This sort of user interface is how things used to be in the bad old days of mobile devices. Happily, UI design has swiped on elsewhere, so there's no need to tether yourself to such a neurotic system unless you're a diehard Nokia fan.
One neat touch for people who do a lot of calling is that the dialler entirely occupies one of the home screens, meaning you can get to it quickly just by swiping left from the main screen.
If you're wondering about apps, they are available via Nokia's Ovi store. Some also come pre-loaded, including perennial favourite Angry Birds (the game's maker Rovio is, after all, a Finnish company). There's Twitter and Nokia's Social app, which lets you gather social network updates from Facebook et al into one highly social hub. Nokia Maps also comes pre-loaded.
While the range of apps on Ovi is less extensive than iOS or Android, Nokia has done a deal with games maker EA so you can download 40 of its titles for free -- provided you do so within 60 days of opening up the Games Gift icon.
Series 40 isn't the slickest or easiest OS to use, nor is it the most error-free. I encountered quite a lot of errors -- especially during the set-up of functions such as email -- which temporarily derailed elements including web browsing and social apps.
Some of the apps are also flaky and/or buggy. Nokia's Social app, for instance, indicates you have new Facebook messages when there's nothing new in your inbox.
At other times during testing, the app flaked out entirely -- throwing up this less-than-useful message:
The web browser -- when it works -- manages to be quick but it's also distinctly low-fi. It loads pages speedily because it serves up a compressed version of the sites, which means graphics look blurry and poor, but are typically quick to appear. There's a second advantage in that they don't gobble up so much of your data download allowance -- so if you're really concerned about 3G data costs, this could be handy.
The other annoying element of the web browser is that as the resolution is so poor (and the screen so small), you have to tap to zoom in to read text. And, as there's only one level of zoom, reading an entire web page means loads of swiping around as you finish consuming each small block of text in your immediate field of vision. The result can feel like trying to read a dictionary by looking through a keyhole.
The virtual keyboard on the 311 is a keypad-style offering, rather than a full Qwerty, so there's no denying you're the owner of a candybar blower.
Like the OS, apps are generally a little sluggish to run, so it's hard to shake the feeling that everything you do on the 311 is ever so slightly behind what your fingertips are asking. If you're an impatient type, this foot-dragging will soon grate, but if you're zen about marginal delays, you may not care.
The 311 has both front and rear speakers and can pump out noise pretty loudly -- which could come in handy on the school bus. Call quality was ok but voices sounded a tad muffled to my ear.
What hardware do you get for your cash? A 1GHz chip, 128MB of memory and both a 3G and Wi-Fi radio plus Bluetooth -- a full connectivity complement that you don't get on every Asha.
There's also a GPS chip so you can make full use of the pre-loaded Nokia maps app.
Also on board is a 1,110mAh battery, which Nokia reckons is good for up to 6 hours of 3G talktime, 40 hours of music playback or 744 hours on standby. It should easily last you a day's poking and prodding, provided you're not an ultra-heavy user.
The 311 has a 3.2-megapixel camera on the back. You certainly shouldn't expect anything great from this lens. Test snaps I took came out really blurry and speckled, with chromatic aberration (colour fringing around sharply contrasting objects), grainy noise, haloing and lens flare.
There's no flash so you can't add additional luminosity when snapping in dingier conditions either.
The 311 records video at a resolution of 480x640 pixels. Again, results aren't amazing but it'll serve for making YouTube-quality clips.
The Nokia Asha 311 may be the most easy to use Series 40 device Nokia has ever made, but that's damning it with the faintest of praise. It's saddled with legacy baggage that throws up cryptic error messages and annoying confirmation requests far too often to make it a pleasure to use. This is old technology given a new lick of paint to try and pass it off as a serious competitor to slicker rival operating systems.
Unless you're a dyed-in-the-wool Nokia fan, you're far better off spending your budget on a decent 'droid. Indeed, it's possible to get a powerful, capable Android handset -- such as Huawei's excellent Ascend G300 -- for the same as the Asha 311. So unless there's a radical price drop or some really compelling contracts coming down the line, there's no reason to bother with Nokia's candybar.