The Nokia Asha 201 uses the proprietary S40 interface. This is a non-smartphone operating system, although Nokia has done its best to make it seem as smart as possible.
Its home screen features three slots you can fill with a variety of widgets including app shortcuts, social network update bars, your favourite contacts or email. There are 10 in total, making it restrictive compared with the free widget system of Android, but it does cover all the basics.
You have just the one home screen to play with, making it of limited use as the go-to spot for daily updates. The problem is that the small, low-res 2.4in 240 x 320 pixel screen can't fit-in much information. To find the latest update using the home screen social networking bar, for example, requires four taps on the D-pad - hardly as convenient as a swipe or two upon a touchscreen.
The S40 operating system isn't too hot at making text look both sharp and smooth. The low 166dpi pixel density is bad enough, but add Nokia's workmanlike font selection and the Asha 201's software never manages to look great. Clear? Yes. Classy? No. The screen also suffers from contrast shift, making the brightness fade when held in the wrong direction, and uneven backlighting.
Behind the home screen sits an icon-based apps menu where all the phone's functions live. Other than phone calls and texting, the Asha 201 has dedicated apps for email, music, web browsing, and a hub for all your social network needs called Social.
The Social app ties-together support for Twitter, Facebook, Orkut and Flickr. Unlike some smartphone hubs, it doesn't try to mash together tweets, Facebook updates and Flickr photos, but keeps them separate. However, each network's interface is tweaked to better suit the content being spewed out.
Once again, the low screen resolution limits how much information can comfortably fit on-screen, but the bespoke interface makes reading tweets fairly easy. What really limits the Asha 201's social networking is connectivity. The phone lacks both Wi-Fi and 3G, relying on the slower EDGE and GPRS connections. You'll be left waiting for a handful of seconds as the latest Tweets and Facebook updates pop-up, and even longer if you want to take a look at a picture someone has posted. Video? Forget it - these 2G connections aren't quick enough to make streaming enjoyable.
The connection speed issue also hampers casual web browsing. Like going back to the bad old days of dial-up internet, sites are very slow to load, especially those with plenty of images or other rich content.
The Asha 201's inbuilt browser doesn't support Adobe Flash either and relies on basic mobile sites rather than the full desktop versions. The keyboard makes typing web addresses in quick and easy, but without 3G or Wi-Fi, all of the phone's connected features feel too sluggish to be much fun. When Android phones with 3G, Wi-Fi and the more intuitive navigation of a touchscreen are available for around the same price, the benefits of the preinstalled social hub start to disappear.
Sluggishness isn't reserved for the Asha 201's connectivity either. Apps are a little slow to load and run compared to those of a budget Android phone and the lack of any swish animated transitions in the S40 software makes the whole experience seem clunky and clumsy. Some considerate updates have been made to S40 over the years, but there's no hiding that this is an outmoded piece of software.
Within the S40 framework, the Asha 201 is much less useful for receiving "push" content like emails and online messages than a proper smartphone, too. You can tell the phone to check for new emails at regular intervals, but we found it was much slower to pick up on new alerts than a proper smartphone - even when set to search for new emails very regularly. If you want to see an email on your phone as you receive it, this isn't the model to get.
Other apps that come preinstalled include a neat calendar app, which makes decent use of the widescreen aspect screen, a voice recorder and commuter favourite Solitaire. Access to the Nokia Store app store is hardwired into the Asha 201 as well.
The Nokia Store lets you download additional apps, both freebies and paid-for software, but most are of low quality. Games also tend to be a lot simpler, more like the 16-bit style games that were available on phone seven years ago than the snazzy titles Android and iPhone owners can enjoy today.
The Nokia Asha 201 may position itself as an all-round communication device, but the S40 OS and limited connectivity stop it from truly excelling outside of text messaging and basic online chat. As a replacement for the BBM service that low-cost RIM devices like the BlackBerry Curve 8520 have, the Asha 201 offers a comprehensive chat interface built-into the SMS text messagaing section of the phone. Although it would benefit from 3G or Wi-Fi, simple text uses so little data conversations aren't slowed-down too much.
It can hook into your Facebook, Yahoo, Google Talk, MSN Messenger, MySpace and Ovi. Although the chat interface is bare-bones, offering such comprehensive functionality here is a big bonus. However, there will be costs involved if you're on a pre-pay deal. BlackBerrys use their own low-cost data service for things such as chat, but with the Asha 201 you'll be subject to the data charges of the network. It's worth checking before chatting.