Nokia 3310 review: 2002 called, and it can have its phone back
The name "Nokia" packs plenty of nostalgia, and it's not hard to see why: the company's virtually-indestructible bricks were the first mobile phones many people owned. Now almost 20 years on, parent company HMD has rebooted one of the brand's most iconic models – the Nokia 3310 – as a simple phone with a few modern concessions. But does it stand the test of time, or is it better left in the past?
Like most reboots, the new Nokia 3310 is more focused on reproducing how the original device felt rather than exactly how it was. To that end, it sports the same "candybar" shape and physical keypad as the original, but in a slimmer package with a bigger screen that's now in color. Since countries like the US, UK, Australia and Canada are phasing out their aging 2G networks, the new version taps into 3G.
Harking back to the "good" old days, the new Nokia doesn't bother with Wi-Fi, GPS, a touchscreen, a good app selection or an internet browser that's useful in any way. Forget Facebook, this is a device for making phone calls and sending text messages – end of story. Whether that sounds like heaven or hell is up to you.
For us, the coin lands closer to the latter. The nostalgic sheen of the Nokia 3310 wore off in a matter of minutes, and once it did, we immediately appreciated all the technological advancements of the intervening 15 years.
Our younger selves had a knack for quickly texting on a physical numberpad back in the day, but trying to reactivate that old muscle memory was a chore. It slowly came back to us over the two weeks we had the phone, and with it came our old text speak habits, full of "words" like U and R and totally devoid of punctuation.
We adapted to messaging with it, but the buttons became a real hassle when trying to browse the internet. Entering a URL is a fiddly affair without autocorrect there to clean up after you, and using the tiny rim around the home button is an awfully awkward way to get around. Worse still, the phone runs a version of the Opera browser that seems to be unsupported by many websites, making the whole experience incredibly slow and impossible to navigate.
A camera is a new addition to this model, but with a grainy two-megapixel resolution, there's almost no point it being there at all. Audio-wise, the new Nokia 3310 can pick up FM radio and play MP3s, but if you want to store more than two albums on there, you'll need to expand the internal storage from a paltry 128 MB to a more useful 32 GB, by way of the MicroSD card slot.
And of course, it has Snake, which was invariably the first thing everyone asked us about when we showed them the phone. Unfortunately, even that manages to disappoint – the fun is short-lived, and it's not even the version that was on the old Nokia. Still, a single game shouldn't be the sole reason you buy a phone, especially considering there are countless clones on all the other app stores.
That leaves calls as the main thing worth using the phone for. Historically that sounds like a weird thing to say – what else would you use a phone for? – but ironically, making calls is pretty much the least-used function of our modern pocket supercomputers. And in that regard, the Nokia 3310 still does the trick.
Physically, the phone strikes a good balance between size and durability. It's not the brick that its ancestor was, but it has just enough heft to it to feel like it would survive more tumbles than an iPhone or a Galaxy. This is more likely to come away from a fall unscratched by virtue of having a smaller screen, but in other ways it's less durable – with no waterproofing, for instance, the smallest splash of liquid could be its kryptonite.
All up, we have to wonder who the new Nokia 3310 is for. HMD is clearly banking on nostalgia to move units, but the types of people wearing rose-tinted glasses for the ol' brick-phone (like us) are the same people who won't tolerate its many, many usability issues for everyday life.
Nostalgia is great for luxury products – look at the insane success of Nintendo's retro mini-console line – but it's not so great for necessities. And since few things are as "necessary" to modern life as the smartphone, asking people to replace it with almost 20-year-old tech is a big ask. It's like trading in your car for a horse and cart: no matter how much you like horses, it just isn't practical.
The saving grace of the new Nokia 3310 might be its price. Ringing up for under US$60, the little brick makes for a decent backup phone. It could be your go-to for making calls when your main phone's battery dies, or to give to the kids to let you know when to pick them up from band practice.
In the end, the rebooted Nokia 3310 is a lot like an off-grid tiny house. Sure, it's a nice fantasy to strip away all the stressful complexities of modern life and go back to basics, but if you actually followed through with it you'd probably realize how much you miss those things. That said, if you genuinely can't stand all the overly-complicated features that bloat most phones nowadays, and just want something to make calls and send texts without spending a fortune, this is the brick for you.
Product page: Nokia