As you would expect, the Nokia Asha 311 is driven primarily via its touchscreen. This is pretty small, measuring just 3.0-inches across the diagonal and its resolution is quite low too at just 240 x 400 pixels. That said, the small size of the display does mean that the pixels are quite tightly packed together making it looks a little bit sharper than you’d expect. The display is bright and its viewing angles are quite wide, and this combined with its vibrant colours make it quite good by budget phone standards. However, the lower resolution does hamper some apps, such as the web browser and Facebook, simply because it means the display can’t show that much information in one go.
Running on Nokia’s Series 40 operating system, the Nokia Asha 311 is actually the first phone we’ve seen that uses the new Full Touch version of the OS. Essentially this adds a new user interface over the top of Series 40 system that has been designed from the ground up for touch input. A lot of its design makes it feel like a cut down version of Android. For example, if you slide your finger down from the top of the screen it opens a drop down notification window where you can turn mobile data on and off, access Wi-Fi and Bluetooth settings or change the phone’s profile. You can also play music tracks from here, call a number or start writing text messages.
There’s no homescreen as such. Instead all your apps are listed in an app launcher that scrolls from top to bottom. You can also swipe to the right from here to access the dialler, while swiping left shows you to a grid of eight shortcuts for launching applications, such as the web browser, Nokia Maps or the Social app.
It’s a pretty neat system that’s actually a good deal more intuitive to use than the standard Series 40 user interface. It still does suffer from slightly too many notification screens – for example, before you set your connection choice as default, it asks you whether to grant data access every time you open an app, which is annoying.
Further adding to the user expereince Nokia has preloaded the Asha 311 with a number of apps. For example, its Social app is where you can access your Facebook, Twitter and Flickr accounts, the Chat app supports communications across Facebook, Google Talk, MSN Messenger, Yahoo and Nokia Chat, and there are also a few games included, such as the first level of Angry Birds. Nokia has also added its Nokia Maps application. However, as the phone doesn’t have GPS it has to use mobile triangulation to work out your rough location.
Further let down by its lack of support for voice guided navigation, the Nokia Asha 311’s mapping ability is bolstered slightly by its ability to allow you to plan basic routes that are less than 10km in distance. There’s an on-phone app store too, but the range and quality of the apps is a bit limited, especially compared to what’s available on Android phones. Nevertheless, the phone does come with what Nokia calls a ‘Games Gift’. This allows you to download up to 40 EA games from the app store for free. The games are very basic, Java games, though, so their appeal is a bit limited.
Sadly there are still a few other issues with the Nokia Asha 311 as well. Whilst the browser isn’t great, it just about gets the job done, but no more. For example, there are only really two zoom levels – a fully zoomed out overview and a zoomed in reading style view. Jumping between the two is quite jarring and can make it a bit difficult to zoom to a specific spot on the page that you want to read. The browser isn’t particularly quick either, taking quite a while to render more complex pages, even when working over Wi-Fi. Also, the scrolling in the app launcher isn’t particularly smooth and some of the menus work in a slightly strange way. For example, a lot of the time you have to select options in pop-up menus and then tap on a tick at the top of the menu to action the command, which is quite different to how most other touchscreen operating systems work and takes a bit of getting used to. Also, it lacks multitasking capabilities, so you can’t swap between apps quickly. You have to exit and reload another app every time.
On the plus side the onboard music player is pretty good, showing album art while your songs are playing. There’s also an FM tuner integrated into the phone and Nokia has added an internet radio app too, but the supplied headphones are cheap and nasty, which isn’t really too much of a surprise at this price point.
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The 3.2-megapixel camera takes only passable shots. They’re fine for uploading to social networking sites, but the quality really isn’t good enough for much more than that as detail levels are smudgy, it struggles with tricky lighting conditions and colours tend to look dark and muted. There’s also a video mode, but this takes quite jerky looking video at low frame rates, so isn’t much cop either.
Although call quality was a bit hit and miss, as there were times when callers didn’t sound that clear despite the phone having good signal quality, battery life is good – we got around two days out of the phone before it needed a recharge.
We really didn’t expect all that much from the Nokia Asha 311. After all, the other Asha handsets that we’ve looked at have been pretty mediocre. However, despite some weaknesses, such as the lack of GPS and basic web browser, it’s a surprisingly strong feature phone, quite speedy to use, has a pretty intuitive user interface and long battery life. Still, as with a lot of recent Nokia handsets, when put next to the likes of the Huawei Ascend G300 it looks very basic, as that model has a much larger screen, GPS and the infinitely superior Android web browser.