Nokia might be pushing at the high end of the smartphone world with its Lumia 800 and Lumia 710, but the company also has a budget series, Asha. The Nokia Asha 201 is designed for the chatterbox.
And costing around £65 SIM-free it sounds like a steal, with its QWERTY keyboard just crying out to be typed on. Our sample came from Vodafone, which sells it for the even cheaper UK price of £45 on pay as you go.
At that price you clearly have to expect some less than stunning specifications. Probably the lack of 3G and Wi-Fi will put many people off immediately. And then there's the small screen (320 x 240 pixels), and the rather old hat Symbian S40 operating system that holds everything together.
But that low price beckons, and there's a quoted seven hours of 2G talk time from the battery to lure you too. You've got various colours to choose between depending on where you buy from, with eye-watering shades of green, blue, pink and orange all in the mix as well as more standard, and less frightening black and white.
The Nokia Asha 201 is a smallish handset considering it totes a mini QWERTY hard keyboard, and light too, thanks to its plastic shell. At 105g and measuring 115.4 x 61.1 x 14mm, it's a good size and weight for small hands and pockets. We bet that youngsters are high on its target list.
The build is reasonable, but not outstanding. The plastic feels solid enough, but on our white sample we could see the join between the pearlescent white backplate and the edges of the phone, which we found irritating.
There's a microSD card slot on the right edge, under a hinged cover. You'll need to use this to boost the 10MB of built-in storage. Other than that, all the ports and connectors are on the top, with the bottom and left edges clear.
So, the top edge has headphones connector, USB port and a connector for the tiny round pin Nokia mains charger. No, you can't charge over USB.
There's no volume rocker or shortcut button for the 2MP camera. Meanwhile, the front of the Nokia Asha 201 houses a physical mini QWERTY keyboard and a nice arrangement of buttons.
The central D-pad has a ring where the top and bottom edges move you through the main screen (it's not a touchscreen), while a press on the right edge takes you to the calendar, on the left edge to messaging.
Two soft menu buttons offer various changing functions, and there are two shortcuts, one to the web (via Opera Mini), and one marked up for messages but which you can customise. There are also Call and End buttons. It's nothing special, but it is all quite neat.
The Nokia Asha 201 runs on Symbian S40, albeit a tweaked version. This is an old, old, old operating system that's been beefed up to look and feel modern.
And it does have its good points, but don't for a moment be fooled into thinking it is a bells and whistles smartphone operating system. This is what we call 'feature phone plus' territory.
The single home screen looks quite attractive with its favourite contacts, social media and app shortcuts all lined up.
And you can configure how it looks, too, deciding what you'd like to have displayed on the home screen. But doing so is a bit of a faff. We had to walk through five screens to get to the one where we could personalise the home screen view.
This being a Series 40 handset, the Asha 201 has a rather old fashioned Nokia look and feel once you get beyond the home screen. Hit the Menu button and you are into an icon driven-area with a very Nokia-esque look.
Elsewhere there are other shades of old fashioned Series 40. On the main screen, for example, hit the left softmenu button (marked 'Go to'), and you can then scroll through a number of shortcuts for quick access to them. Well, we say quick, it's a bit tedious tapping away at the D-pad, but if' youre ont used to a touchscreen then you won't find this too much of a hassle.
Contacts and calling
Contacts are a bit of a bugbear with the Nokia Asha 201. They aren't drawn from your Facebook or Twitter accounts when you sign in, so everyone you know will either need to be on your SIM, entered manually or copied using Bluetooth-based Sync and Backup if you're transferring from another Nokia handset.
Manual contact entry is made easier thanks to the keyboard, but it's still a bit of a pain. You enter a number and name and then save the contact, then have to come out and go back in to add other contact info such as email address, postal address, nickname, birthday and notes.
You can assign contacts as favourites, and these will appear on the home screen with little thumbnail photos if you have assigned them. If you've no photos, hovering the cursor over the generic contact icon will show their name, and you can then choose the one you want to contact.
It's quite annoying that contacts are listed by last name then first name. It's a lot more formal than we like.
Making a call is easy enough, but there's no smart dialling support. You can't start tapping out a name or number on the keyboard and then see a list of contacts diminishing as you get close to the one you want.
If you do start tapping something out, the handset only recognises numbers, ignoring any letters you press, and even then it doesn't search the contacts themselves to narrow down your selection.
What this means is that when you want to contact someone specific you either have to know their number, have them saved as a favourite for quick access, or trundle through the whole contacts list.
Call quality itself is fine, and it is easy to switch to the loudspeaker when you're in a call.
And there's one neat feature we're surprised and pleased to see - you can record calls.
The Nokia Asha 201 looks like the kind of handset to suit messaging fans. After all, it has a QWERTY keyboard. And Nokia has integrated social media management with Facebook and Twitter support.
Logging into these accounts, as well as Orkut and Flickr is an easy matter - just choose Social from the main menu and you are at the login screen.
Once you are in, there is a bit of a wait for your account to update itself - this handset has no 3G or Wi-Fi, remember, but you do get a fairly good graphical representation of social accounts and, of course, that keyboard for easily composing your own updates.
The screen is a bit small, so you can't see a great deal of anything at once, and it takes a while to scroll through messages, but there are a fair range of options to play with.
Nokia has worked quite hard to integrate social messaging, and while it's not perfect, it isn't too bad either.
You can drop feeds into the home screen and view messages by scrolling to the feeds area then using the D-pad ring to move through messages, with the most recent ones first.
Or just hit the centre of the D-pad to get straight into composing your own message.
Texting is straightforward. There's a nice conversation view that makes the most of the small screen and you just hit the centre of the D-pad to compose a reply to an incoming message.
When you're creating a new message from scratch there's a big window in which to view your composition.
Email is dealt with separately from SMS, and you've got a few presets to help make signing in to some accounts easier - Ovi of course, plus Yahoo!, Gmail, Windows Live, BT Internet and Virgin Media. For other accounts you need to go through manual setup.
To be honest, with such a small screen, and no 3G or Wi-Fi on board, we'd suggest this isn't the ideal phone for mobile email, despite its keyboard.
The physical keyboard, though, is fairly comfortable to use. The keys are domed and click a little when pressed. There's long-press access to some important symbols such as ! and ?, and the Sym key gives you smileys and other extras in one single grid.
But Nokia has made a bit of a design error. It might be different on other coloured versions of the Nokia Asha 201, but on our white review sample, the white backlight behind the keys that kicks in when you hit one of them actually obscured the key markings in some lighting conditions.
It was fine in darker conditions when the backlight shines through really well, but in an unlit indoor room during the day it made the keys difficult to see.
You might know where the QWERTY keys are, but it could take you longer to remember where the symbols are. We found it a real pain.
With neither Wi-Fi nor 3G built in, and with a screen measuring just 2.4-inches and offering a mere 240 x 320 pixels, web browsing isn't what the Nokia Asha 201 excels at.
Still, Nokia tries, providing both its own browser and Opera Mini. Out of the box the latter is linked to from the apps area, and the former from the home page.
Using Nokia's own browser it wasn't possible to load the full version of the TechRadar home page, so thank goodness for the mobile version. At least the mobile version loaded fairly quickly - just a second or two per page. And it formats well in the screen.
Switching over to Opera Mini gave us more scope. Opera Mini comes complete with a range of shortcuts built in.
It took Opera Mini 30 seconds to load the full version of the TechRadar home page on the Nokia Asha 201, although you won't be surprised to learn that it was impossible to read anything without zooming.
Getting around web pages for reading requires a lot of scrolling and zooming action, and pages in general load slowly.
If you fancy streaming video, then you aren't going to be too happy with the Nokia Asha 201. It refused to stream videos from YouTube for us. Nor, perhaps unsurprisingly, was it happy generally streaming embedded video.
Really, this isn't a handset for web fans at all - which won't surprise you for the price.
With a camera that's capable of shooting stills at just 2MP and that lacks a flash, you can't really expect a great deal by way of capability on the Nokia Asha 201.
And indeed there are limited features, although at least you can get to the features via a single menu accessed using the left softkey.
Video shooting on the Nokia Asha 201 is limited to a mere 176 x 144 pixels and 10 frames per second, so you really can't expect much of anything at all. Our sample videos show this quite amply.
Let's start with the bad news. Video playback on the Nokia Asha 201 isn't much cop. In fact, the video player is hidden away in the camera app rather than being given a status all of its own. It is clearly designed primarily for playing back videos shot on the handset itself.
Most of our test videos wouldn't play - even our MP4 videos were too large for the Asha 201 to cope with - and it appeared only to want to handle small size, low frame rate videos on a par with those the handset can shoot itself.
In any case, the 2.4-inch screen isn't one you'd want to use to catch up on your favourite films or TV shows.
Music was an altogether better prospect, with our MP3 files playing very nicely.
Album art was a mystery to the player, but with playlist management and volume control on the D-pad (there's no side button for this), we have all we really need from a basic player.
There's an FM radio too, which automatically tunes stations when it's first used.
We'd really have liked an easier way to switch between headset and speaker output for the radio. Having to press 'Options', scroll down to 'Settings', then scroll down to 'Play via' is a bit of a pain.
And of course when you want to switch back you have to go through the whole process again.
The player is a bit bland looking too, although we like the RDS.
Nokia provides a surprisingly good headset for a handset of this price. It's not top notch, but it does a reasonably good job, and sound is definitely less tinny than it is through the Nokia Asha 201's own speaker. Volume through the handset speaker goes pretty loud, though.
As we said before, the Nokia Asha 201 has 10MB of built-in storage, which won't enable you to save much in the way of media content. A microSD card slot offers the chance to boost this capacity, though.
Battery life and connectivity
We've mentioned several times the lack of 3G and Wi-Fi on the Nokia Asha 201. We might be able to live without one of the pair, but to have both missing really does hamper the phone.
Any connected activity, from browsing the web to picking up email and even checking your Facebook, takes a bit longer than it could. And you'll have to pay for every bit of data you use without Wi-Fi onboard to assist.
So we should be thankful for Bluetooth, we suppose.
Nokia rates the battery as good for up to 52 hours of music playback, seven hours of 2G talk and 888 hours on standby.
We charged our phone on a Friday morning and by the following Tuesday it was down to three bars. In that time it had been on standby, including overnight. We'd made about 15 minutes of phone calls, spent 15 minutes shooting videos and photos, listened to half an hour of music, sent a few texts and done a small amount of web browsing.
Most people ought to get a couple of days between charges without an issue.
You'll find all the extra applications Nokia has added to the Asha 201 under a menu icon called Apps. In here hide both the Nokia extras and anything you choose to install.
Actually, and perhaps a little confusingly, the My Apps section has some apps pre-installed, too.
The range of extras is quite predictable. There's an alarm clock, calculator, voice recorder, to do list manger, notes taker, countdown timer, stopwatch and gallery.
We rather like the calculator, which has been made easy to use in a non-touchscreen mobile phone by mapping functions onto the D-pad.
There are a couple of games onboard too - fairly standard fare, and some are trials rather than full versions, but they can be used to while away some time.
In the My Apps area there's a unit converter, the Opera Mini browser, size converter, world clock, and the Nokia Social app we used to access our Twitter and Facebook.
Hands on gallery
The Nokia Asha 201 is a budget handset, and it does do quite a lot. The social media integration is a particular plus point, and we do see what Nokia is trying to achieve here.
Yes, you can get Android-based, larger screened handsets for around the same money, but the implementation of Android isn't great and we're inclined to like Nokia's chutzpah in sticking with S40. Still, there are pros and cons.
The keyboard is quite comfy to use and well made. Considering the low price of this phone, it's a pleasant surprise.
Battery life is superb. We might even go as far as suggesting the Nokia Asha 201 as a good second handset for those times when you need long battery life and don't have access to mains power.
The Nokia Asha 201 runs slowly. Waiting for apps to run is not what we like to do, and we have to put up with it here. It's not interminable, but it is noticeable.
There's no 3G. This means every online activity feels slow, from downloading web pages to getting Twitter feed updates. And there's no Wi-Fi. You can't hop onto a free wireless network for a bit of fast connected action, which is a real shame.
Contacts aren't drawn from Twitter and Facebook, so you have to type them in manually. It's a real pain, actually.
The camera and video recorder aren't up to much, and the phone has a very small screen. At 2.4 inches and a mere 240 x 320 pixels, the screen is tiny, and anything media-rich suffers as a result.
Nokia has stuck its neck out in using the very old S40 operating system and foregoing Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. In the end we aren't sure it quite works for us. The slowish processor is a bind, and we'd have liked either Wi-Fi or 3G to make this handset feel like a worthy model for 2012.
But there's no denying that the Nokia Asha 201's relatively low specs make for awesome battery life, and with that we are impressed. Build quality is also good, with a very nice physical keyboard for those who like to communicate with the written word.
The Nokia Asha 201 is a low cost 'feature phone plus', let down by the absence of 3G and Wi-Fi but lifted by a good keyboard and impressive battery life.