It is rare for a standard Android phone to make headlines. But then, it’s even more rare for a near-abandoned brand to return to worldwide adulation.
When the brand name is Nokia, however, it should be no surprise that its comeback is given the reception of a mythical hero returned from the battlefield. It’s hard to believe that it is only 14 months since Microsoft released the last of the Nokia Lumia phones running the Windows operating system.
The Lumia 650, launched in February 2016, turned out to be the epitaph for Nokia’s Windows era. Just three months later, Microsoft announced it was selling the Nokia feature phone business and the rights to the Nokia brand to Chinese device manufacturer Foxconn and a new Finnish company called HMD Global.
The selling price of $350-million made a mockery of the $7.6-billion Microsoft had paid to acquire Nokia in 2014. However, the Finnish credentials of the brand’s new stewards, and the fact that it was run by Nokia veterans, gave loyal fans hope.
It may not be a Star Wars sage, but the new episode in Nokia’s history could well be termed A New Hope. The series officially opened in South Africa last week, presided over by HMD Global’s CEO, Arto Nummela, and its president, Florian Seiche.
It was an emotional event for former Nokia country manager Shaun Durandt, now HMD general manager for Southern Africa, and former marketing head Patrick Henchie, now HMD product head for Sub-Sahara Africa. The latter spoke passionately about how “Nokia has always been about democratising technology”.
“You trusted that Nokia, that durability,” he said. “It didn’t matter what price you paid for the device, you were proud to walk around with that Nokia.”
HMD announced that the Nokia 5 would be available in South Africa by mid-July, and the Nokia 6 a fortnight later. The entry-level smartphone, the Nokia 3, arrived in the first week of June, while the “reimagined” 3310 feature phone has been available in limited numbers for the past month.
The smartphones all have one massive differentiator over almost any other phone widely available in South Africa: it runs the pure form of Google’s Android operating system (OS), as opposed to most other brands imposing their own “skins” on the OS. These skins usually come with a wide range of apps, widgets and adaptations that combine into what is known as bloatware: arbitrary software that unnecessarily uses up storage space on the phone and slows it down.
“What is common throughout all our devices? They’re made for everyday life,” said Nummela in an interview after the launch. “The phone market has moved on, and you can’t do today what you did then. We are keeping everything as simple as possible.
“When you have such a massive software build on top of what Google has built, it erodes the longer you use it. Then you have severe ageing issues and performance is completely different from day one to nine months later. We are trying to fix that issue with Google and (processor manufacturer) Qualcomm, so that your performance will stay constant.”
Nummela made a startling commitment: that the phone OS would be upgraded every time Android was upgraded, for at least the first two years of any of the new phones’ lives. Until recently, only Apple guaranteed that new OS releases would be compatible with old iPhones. It has now limited that backward compatibility, even as brands like Samsung introduce OS upgrades to current phones.
“We are committing to a promise that every time Google does an update between OS releases, we will provide those to consumers. Google releases security updates whenever there are anti-virus updates – we will do those monthly.
Then there are feature updates, being the OS updates, which occur annually.
“We will also do new releases with any new functionality that is available for the phone. Regardless of the price point, all consumers will get those updates.”
The one limitation is that, when OS updates require hardware changes for some features to work, those features will not be available for previous models. But Nokia guarantees nothing will be left out of current hardware releases.
“When you buy the device, the starting point is the very latest OS. It’s a service promise that your phone will always be fresh.”
He was adamant that this did not make Nokia devices mere Google phones. The Nokia heritage, he said, was a key aspect of the phone.
“We are focusing on those things that make a phone better: battery life, and reliability.”
The point was reiterated by Florian Seiche, who cut his teeth in the industry as co-founder of HTC’s smartphone business: “What consumers are looking for all ties in to the original Nokia brand promise of ease of use and reliability. In the past this meant something, so we try to listen to what Nokia represented to consumers.”
But is customer loyalty enough? There’s more, Seiche pointed out.
“The market has changed a lot and it is a very mature smartphone market, and many brands have had bold plans, investing and then disappearing, because the market is dynamic and changing. The advantage of Nokia over those is that we’ve been in this business for so long, building up relationships with channel partners, that they associate that trust with us. We also don’t have to invest so much in awareness, so we can focus on conversion and highlighting what is new.”
Will we see a sequel in which the likes of the Apple and Samsung empires strike back? As far as die-hard Nokia fans are concerned, it won’t matter. They have already fast-forwarded to the return of the phone world’s Jedi.
Nokia 3310 (2017 edition) Technical Specifications
• System: Dual band 900/1800 MHz
• Available in dual SIM variants (microSIM)
• Software platform: Nokia Series 30+
• Dimensions: 115.6 x 51.0 x 12.8mm
• Weight: 79.6 g (including battery)
• Display: 2.4’’ curved window colour QVGA (240*320)
• Connectivity: micro USB, 3.5mm AV connector, Bluetooth 3.0 with SLAM
• Camera: 2Mpxl camera with LED flash
• MicroSD card support up to 32GB
• LED torchlight
• Standby time: up to 31 days
• Talk time: up to 22.1 hours
• MP3 playback up to 51 hours
• FM radio playback up to 39 hours
Nokia 3 Technical Specifications
• Available in single SIM variant
• OS: Android Nougat
• CPU: MTK 6737, Quad-core 1.3Ghz
• RAM: 2 GB LPPDDR 3
• Storage: 16 GB internal user memory[iii] with MicroSD card slot (support up to 128 GB support)
• Form factor: Touch monoblock with capacitive system keys
• Display: 5.0” IPS LCD HD (1280 x 720, 16:9), sculpted Corning® Gorilla® Glass, Polariser, 450 nits
• Camera: Primary camera: 8MP AF, 1.12um, f/2, flash, Front facing camera: 8MP AF, 1.12um, f/2, FOV 84˚ display flash
• Connectivity & Sensors: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, BT 4.2, GPS/AGPS, FM/RDS, NFC, Ambient light sensor, Proximity sensor, Accelerometer (G-sensor), E-compass, Gyroscope, Micro USB (USB 2.0), OTG, 3.5mm ADJ
• Battery: Integrated 2630 mAh battery[iv]
• Audio: Single speaker
• Dimensions: 143.4 x 71.4 x 8.48 mm (camera bump: 8.68mm)
• EMEA Networks: GSM: 850/900/1800/1900 WCDMA: Band 1, 2, 5, 8 LTE: Band 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 20, 28, 38, 40
• Network speed: LTE Cat. 4, 150Mbps DL/50Mbps UL
• Price: R2,199