The Asha 302 is a handset powered by Nokia's ye olde Series 40 operating system, but it could also be mistaken for a Symbian pocket rocket from days of yore. If not quite as premium-looking as the classic Nokia E71, it shares its distinctive domed keys.
At between £70 and £90 on pay as you go, the 302 is cheap, but not as thrifty as the budget-tastic Asha 201. It does pack more junk into its trunk though -- with a 1GHz chip plus HSPA and Wi-Fi connectivity. The 302 is also a budget option on contract, with tariffs starting at £10.50 a month.
Should I buy the Nokia Asha 302?
If you're a Qwerty keyboard lover and a long-time Series 40 fan, the 302 could be the sort of phone you want to own. It's not going to impress Android users and it will struggle to convince BlackBerry fans that it offers a superior email experience. But for S40 veterans, it means the comfort of a familiar operating system coupled with the reassurance of physical keys.
The 302's keyboard isn't super-slick for typing. In my view, BlackBerry keyboards are easier to use. So if you have your heart set on a Qwerty-packing smart phone, you may want to consider budget BlackBerry alternatives such as the Curve 9320.
Beyond Qwerty, the 302's appeal is very niche. If you're on a budget, most of you would be better off looking at Android phones to maximise your money. Even £100 can buy a really great 'droid these days (and there are scores of terrific handsets up for grabs on cheap pay-monthly contracts).
The Android OS undoubtedly blows Series 40 out of the water when it comes to ease of use and choice of apps, so unless you actively want a more limited device, there's little reason to opt for the Asha 302.
Nokia has added support for Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync -- a first for a Series 40 phone. By including Microsoft email, Nokia says it's targeting "young entrepreneurs and professionals". It'll have its work cut out to convince them to ditch their BlackBerrys, Androids and iPhones but the 302 does have the advantage of being very cheap.
The tiny non-touchscreen -- just 2.4 inches on the diagonal and a resolution of 240x320 pixels -- doesn't offer a great email reading experience, although BlackBerry fans might disagree.
Qwerty lovers will at least be happy to get a full keyboard. I found typing on this wasn't that comfortable, as the keys are aligned on straight lines, rather than the gentle curve you find on most BlackBerrys. The position of the keys is a definite improvement over the Asha 201's keyboard layout though.
In addition to Microsoft Exchange-based email accounts, the 302 can hook into your personal email. Supported accounts include Ovi Mail, Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Windows Live Hotmail, BT Internet and Virgin Media.
Series 40 software and apps
The Asha 302 runs Nokia's veteran Series 40 software -- an OS that's been kicking around for donkey's years. It used to be mostly deployed in developing countries. But now that Nokia's Windows Phone-favouring chief, Stephen Elop, is giving Symbian the long kiss goodnight, Nokia is depending on Series 40 as an alternative to Google Android-powered budget phones.
That's the theory anyway. In practice, there's no getting away from the legacy skeletons clattering around in Series 40's cupboard. It's dated and frustrating -- constantly nagging you with neurotic affirmation screens. If you're a long-time fan of S40, you'll be accustomed to these foibles so you may not mind its long-winded ways.
The version of Series 40 running on the 302 is tailored to fit this small non-touchscreen environment. Web browsing is done via an on-screen cursor that you move around by using the four-way directional nav pad that sits in the centre of the phone. Clickable content is highlighted as you navigate your way around the page, as the cursor hops from one clickable area to the next.
The native Nokia browser works by compressing web pages before delivering them to the phone, which speeds up load times and reduces data consumption -- handy if you're on a tight data tariff. The downside is you don't get crisp, clear graphics on websites, but rather blocky and blurry images. It's not easy on the eye, but as a quick way of getting a basic online experience, it's passable.
The 302's home screen is the same as the Asha 201's, with the bulk of the screen divided into three customisable widgets that can display various apps and functions such as your email, social updates, your favourite contacts, notifications and more. You can't display huge amounts of info in any of these panels but you can cram in key things you care about getting to quickly. It's also possible to read Facebook updates via the home screen widget.
All the apps and phone functions are displayed as icons on a separate apps screen, which you get to by hitting the Menu button. You can arrange these icons in whatever order you please by selecting the 'organise' option and moving them around.
Like the Asha 201, the WhatsApp instant messaging app comes pre-loaded on the 302. You can hook it into social services such as Facebook to get mates' updates via Nokia's Social app (or by using a dedicated Facebook app). Nokia has also included some games and demos on the phone such as Sudoku and a demo of Gameloft's Block Breaker 3 Unlimited.
More games and apps can, of course, be downloaded from Nokia's Ovi store -- including alternative browsers such as the Opera Mini browser. However, I did run into problems downloading additional apps so be warned: getting extra content on the device is not always a smooth ride.
Design and build quality
Provided you're a fan of Qwerty-packing phones, the overall look of the 302 is pretty stylish -- certainly if you're choosing one of the more muted colour choices, such as the metallic grey option. And while the phone is quite thick (13.9mm), it's also fairly narrow across the front, so it can't be described as a palm stretcher.
Where the Asha 201 is unashamedly plasticky, the 302 layers chrome trim on some metallic shades of plastic. The chrome fully wraps over the top edge of the phone and covers half of its bottom, adding a spot of strength and slick style. But there's no shortage of plastic in the 302's construction -- although the backplate is a very thin piece of metal and quite slippery to the touch. Butterfingered types should take care to avoid the phone slipping out of their digits and clattering onto the floor.
The use of so much plastic at least means Nokia has been able to keep the weight down to a pretty light 99g.
The front of the phone is divided between a small 2.4-inch screen up top (not a touchscreen), a rather cluttered group of selection and navigation keys in the middle and a full Qwerty keyboard underneath comprised of neat rows of domed keys.
On the central control panel are a total of 11 keys for navigating. That breaks down into two selection keys, two call keys, a four-way directional nav pad plus a single selection key, a dedicated messaging shortcut and one for contacts. This panel is not exactly streamlined but you might be the sort of person who likes the reassuring feel of physical buttons under your fingers to fire up particular functions.
Having multiple selection keys and a call key that can double as a quit button doesn't always make for the simplest navigation. If you're not used to this version of Series 40, you may find the Asha 302 a navigation nightmare.
Ports wise, the phone has three on the top edge: Nokia's proprietary charger port, a 3.5mm headphone jack and a micro-USB port, which can be used for moving content to and from the phone by plugging it into a PC. Nokia has added a handy microSD card slot to expand storage space. This is sited on the phone's left edge, tucked away behind a little plastic door.
The phone is pretty impressively put together, although the plastic backplate will creak a little if you apply enough pressure. This can be removed to get at the 1,320mAh battery and, underneath that, the SIM slot.
Power and performance
With a 1GHz chip, HSPA and Wi-Fi on board, Nokia has given the Asha 302 everything it withheld from the 201. The 302 is certainly nippier than its budget brother but it's saddled with the same tiny, low-res (240x320-pixel) screen, so web browsing still feels cramped and looks impoverished.
I also found the Gmail performance of the 302's Mail app pretty plodding -- taking seconds to load each email.
Nokia claims this 1GHz chip makes the 302 faster than many low-end Androids, which may technically be true, but the user experience on such a tiny display that lacks a touchscreen feels a lot more fiddly than even a very cheap 'droid such as the T-Mobile Vivacity. Still, it's horses for courses, since T-Mobile's phone doesn't pack a full Qwerty keyboard.
On the back of the 302, Nokia has stuck a 3.2-megapixel camera (without a flash), which is a smidgen better than the Asha 201's 2-megapixel lens. Photo results from this lens are extremely poor so expect to be disappointed.
There's a camcorder mode to capture video but you'll need to add your own SD card to bulk out storage space if you plan on doing a lot of recording. Again, quality is very poor, so this is only a camera of last resort.
At least you shouldn't have to worry about the 302's battery life conking out prematurely. Nokia says the cell is good for up to 5.9 hours of 3G talk time or 830 hours on standby. I found it easily lasted a day's use, and if you're a lightweight button-masher, it could survive a fair while longer.
The speaker is on the back of the phone and noise can be pumped up pretty loudly if you prefer to listen without plugging in earphones. Call quality is clear and I didn't have any issues with dropped calls during testing.
The Nokia Asha 302 is cheap but it won't win over anyone who's already converted to the Android operating system. The lack of a touchscreen is a huge constraint, while its Series 40 software is far more fiddly and flaky than Google's OS. Still, if you're a long-time Series 40 user, you'll be on familiar ground. And if you're after a Qwerty device, the Asha 302 is one of a select few phones with the keys to please in these touchscreen-dominated times.
It's not an amazing keyboard for typing on though, so you may still prefer to plump for a cheap BlackBerry such as the Curve 9320. Of course -- to the uninitiated -- the BlackBerry OS is equally gnomic, so Series 40 fans are probably better off with the devil they know.