105: Insanely cheap and seriously bare-bones (hands-on)

Nokia's ridiculously affordable -- and simple -- 105 is blessed with long battery life, just don't expect more than the absolute basics.

Jessica Dolcourt Senior Director, Commerce & Content Operations
Jessica Dolcourt is a passionate content strategist and veteran leader of CNET coverage. As Senior Director of Commerce & Content Operations, she leads a number of teams, including Commerce, How-To and Performance Optimization. Her CNET career began in 2006, testing desktop and mobile software for Download.com and CNET, including the first iPhone and Android apps and operating systems. She continued to review, report on and write a wide range of commentary and analysis on all things phones, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds. Jessica began leading CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).
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Jessica Dolcourt
4 min read

There isn't much you can demand from a cell phone that costs just $20 all-in, except, perhaps, that it turns on and off and connects your calls. In that sense, the Nokia 105 is just about the best dirt-cheap phone you can hope to buy.

The rock-bottom price can only paper over so much, though. You can't navigate the screen and select items using the same button, for instance, and it wouldn't have hurt Nokia to have added external volume controls, even for a dollar or two more.

Note: The Nokia 105 operates on 900/1800MHz GSM bands, which are incompatible with U.S. networks (GSM 850/1900), so I wasn't able to evaluate the handset's call quality.

Nokia 105: Close-up with a $20 cell phone (pictures)

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Design and build
Light and colorful as a child's toy, the 105 measures 4.2 inches tall by 1.8 inches wide by 0.56 inch deep (107 x 44.8 x 14.3mm) and weighs a feathery 2.5 ounces.

Thicker sides and a tall, narrow build make the 105 easy to grip and carry around, and rounded edges keep it from digging into hands. It feels fine on the ear, and its compact construction lets it easily slip into pockets. It isn't so small it gets lost in a bag, and it's light enough not to weigh you down.

The 105 was never intended to be a solid, hearty device -- and it shows. After popping off the back cover a few times, I noticed that a gap where the back panel joins the rest of the phone.

Nokia's cost-savings agenda is also evident in the 105's display, which only measures 1.4 inches. Its 128x128-pixel resolution translates into a pixel density of 129ppi, and the phone supports only 65,000 colors. As a result, icons appear a little fuzzy around the edges, even on the cell phone's itty-bitty screen. At least the screen is bright enough.

You'll navigate around using the directional pad and two soft keys. Using the D-pad threw me, because you can't press down to select. Instead, you'll have to use the soft keys to commit your actions. Pressing the D-pad in any direction pulls up shortcuts for the calendar, SMS composition window, speakerphone, and contacts.

The Nokia 105 has a rubbery, responsive dial pad. Josh Miller/CNET

In addition, there are call and power/end buttons, a button to trigger the time readout, and a shortcut to silent mode. The alphanumeric dialpad buttons are rounded and rubbery. They bubble up from the surface slightly, which makes them easier to press, but are not fully separated, so it isn't easy to dial by feel.

Beyond what's on the dialpad, the 105 is bereft of external controls, even for volume. At the top, you will find a standard 3.5-millimeter headset jack and another small circular port for the proprietary charger. Between these two is the flashlight lamp.

The back cover pops off with little effort; the not-so-mini Mini-SIM card rests beneath the battery.

OS and features
The 105 runs on Nokia's Symbian Series 30 OS, which uses round icons slapped on a very simple, familiar grid. There's text message support here, plus an alarm clock, an FM radio, reminders, and a few simple games, like Sudoku.

You'll also find a calculator, a converter, the aforementioned calendar, and a stopwatch. The 105's countdown timer and flashlight round out the extras.

Inside are apps like an FM radio and Sudoku, plus all the organizational essentials. Josh Miller/CNET

Give up your hopes for more games and wallpaper beyond what's preinstalled here; the 105 was never meant to connect up with a mobile store.

Phone owners will have limited control over themes, backlight times, and ringtones (there are 25 to choose from,) and a category of settings is designed specifically to help you limit calls to a whitelist of numbers and keep down costs.

The number of contacts you can have tops out at 500 in the device's storage, where there's space for multiple phone numbers and a cartoon icon to go with it, but not much else. You'll have slightly more options for saving the type of number (home, work, mobile) for numbers saved locally, though the SIM card should give you additional storage space for your contacts; generally 200 more.

Battery life
Simple cell phones like the 105 may not be sexy, but one area of strength that's impossible to overemphasize battery life that stretches on for days.

On its only 800mAh battery, the 105 boasts 12.5 hours of talk time and up to 35 days standby time. The 105 is the picture of power efficiency so far, aided by extremely short default backlight times and the handset's low-maintenance OS.

Nokia promises long battery life on the 105, like up to 12.5 hours of talk time-long. Josh Miller/CNET

Who's it for?
Its rock-bottom price -- $20, 15 Euros, 1,249 rupees -- is the Nokia 105's most defining cell phone feature, and as such, there are two major buyers for a handset as inexpensive as this one: those on extreme budgets (both in emerging markets and at home,) and those looking for a second throwaway phone with good battery life that just makes calls, plain and simple. That is, so long as it rides your local cellular network.

As a companion cell, the 105 is ideal for kids, outdoorsy types, seniors, and curmudgeons like my brother, who growls at any device with more than a few buttons and sees most technology as frivolous, overpriced toys.

Still, the price tag equivalent to a couple of coffees doesn't cure all ills. I'm still not sure why the 105 lacks a volume rocker, and I never grew used to the D-pad's missing central select button for navigational ease. For 20 bucks, you can't really go wrong, so long as you understand the 105's limitations as an extremely no-frills device.