- Review Price: £79.97
Best Budget Mobile Phone(/centre)
Upon first receiving the Nokia C3, we were decidedly ambivalent. Here was another middling Nokia smartphone that got the basics done but under-delivered on usability and panache, we thought. This phone has one powerful trick up its sleeve, though: its incredibly low price. Quite simply this is the best value phone we’ve seen all year.
Nowhere is the value felt more acutely than in the design of the Nokia C3. Not that the general look and feel breaks new ground, but in particular the presence of an aluminium backplate really sets it out from the budget phone crowd. It’s often considered that metal, as opposed to plastic, is the sign of quality in consumer electronics equipment and so it is with this phone. Having the tough, smooth, and cold feel of that plate under your fingers just puts you in mind of a much more premium device. As for the rest of the design, the black and blue colouring and neat layout should appeal to business users and consumers alike.
This impression of quality isn’t just skin deep, as the phone in general feels well put together with little in the way of flex from anything other than the multitude of buttons that adorn the front.
You may have already guessed this isn’t a small phone, at 115.5 x 58.1 x 13.6mm, but if small is what you want then you won’t be getting a physical qwerty keyboard. Admittedly Sony Ericsson managed it with its sliding X10 mini pro, but that was a very rare instance.
A glossy plastic section covers the screen and carries on round the keyboard, giving the phone a nice uniform look. Being plastic, it will pick up scratches more easily than glass but no more so than the millions of other plastic-screened phones available.
What’s more, the quality of the display is far beyond anything you’ve the right to expect at this price. Inevitably it has a low resolution of just 320 x 240 pixels so doesn’t offer the most mesmerising multimedia experience. However, combined with its 2.4in size it delivers a perfectly acceptable level of usability when it comes to the usual texting, emailing, social networking and even web browsing duties. What really caught our eye with this screen, though, were its cracking viewing angles.
Many phones at this price point (and much higher) have such poor viewing angles that moving the phone or your head even a slight amount from side to side results in a very distracting shimmering effect, as the contrast shifts from overly white to overly dark with only the dead centre delivering a decent picture. With this phone, there are no such issues. Sure, it can’t compete with the retina display of the iPhone 4 or the AMOLED displays sported by the Samsung Galaxy S or HTC Desire, but for the price it is exceptional.
The rest of the phone’s hardware features generally exceed our expectations as well, though there are a few slip-ups. A microSD slot for adding up to 8GB of extra storage means you can pack your phone with plenty of tunes to listen to and photos to show your friends. The headphone jack also means you’re free to use your own choice of headphones – a stereo headset with an inline control for answering calls is provided in the box. It’s okay for taking calls but certainly isn’t the best when it comes to music listening.
More pressing a concern than an iffy headset is the microUSB socket, specifically the fact that the microUSB socket doesn’t also charge the phone. Instead Nokia has employed its proprietary cylindrical charging socket that is located on the top edge. MicroUSB is supposed to be the standard socket for charging and data transfer nowadays, so to see Nokia still veering off course is just plain irritating. What’s more, you don’t even get Nokia’s new compact charger as found on the Nokia C6, so travelling with your phone is even more inconvenient.
The keyboard and navigation buttons don’t throw up any such concerns. Their action is pronounced with a noticeable break that lets you know the key has been pressed. The keyboard keys are a tad stiff but not to the extent that they significantly hamper typing. The layout is also easy to get to grips with, allowing for pretty speedy typing. As ever, we find we can type faster on onscreen keyboards but for a physical keyboard, this example is more than acceptable.
One slight downside is that the otherwise very welcome backlighting combined with the reflective silver finish on the number keys can make them difficult to read in an environment with typical office lighting.
One final negative note about this phone is its camera. Gone are the days when merely having a camera was a bonus, and the 2.0 megapixel affair on this phone doesn’t really hold up to much scrutiny. It lacks autofocus or a flash and doesn’t really make up for these deficiencies in any other department. Given this phone’s price, we certainly wouldn’t expect anything more but neither is this an area where Nokia has excelled itself.
Moving onto software and the C3 is running Nokia’s venerable Series 40 operating system. It’s starkly simplistic in its general look and feel, and certainly doesn’t push any frontiers in terms of functionality. However, on such a simple phone it feels quite adequate. Moreover, there are a few additions that mean it isn’t completely behind the times.
The Home Screen can be either kept clear or you can add up to three widgets with a choice of favourite contacts, Facebook, calendar, shortcut bar, radio and media player, and notifications amongst others. It’s not on the level of a full smartphone OS but you can customise everything to get you where you want pretty quickly. You can also assign a shortcut to each direction of the directional-pad (D-pad) as well as the two raised silver buttons.
Symbian/Nokia’s love of menus is the only thing that really lets the main interface down, with too many options and a somewhat unintuitive layout. Thankfully, as the phone has such basic functionality that the menu-chaos isn’t too much of an annoyance, as you soon learn the whereabouts of everything.
Also, whereas most of the key apps like contacts and messages are quick to open – and look and feel like native apps – many extras like email, Facebook, and Twitter are Java apps, taking a couple of seconds to load and sporting a totally different look and feel. It’s somewhat irritating, certainly compared to proper smartphones, but thankfully once you’re in the apps they all work very well. Moreover, considering how cheap this phone is, it seems a more than acceptable compromise.
Managing your text messages on this phone is a breeze, with texts stored in conversations making it easier to keep track of what you and a particular contact were chatting about. Thanks to the excellent keyboard it’s also easy to bash out fairly lengthy messages in double quick time. You can also access Windows Live Messenger, though the service is pretty slow.
Email support is basic, even lacking notifications of new messages until you’ve already opened the app, but the layout is nice and intuitive, and there are all the usual options you’d hope for.
Facebook and Twitter are accessed via a Communities app, which appears to be nothing more than a list of the above apps. It can take a little while to load the apps and, like email, you don’t get notifications of updates or messages. But so long as you get in a habit of checking the services every now and then you’ll still feel like you’re in the loop.
The apps themselves are also nicely laid out and easy to use, if a tad slow. You can even upload photos straight from the camera.
Opera Mini is the web browser of choice and as with all the apps so far, it may be a little basic and slow but it displays correctly formatted full-width web-pages and most definitely gets the job done. There are some nice extra touches as well. Start typing in the address bar and it brings up matching sites you’ve previously visited.
Zooming into a comfortable reading level is a single button press away, as is returning to the fullpage view. What’s more, when zoomed in, text is formatted to fit the width of the screen so you don’t need to scroll from left to right to read it all. Topping it all off, with Wi-Fi onboard you can actually browse at a reasonable pace, though 3G isn’t present so mobile browsing is a little slow.
On the multimedia side, the C3 is certainly limited. You get a basic music player that correctly reads mp3 tags, arranging your music into folders of Artist, Album, and Song. You also get an FM radio, while on the visual side there’s a simple picture viewer and video playback is supported, though you’ll probably struggle to find much that plays on it.
As for this phone’s camera, about the best thing you can say about it is that it’s there for taking the odd snap of friends. However, its miserly 2-megapixel resolution, lack of autofocus or a flash, and generally mediocre performance means you’ll still want a proper camera whenever possible. Meanwhile, the limitation of five second video clips is particularly disappointing. At least the app is easy enough to use.
A selection of basic apps like an alarm clock, calculator, and voice recorder are installed though you don’t get anything quite so clever as a map application or compass. You also get a couple of reasonably enjoyable basic games and both games and apps can be added to by visiting the OVI app store where a plethora of both free and paid for apps are available.
Making calls on the Nokia C3 is another area where it shines. The ear piece is loud and clear while we heard no complaints of the microphone from the other end. Even the loudspeaker is above average and certainly trounces the poor one on the HTC Desire HD.
Battery life seemed very good especially when left on standby, as there are no apps running in the background – we left this phone for nearly a week after fully charging it and it still had four out of four bars showing when we returned to it. In more heavy use it of course drains quicker, but we’d expect you to only worry about charging it a couple of times a week.
The Nokia C3 clearly isn’t the be all and end all, and betrays its sub-£100 price in its low resolution screen, limited number of functions, and slow performance. However, if you’re happy to be a little patient at times it holds up very well. Its screen quality is great, it’s well built and nicely designed, the keyboard is nice to use, and the software is easy to get to grips with. For the money, we really can’t think of a better phone.
How we test phones
We test every mobile phone we review thoroughly. We use industry standard tests to compare features properly and we use the phone as our main device over the review period. We’ll always tell you what we find and we never, ever, accept money to review a product.
Score in detail
|Operating System||Symbian OS|
|Available Colours||Grey, pink, gold|
|Screen Size (inches) (Inch)||2.4in|
|Talk Time (Minute)||420m|
|Standby Time (Hour)||800hr|
|Internal Storage (Gigabyte)||0.055GB|
|Camera (Megapixel)||2 Megapixel|
|Front Facing Camera (Megapixel)||No Megapixel|
|3.5mm Headphone Jack||Yes|
|App Store||Ovi Store|