One of Nokia's strategies for generating publicity is its line of reimagined classic models, which remind us of the days when candybar phones came in all shapes and sizes, and you were the coolest of all your friends if your phone had Snake II. With dozens of iconic models in its archives, Nokia has made some interesting choices, starting with of course the Nokia 3310 (2017) which was a worldwide sensation, and then the Nokia 8110 4G and Nokia 2720 Flip which weren't quite as exciting.
It's against that backdrop that we now have a completely new version of the Nokia 5310 XpressMusic. This doesn't exactly spring to mind as one of the company's beloved models from back in the day, but its reincarnated namesake might bring a smile to your face if you were in school or college in the late 2000s. Despite its later mistakes, Nokia was at least on the ball when phones started displacing MP3 players. The XpressMusic range was meant to be youth-focused, playful, and cost-effective, and for a time, it did fulfil its purpose.
Fast forward to 2020, and we see this new low-end candybar phone that carries forward a little bit of the style of the original, but serves a very different purpose in today's world. It's officially priced at Rs. 3,399 in India, right in line with the Nokia 3310 (2017). We've spent over two weeks with the Nokia 5310 XpressMusic (2020), so we can tell you just what this phone is capable of, and whether you should consider buying it.
The new Nokia 5310 XpressMusic is a serious throwback, even by candybar feature phone standards. The most modern thing about it is that it can handle dual SIMs, but then just to be anachronistic, HMD Global, which operates the Nokia brand and portfolio, has fitted this phone with two Mini-SIM slots. That's right, not Nano-SIM or the older Micro-SIM format, you have to go all the way back to Mini-SIMs or find adapters.
Another big network-related caveat is that this phone is 2G only, and doesn't work with Wi-Fi. Whatever you do manage to do with it, you'll be limited to pre-2008-era mobile Internet speeds. HMD Global thinks there's plenty of demand for 2G phones in India, but why limit people's ability to take advantage of 3G service somewhere down the line?
There's a 0.3 megapixel camera on the rear (640x480 resolution) with a flash, which means you do at least get a flashlight, one of the most appreciated features of low-end phones in India. You get a Micro-USB charging port (which is capable of USB 1.1 speed for data transfers – that's 1.5Mbps, compared to 480Mbps for USB 2.0) as well as Bluetooth 3.0.
You get a choice of black and white, both of which have red side panels with buttons – volume on the left, music playback on the right – which is this phone's main connection to its namesake. These are positioned comfortably but are a bit too easy to hit by accident. The phone overeall feels plasticky and is definitely entry-level; much more like the current-day Nokia 1xx series than the original Nokia 5310.
So we can clearly see that the Nokia 5310 XpressMusic (2020) falls way below even the most basic standards we'd expect of a low-end phone today. That doesn't mean it's bad at what it's meant to do, though – it just isn't the sort of phone you'd consider if you want any modern-day functionality.
As far as performance goes, the Nokia 5310 XpressMusic (2020) takes about a second to wake from standby when you press any button, but the UI is relatively responsive. There's no lag with basic workflow situations, such as typing a message using T9 predictive text. HMD Global has used the same ultra-low-end MediaTek Mediatek MT6260A processor that's in the Nokia 3310 (2017) and a few other feature phone models.
There's only 8MB of RAM and 16MB of storage (yes that's MB, not GB) although microSD support does go up to 32GB. You'll clearly need to buy a microSD card in order to store music on what is billed as a music phone.
You get a 2.4-inch 240x320-pixel screen which is extremely basic. You can see that photos look blotchy, with coarse gradients where colours should blend smoothly. Blacks are glassy and viewing angles are extremely poor. That said, the resolution isn't too bad and you can have at least 12 lines of text which doesn't make simple usage feel too constraining. You can even play low-res 3GPP videos, for what that's worth.
The Series 30+ software is actually quite capable and there are a few thoughtful touches. You can choose the menu grid density or switch to a list view. There are useful tools including a notes app, unit converter, calculator, five alarms, stopwatch, and timer. The calendar has only a monthly view, but you can see the full grid on screen. You can switch the entire UI from English to one of nine Indian languages.
There's no cloud syncing or functionality of any sort, so you'll have to take care of backups manually. You're limited to 2000 contacts plus your SIMs' memory. You can't sync them but you can import them in bulk using Bluetooth. Photos and videos recorded with the phone's camera will be saved to a microSD card if you have one inserted, and this can't be changed (but you wouldn't want to anyway with only 16MB on the phone).
Typing is a little difficult thanks to the strips of plastic used in the design of this phone rather than individual buttons. However, we really liked having a threaded message view and in-line reply functionality within the Messages app. If you actually use your phone mostly to make voice calls, you'll find the quality decent, and the device comfortable to hold for long stretches.
Battery life is a bright spot – the 1200mAh battery is rated for 20.7 hours of continuous talktime and an incredible 22 days of standby time. In our experience we found that the battery just did not want to die, though of course our usage was very basic and intermittent since there wasn't much to do on this phone. We only managed to run the battery down completely once over the course of two weeks. Charging unfortunately takes nearly five hours, thanks to the puny 550mA charger you get in the box.
Then there's music. There are two features that justify the XpressMusic tag on this model's name: the stereo speakers, and wireless FM radio. The speakers are front-facing and evenly balanced, which is pretty neat for a low-end feature phone. Sound can get loud enough to fill up a decent-sized room, but don't expect great quality. Music sounded harsh and had almost no life, with bass mostly missing and extremely muddy details. If you just want to blast some tunes, this phone will do.
Wireless FM radio means that you don't need a wired headset acting as an antenna, though a message on screen told us that we might get better reception with one plugged in. Even without an SD card for MP3 files, you'll be able to have some fun on the go. Speaking of headsets though, the one included in the box is also extremely basic – it doesn't even have a button to control playback. Music sounded truly awful when using it, and we got an instant upgrade in sound quality by switching to our own basic earphones.
If you buy this phone because of nostalgia, the Snake game will be an enormous letdown. It's frankly terrible and no fun at all to play. Far from being a selling point, it's nothing like the originals. Our unit also had a few other games – Asphalt 6, Assasin's Creed Unity, and Doodle Jump all sound like major titles but these are massively scaled-down versions of the games you might be expecting. You can only launch them thrice before being asked to pay for continued access, which isn't worth it in our opinion.
Internet connectivity over 2G can be frustrating but it could also be a lifesaver for many millions of people. You get the Opera Mini browser, which for some reason decided to load up the desktop versions of many sites that we tried. It struggles with modern websites and even simple things like pop-up ads. You have to move a cursor around the screen using the direction pad. Some websites, such as YouTube, showed up as mobile sites. We were able to browse around fairly easily but videos wouldn't play.
The Facebook icon in the menu seemed like a refreshing breath of modernity, but it only directs you to the mobile website. You'll be able to check status updates, leave comments, respond to friend requests, and even read articles that people have posted, but there's no Messenger or Facebook Watch.
The Mobile Store app offers additional games, some of which are free and others which are demos. There are also tabs for Apps, Wallpapers, and Ringtones that you can download (if you have storage space), though these didn't work for us at all.
That brings us to the camera, and once again, you have to lower your expectations. Photos are captured at 640x480 and videos at 320x240. There are a few colour filters, a self timer, a flash toggle, a burst option, and surprisingly even a night mode. Photos and videos are expectedly awful, with patchy colours, poor exposures, and barely any detail outside the main focus area. At night, the camera is barely effective even in well lit rooms. Night mode trades a lot of noise for a little detail. The flash is surprisingly powerful, but harsh.
That said, if you've never had a phone with a camera (or any sort of camera) before, you'll at least be able to capture your memories and save photos of people's faces, which could be worth a lot. You can set a photo as your wallpaper, transfer multiple files at once using Bluetooth, and send MMS messages, which are also valuable functions.
Overall, the Nokia 5310 XpressMusic (2020) does not even come close to offering a smartphone experience. Apps can't run in the background (although music and the radio can keep playing) and there are no push notifications. You can forget about rich social media, streaming, and most of the apps that people really want these days. WhatsApp, which is available on other Nokia feature phones and has been a big selling point for the Jio Phone series, is missing. You don't even get swappable covers in different colours.
We aren't looking at the Nokia 5310 XpressMusic (2020) solely through the lens of smartphone users, and we don't blame it for not living up to such standards. It's clear that no one would consider this an alternative to the most affordable Android models such as the Redmi Go (currently priced starting at Rs. 4,299)
There are millions of people whose lives would be improved by having even such a basic phone. However, if you just need something affordable and easy to use, HMD Global also sells the comparably capable Nokia 216 at Rs. 2,749. If you don't see any point in 2G connectivity, you could get the Nokia 105 for as little as Rs. 1,299.
HMD Global is clearly not targeting this phone at entry-level buyers – it's playing on the Nokia legacy and using the dual speakers as a value proposition. That isn't quite good enough for us – for one, the original Nokia 5310 was nowhere near as iconic as the Nokia 3310. Would anyone buy this as a secondary phone, or consciously want to avoid smartphones but still like something to use mainly for music? We think that's a very, very small niche.
The lineup of “classic” models helps connect the new Nokia of today with the respect and affection that the brand used to be associated with, but first-time phone users with extremely limited budgets don't care about backstories. It would be better to offer them devices that are as affordable and usable as possible, and redirect the nostalgia into devices more suitable for a mature market.
Why are smartphone prices rising in India? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.