Nokia 215 review: Nothing could be simpler than this one-track cheapie
The price of about two movie tickets gets you a tiny, sturdy cell phone you can stash anywhere and lasts for a month on standby.
Being told you have a one-track mind isn't usually a compliment, but that's the Nokia 215's entire reason for existence. It's a phone whose primary objective is to make calls and it costs just $30, which translates to £19 or AU$35, not including tax. The barriers for success for this kind of handset are ridiculously low: achieve good call quality, have sturdy construction, be cheap.
Unfortunately, the 215 isn't a truly global device because it only works on the 900 and 1,800MHz bands, frequencies found predominantly in parts of Asia and Africa, as well as the Middle East and Europe. The phone may also get signal in select countries in Latin America, but not North America. It will work in the UK and Australia, but it's unlikely to be widely available there as it doesn't even have 3G, let alone 4G LTE.
Folks in the regions where it does go on sale could use the 215 as a starter device they can give to kids or elderly people, out-of-town visitors, or simply keep as a spare if they don't want it as their primary device. There's definitely room in the market for the most basic of handsets.
Design and build
Design-wise, the Nokia 215 has just about everything you'd want in this type of phone: a short, thin profile and sturdy build. It measures 4.6 inches tall by 2 inches wide by 0.55 inch thick (116 by 50 by 12.9mm) and weighs just 2.8 ounces (78.4 grams).
The back pops off to reveal the battery and microSD card slot within, but apart from that, the 215 has a sturdy polycarbonate plastic build that tucks easily into pockets and purses. Rounded edges make it easy to palm and carry around. The slippery, matte finish isn't a problem for a phone this small and easy to contain in one hand.
A 2.4-inch screen with a 320x240-pixel resolution adorns the face; and I do mean basic. It does support 262,000 colors, which is admittedly better than black and white. You navigate through two soft keys and a four-way directional pad you can press down on to select. There are a few other keys on the alphanumeric keypad you should know, like the power/end button and one to silence the phone. The buttons themselves are rubbery and responsive.
You will find a camera on the back; it's the most basic resolution, a 0.3-megapixel lens. There's no flash, but there is a flashlight (torch) up at the top, next to the 3.5mm headset jack and Micro-USB charging port.
In keeping with Nokia's modern use of neon colors, you can get the 215 in bright green; otherwise, it comes in two more sedate shades, white and black.
Navigation and apps
The proprietary OS is dead simple to get around. The Go To soft key can launch a few features, like the camera or flashlight. For more apps, the Menu button pulls up your call log and contacts, along with apps for your music player and alarm clock. There's Internet, in a fashion. The Opera browser will load pages slowly over 2G and compress data and images to accommodate the slower speeds.
You'll find a messaging app as well, and the ever-useful FM radio. For entertainment, there are a few apps and games you can download through the app store. Microsoft makes its presence known in the Bing search tool you find preloaded. Separate apps let you view your photos and videos, and you can pull up the weather through a dedicated program.
In addition to futzing with settings, a calendar and calculator help out with daily tasks, and a voice recorder is handy for a number of uses.
You can dive deeper into the Settings menu to kick off a backup and arrange your phone profile, among other things.
Hardware specs and camera
For a phone of its price, it wouldn't be surprising for the Nokia 215 to forego the camera altogether. Instead, you get a 0.3-megapixel camera. Don't expect much more than pixelated images with dull, flat tones. It's fixed focus, so you'll have to position yourself at the right distance to get a focused shot. Regardless, if you really need or want a phone with photo-taking abilities, this is better than nothing, and it takes low-resolution video (320x240 pixels), too.
You'll have 8GB internal storage, which is more than some entry-level smartphones, plus another 32GB more if you buy an aftermarket microSD card. Bluetooth 3.0 is the main pairing standard, which works fine for the phone.
So how about battery life? The 215 has a rated talk time of up to 20 hours over 2G, and up to 50 hours of music playback on its 1,100mAh removable battery. That'll get you up to 29 days of standby time on a single charge, which is huge. Of course, the more you tax the phone with tasks, the quicker you'll drain the battery, so keep in mind that these numbers represent the best case scenario.
Wheeling and dealing in phone calls is the only reason that the Nokia 215 gets up in the morning, but there are a few things to know before you buy. First, this 2G handset uses the GSM technology and works only on the 900 and 1,800MHz bands. Before you buy, check first to make sure that your country and carrier supports these frequencies. Parts of Europe and the Middle East, Africa and Asia, and pockets of Latin America do operate on 900/1,800, but you won't be able to use the 215 in North America, for instance.
The phone takes a mini SIM, which is a little deceiving since it's two sizes larger than the micro and nano SIMs we're mostly seeing in phones today.
We tested the 215 for call quality from our London office on the Vodafone network, which supports the 900/1,800 bands used by the 215. Calls to both landlines and mobile phones connected without any trouble and were reasonably clear -- certainly on par with what we expect from any other phone, smart or otherwise.
Buy it or skip it?
If you think you'd use it, go ahead get the Nokia 215. It offers a good haul of features for the price, which also happens to be one of the lowest you can pay for a phone anywhere in the world. Before Microsoft bought its devices business, Nokia was making a name for itself as the lowest-cost phones per category. This phone certainly fits that mold.
Although it costs a little more than 2013's Nokia 105 , the 215 comes with a camera and a larger screen, plus a few extra conveniences like that Opera browser and FM radio. So long as the 215 rides on your local carrier, this phone is a no-brainer if all you need is to make calls.
CNET Senior editor Andrew Hoyle contributed to this review.