Nokia Asha 501 Review

A nice little phone that looks fresh both on the inside and outside. That's what we took from our first encounter with the Nokia Asha 501 and we do hope we managed to get that point across. You know, with phones that go a dime a dozen, you always risk making it sound like a condescending pat on the head.
The Asha 501 is better than that. Yes, it's an entry-level package. A cheap, dual-SIM phone that fits the Asha description to a T. Yet, it's a fresh take on the touchscreen dumbphone concept - in terms of both industrial design and software.

 Nokia Asha 501 official pictures

It seems Nokia is no longer looking at the Asha lineup as a back-office operation or a way to hedge its bet on Windows Phone with minimum investment. After years of living on the Symbian leftovers, the Ashas are finally getting the respect and treatment they deserve. They have been consistent earners in developing markets but the Asha 501 is, for the first time, likely to make the lineup relevant on a larger scale.
Of course, bargain-hunters and first-time buyers continue to be the main target, but a winning combination at last of a fresh, contemporary design and neat and clever interface will certainly raise the Asha 501's prospects.

Key features

  • Dual-band GSM, GPRS, EDGE
  • Optional dual-SIM support, dual stand-by, hot swappable secondary microSIM
  • Nokia Asha software platform 1.0
  • 3" QVGA capacitive touchscreen, ~133 pixel density
  • Proximity sensor
  • Accelerometer, display auto-rotation
  • 64MB RAM, 128MB ROM, 40MB internal storage
  • Data-efficient Nokia Xpress browser
  • Nokia Store and 40 EA games for free
  • 3.15 MP camera, QVGA@15fps video recording
  • microSD card support (up to 32 GB) and 4 GB microSD card in the box
  • Wi-Fi b/g connectivity
  • FM radio with RDS
  • Bluetooth v3.0
  • Standard microUSB port, charging
  • 1200 mAh Li-Ion battery
  • Excellent loudspeaker performance
  • Solid codec support

Main disadvantages

  • No 3G
  • Low-resolution screen
  • Fixed-focus camera
  • No smart dialing

    The thing about Ashas is that they'd been trying too hard to offer a near-smartphone experience on the cheap. They always got near but not quite there, and the build and finish were the usual casualty of a tight budget.
    With the Asha 501, the Finns are on the right track to fixing both issues. There's nothing revolutionary in the level of equipment: there's optional dual-SIM support and Wi-Fi connectivity, the updated Nokia Xpress browser, a lowly 3MP camera and an FM radio.
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    Nokia Asha 501 live pictures
    A capacitive screen is making the right difference (not a first for the series anyway) and there's even a proximity sensor - finally. A fact that speaks to the Ashas' rising standing in the pecking order.
    A fixed-focus camera and a low-res screen are things most users should be able to live with, considering the phone's price. No fast network data is a thing to consider but if you can't have both 3G and Wi-Fi, the latter is the more sensible choice, particularly in a cheap package like the Asha 501.

    Unboxing the Nokia Asha 501

    There's only room for the basics in the Asha 501's retail package. An old-gen Nokia charger is supplied, as well as a single piece pink headset (for the Black Asha 501 flavor). You'll also find a 4GB microSD card already inserted in the memory slot. There is no USB cable inside though. We should note however that the Asha 501 can charge off USB with standard microUSB cables and chargers.
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    Nokia Asha 501 retail box

    The Nokia Asha 501 is a pleasingly compact device at 99.2 x 58 x 12.1mm, and one that weighs just under 100 g. It's an absolute pleasure to handle - it fits snugly in the palm and everything on the screen is within comfortable reach - and that capacitive screen is quite responsive too.

    Design and handling

    The design and build of the Nokia Asha 501 has got little to do with the older Asha generations. And we mean that in all the good ways possible. The phone manages to make an impression with its colorful outer shell. The back cover that folds around the inner body comes in a candy-box variety of colors.
    Up front, the 3" screen has an ample bezel, but that's nothing out of the ordinary in the price bracket. The bigger problem is that the black front is a bit at odds with the bright-colored rear. On a positive note, the capacitive touchscreen is quite responsive and comes with a scratch-resistant coating.
    The hardware Back button is the only control below the screen, the earpiece symmetrically placed across. The microphone is in the bottom right corner.
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    Nokia Asha 501 up front
    There's no brightness sensor but Nokia has included a proximity sensor, which turns the screen off during a call. The back button is pleasingly firm and springy, slightly raised above the surrounding glass surface and therefore easy to locate by touch.
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    Above and under the screen
    The Asha 501 essentially breaks down to two parts, which is obviously the second most solid construction after unibody. The colorful shell folds around the inner body, resulting in a slim colorful frame around the screen as an accent. At the back we find the 3.15MP camera lens along with a Nokia logo and a nub at the bottom to push the phone out of the case.
    The plastic used is nice to the touch, with a soft matte finish that completely rules out visible fingerprints.
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    On the back
    Overall, we quite like the Asha 501's design. The phone is extra pleasant to hold and work with. What we're most impressed with is how such a simple design makes a huge difference compared to the older Asha generation. The Lumia influence is easily spotted - a great way to update an old, stale look while providing consistency and continuity in the Nokia portfolio - from feature phones to smartphones.
    The eye-popping colors also add to the fresh feel of the device.
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    The Nokia Asha 501 in the hand
    Overall, the Nokia Asha 501 is a perfect mix of affordable and portable, but also good-looking and up-to-date.


    The display on the Nokia Asha 501 is a 3" TFT unit of QVGA (240 x 320) resolution, which boils down to around 133ppi. That's not a lot by any standard, but in this class capacitive touchscreen with multi-touch support are still considered nice extras, so you shouldn't expect Retina-beaters.
    Colors are nice and punchy and the screen is reasonably bright. Size may be an issue, as well as resolution, but the responsiveness has been notably improved from what we remember with the older Asha phones.
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    The display
    Browsing the web and watching videos isn't the most compelling experience on a screen of that screen size and resolution of course.


    The Nokia Asha 501 features a power button on the right side, which will also lock and unlock the device, although you can do without it as the phone can be nudged out of standby with a double tap on the screen.
    The volume rocker sits comfortably in the upper right corner of the phone. All three buttons (power and volume) are solid to press and easy to locate by touch.
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    The right side of the phone
    The left side of the Nokia Asha 501 doesn't feature any controls. There's a dual-SIM version of the phone but it doesn't have a side-mounted SIM compartment, which was typical for Nokia dual-SIM handsets of old.
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    The left side of the Asha 501
    At the top there's the microUSB port, along with an old-gen Nokia charging port and a 3.5 mm headphones jack.
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    On the top
    The bottom holds no controls whatsoever.
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    The bottom
    Undoing the back cover is easy - a light push on the nub at the bottom will do and the phone's bottom part will pop out of the shell.
    You can then go on and take the phone out. Doing so reveals the 1200 mAh Li-Ion battery, with the primary SIM card slot under it in the very battery compartment. The hot-swappable microSD and secondary SIM card slot are on the side. This actually means they could've been accessible on the outside too but Nokia went for exchangeable covers instead.
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    Removing the back cover
    The battery on the Asha 501 is quoted at 624 hours of stand-by and 17 hours of calls for the dual-SIM version and almost double the standby time for the single-SIM variant.


    The Asha 501 has a 3.15 MP camera which is capable of capturing images of up to 2048 x 1536 resolution.
    The camera interface is simple - it offers a virtual on-screen shutter, a toggle for switching between camera and camcorder and a gallery shortcut.
    Upon a tap you get a zoom slider and the additional settings option. There you'll find adjustable white balance, self-timer, live effects and shutter sound, which can be disabled too. You can also preset the resolution of the images with a choice between 3MP, 2MP, 1MP and VGA.
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    Camera app
    As the specs suggest, images produced by the Asha 501 aren't anything worth writing home about but they will do for the occasional visual memo (not for fine text though - no autofocus is a deal-breaker here) or contact picture. There isn't too much fine detail, but there are occasional purple fringing, over sharpening and pink spots. The colors are nicely punchy though.
    Here go the samples.
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    NokiaAsha 501 camera samples

    Photo quality comparison

    3MP shooters are getting very rare these days, but there are still plenty you can compare the Asha 501 against.
    Photo Compare Tool Photo Compare Tool Photo Compare Tool

    QVGA video at 15 fps fails to impress

    When it comes to video capture, the Asha 501 was way out of its depth. The camera can produce QVGA (240 x 320) videos with a framerate of 14fps. Sound is recorded in mono at 31Kbps and a sampling rate of 16kHz, the video bitrate hovers around 400 Kbps.
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    Video settings
    As you can tell, those videos are hardly good for anything and we can't see anyone actually using their Asha 501 for video capture. Still if you are interested in the results you might check out this untouched QVGA @15fps sample video


    The Nokia Asha 501 is a dual band device (900 / 1800) and offers GPRS and EDGE class 12. There's no 3G (HSDPA) or Wi-Fi on board.
    Then there's Wi-Fi b/g, which will get you faster data speeds and it doesn't eat into your data plan (if you have one to begin with). Bluetooth 3.0 with EDR handles things like wireless handsfree dongles but also local file sharing.
    The Asha 501 uses a microUSB port for both data connections and charging. There is no USB on-the-go support, though.
    The 501 also has a memory card slot (and a complimentary 4GB microSD card). Coupled with a card reader it can usually give you the fastest data transfer rates.
    And finally, there's the standard 3.5mm audio jack.

    Data-efficient browser

    The Asha 501 has Wi-Fi, but sadly no 3G data speeds. Still, the Nokia Xpress browser uses server-side compression so it offers a passable experience on EDGE networks.
    There's tabbed browsing and you can save favorite websites as tiles in an Opera-like speed dial.
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    There's a neat start page with categories such as Featured, Mail, Sports, Social Networks, Entertainment, etc. The pull-up context menu gives you quick access to recent, favorites, downloads, web apps and more.
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    Browsing on the Asha 501
    The settings of the browser let you choose the quality of the preloaded images, from lower to best quality. Images can be disabled altogether too. There's a password manager as well.
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    Updated Asha Touch takes after MeeGo

    Nokia's Asha Touch user interface has been known to heavily borrow from MeeGo, but the new Asha generation has really lost any decency - who can blame them really, it's a debt that will never have to be repaid.
    To Nokia's credit, it has done a pretty good job of porting stuff to the lesser hardware. We're as happy with the new interface as we are with the fresh styling of the handset. Scrolling and, rarely, swiping do feel a bit choppy but other than that it's a good-looking interface with a modern feel to it - a significant improvement over the Ashas of old.
    Of course, the styling of the icons has barely changed but wallpapers are a welcome addition that gives some punch to the interface - along with much needed depth. When you scroll or swipe, the background responds too.
    Getting rid of the hardware call buttons is another step towards a decisively modern look. The single hardware control is the Back key, and it is only really needed when you need to go a level up from a submenu. For everything else, swipes and taps will do. A double tap will wake the phone up, swiping an app off the screen will close it. We told you, the whole thing is modeled after MeeGo.

    Here's the usual video demo to get us started.

    The lockscreen doesn't have any active shortcuts to directly launch apps but it will display notifications for missed calls, incoming messages or calendar events. These will take you right to the relevant app, be it the dialer, calendar or messaging. A tiny number icon on the Messaging icon in the app launcher shows the text messages you have received but not yet read. That works for email too.
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    A double tap will nudge the phone out of standby and display the lockscreen - you need to enable the option in the settings.
    In the preceding Asha Touch version, the interface was built around a three-homescreen setup: the app launcher, the phone app (or Radio, or Music Player) and a pane to fill with app shortcuts or favorite contacts. There're only two homescreens now - the app launcher and the so-called Fastlane. It's a similar setup to what Windows Phone does with the Tile screen and All Apps.
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    Homescreen and Fastlane
    The Fastlane keeps track of all your recent activity, opened apps go there, along with contacts you've called, calendar events (birthdays, to-dos) and social network posts and goings-on. Not all apps are available in the Fastlane - the Settings, Browser and Camera, among others, didn't appear in the recently opened list - Alarms, Facebook and Gallery do.
    The music player will appear in the Fastlane only if you've played a track - that makes sense really. What you get is a line with the track name, a tap on which will take you to the Music Player app. Alternatively, a tiny play/pause button next to the track name, will simply resume or pause playback without going into the app itself.
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    Fastlane music controls
    The app launcher is a 4 x 4 grid, up from 3 x 4. All the apps you install reside here and you can rearrange them as you see fit but you cannot create folders. A tap and hold inside the app launcher triggers edit mode, where you can delete apps.
    You can tap to expand the status bar or pull it down to show notifications for missed events and quick toggles for sound profiles, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and mobile data. The two SIM cards have their icons in the notification area with the network ID and the custom names you gave each.
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    Notification area
    In case of a missed call, which requires your attention, the notification area drops down a bit to briefly display the number and then pulls back up, leaving a small handle as a reminder, which you can pull to see who's been calling you.
    To close an app you just need to swipe it away from either end of the screen and you'll be back to the app launcher screen. You can also close apps by holding the Back button but for some apps you'll get a prompt to confirm you want to close.
    Some apps give you a context menu, which is accessible via a swipe from the bottom.
    The settings menu is a vertically scrollable list of settings, which is easy enough to navigate. The first options are connections, which lists Flight mode, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and the SIM menu.
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    Settings menu
    The next menu handles Personalization - it lists the options for sounds and wallpapers. Glance screen is an option for the lockscreen, which displays a permanent clock.
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    Screen options, SIM settings
    From the SIM menu you can enable Mobile data, check out the counters for calls and data. You can also choose a new name for either SIM, select Fixed dialing, change PIN and Network selection.
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    Counter and SIM settings
    The interface runs reasonably fast and is easy enough to navigate but could've been smoother - scrolling animations could certainly use a higher framerate. Once you get a feel for the swipe navigation there's really no way to go wrong.
    Even if you open an app by mistake it's only a swipe from either edge of the screen to exit and get back to first base. The notification area comes in handy for toggling quick settings like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and spares you the need to open up the settings menu. Recently opened apps are just a swipe away in the Fastlane.

    The all new Nokia Asha 501 is Priced smarlty at Rs.5199(30$)

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