Interface and Functionality
The new Asha 503 comes with a new Asha software platform which is way more improved and modernized than the previous ones. It comes with a hugely swipe dominated interface that looks interesting to operate. The new platform of the Asha 503 is a stripped back and raw version of the now deceased MeeGo platform the Nokia N9 has used.
We start reviewing the interface section by making it clear that although Nokia calls these new Asha devices ‘Smartphones’, but you should keep in mind that the operating system used in these so called smartphone devices is very basic. Thus, it would be fairer to call these devices as ‘Feature phones’ rather than smartphones.
Talking about the apps that you will find on the Asha 503, we can only say that though the device has many apps but their quality and functionality is not on par with basic smartphones running on Android or Windows Phone OS. By this, we mean that you will not get a full-fledged collection of apps on Asha 503 rather only very basic ones which are hugely limited when it comes to their functionality.
On the homepage of the Asha 503, you will find a vertically scrolling page of apps, and by default, you will have access to all the stock apps along with any extra apps installed on the device. The list of default apps includes a built-in mail client, music, gallery, calendar, internet browser, Facebook, Twitter, and most importantly the most popular IM client WhatsApp is now available on Asha as well.
As an optional download, Nokia also offers a free HERE Maps app with navigational direction and a nice search, but then again when compared with other similar solutions on smartphones, you will find it on a bit slow side. And since the device lacks in GPS, positioning is not very accurate. Apart from that, basic features like alarms, clocks, calendar and calculator come pre-installed. Plus, there is a file browser that will come handy when you utilize the maximum 32GB of external storage.
The device uses swipe gestures to navigate around the new fast lane interface. The swipe gestures can be divided into two panels: one is app drawer and the other is a vertically scrolling list of recently opened apps. A simple swipe left or right from the edge of the display will return you to the home screen. It is a very convenient way and you get used to it very quickly. Moreover, when swiping from the top a notification dropdown will appear with quick toggles for switching between most often used settings. These include Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. In addition, there is also a contextual swipe from the bottom that brings all the relevant options for that particular application and it works in most apps. On the other hand, swiping from the bottom from the locked screen launches the camera pretty quickly.
There is one more tactic Nokia has used for improved battery savings, and this is the use of its ‘Glance Screen’ feature that enables you see the time right from the locked screen without requiring you to unlock the phone and fire up the energy hungry display.
The device comes with a very snappy and convenient on screen keyboard despite being a very tiny device. You can type easily and accurately even in portrait mode. It is a full QWERTY keyboard and a joy for the heavy texters.
Processor and Memory
When compared with even the cheapest smartphones, the Asha 503 comes as a hugely underpowered phone. Despite the fact that the Asha software platform has been optimized for such devices, it unfortunately still feels slow. Navigating around the menu in most cases is pretty smooth but it skips frames and thereby looks very choppy, be it because of the poor screen optimization or some other reasons. The slow processing is very noticeable when you are trying to open apps or images.
Nokia does not reveal any details about the processor used in the Asha 503, but chances are that we are looking at a 1GHz single core ARM11-based processor. Apart from that the device also features 128MB of RAM which is way lesser than found on many Android phones at the same price point.
The Asha 503 comes with around 170MB of user available internet storage space which is way smaller but luckily you can expand it via microSD cards of up to 32GB. Not to mention that the phone is shipped with a 4GB card already inserted in the memory slot.
Internet and Connectivity
The device comes with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, though it lacks GPS. The Asha 503 also brings 3G connectivity to the series which is a good move as its predecessor Asha 501 was limited to 2GB, therefore, the jump to 3G with 7.2Mbps downlinks speed is something that should be appreciated. On the other hand, the limited functionality of the device along with the small and somewhat unresponsive screen make it too difficult to put those faster speeds to good use, alas!
The Nokia Xpress browser lets you access the web, though it is neither faster nor enjoyable yet usable. The browser is unable to render web pages properly resulting in often broken formatting. Furthermore, zooming in does not have different level which means that its zoom in function only allows for fully zoomed out or up-close look. Scrolling web pages happens with an annoying delay especially those web pages which are not optimized for mobile platforms. Readability is also very low you will have hard time reading the text because of low resolution. Having said that, the browser is still usable but its slow and frustrating behavior convinces you to use it only at the time of need.
The phone features a 5 mega pixel rear fixed focus camera only. There is no front facing camera. The camera is capable of capturing images of up to 2592 x 1944 resolution. There is a tiny LED flash to help you in low-light conditions as well. The camera interface is easy to use and simple though it is a bit slow to open but very neatly optimized. Tap anywhere to take a picture, and tap and hold to bring the advanced options. Furthermore, swiping changes the shooting modes form still to video to the gallery. Additional settings include setting flash on or off, adjusting white balance, self-timer, live effects and shutter speed. Image resolution can also be changed with a choice between 5MP, 3MP, 2MP, 1MP and VGA. Though, the finer settings that you can find in many other smartphones are unavailable here.
The quality of the images captured with Asha 503 is acceptable, though not great. The camera captures anything of importance but will not provide you with much quality. The colors are pleasing and natural. There is enough resolved detail but white balance is often quite off. Noise reduction is very harsh on many occasions and purple fringing is noticeable.
Video recorded with the Asha 503 are very much disappointing with very mediocre details. The phone is capable of recording 480 x 320 pixel footage with a framerate of 19fps but you can pump that up to 640 x 480 pixels. The device is way out of its depth when it comes to video recording.
The device, being a very small 3” phone, can still be used to play back videos since it supports all the common formats and video codecs. The videos can be played with no stutter at the native 24 x 320 pixel resolution. Playing back your favorite music on the Asha 503 also is a fun with its basic music player and a microSD card you can store loads of your favorite songs and listen on the go.
The interface of the music player is very neat and easy to use and it starts up with album art on top of the available sorting options which are songs, albums, artists and playlist. No other additional settings are available. The song will keep playing even if you exit the player - you get a shortcut in the Fastlane and on the lockscreen with play-pause-skip controls readily available.
The Asha 503 features a stereo FM radio with RDS with a neat and simple interface. Changing the stations can be done via dedicated controls on both sides of the centered tool for manual station tuning. Same like the music player, the FM Radio keeps playing even if you exit the app and a shortcut will appear in the fastlane and on the locked screen.
The call quality of the Asha 503 is very clear. The voice is clear enough and loud that both the parties can hear each other without any difficulty. Your caller can easily recognize the natural tone of your voice.
The phone is shipped with a 1200mAh battery, which in size has not altered from its predecessor Asha 501 but its real longevity has truly dropped down to the average 12 hours on 2G and merely 4.5 hours on 3G. On the other hand, its stand-by time is truly excellent. The company quoted 35 days maximum standby time that appears to be nothing short of a miracle. But the more realistic 4.5 hours of maximum talk time seems to be a better representation. Nevertheless, the phone is aimed at the people who would use it less often and can enjoy an excellent stand-by time. This may translates into a perception of a great battery life. This phone would be an ideal choice for those who go for long hiking and traveling where they can hardly have a chance to charge the battery.
Moreover, there is no battery saving setting or app, and neither does it have any app management feature. One app can be opened at a time with this the phone tries to use the least possible amount of energy.
Should I Buy the Nokia Asha 503?
Undoubtedly, the Nokia Asha 503 is an affordable mobile phone with all the features you will need but there are loads of other smartphone options that offer much more than what Asha 503 offer for the same price. The device has to meet fierce rivalry by more affordable Android phones with many more advanced features, from both well-established international manufacturers as well as new Chinese phone companies that are now selling their products in the mainstream outlets. You can find much better options for the same price.
On the other hand, the phone can run for several days without the need of charge, which is a very good feature for those who need to be away from a power outlet for longer period of time. Plus, its colorful design and unique style along with a decent 5 mega pixel camera is a plus point. Moreover, the device certainly is very easy to use. It is something that you can pick and start operating without needing to read the instruction. It is so simple that old or young and experienced or inexperienced both can handle very easily. Navigation is made so easy that even a new user can easily navigate around without any stress. But again a phone of this caliber should cost way lesser because in this day and age, there are much more advanced options are available at the same price.