Mobile Technology

What the Nokia 3310 had that smartphones don’t

What the Nokia 3310 had that s...
We think today's smartphone manufacturers could take a cue from phones like the Nokia 3310 shown here
We think today's smartphone manufacturers could take a cue from phones like the Nokia 3310 shown here
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Broken displays are common problem in the smartphone era
1/5
Broken displays are common problem in the smartphone era
The Mophie Base Case + Battery accessory adds another 4,000 mAh to the iPhone 7 battery
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The Mophie Base Case + Battery accessory adds another 4,000 mAh to the iPhone 7 battery
Google Pixel's kitty-catching Easter egg
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Google Pixel's kitty-catching Easter egg
Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge look great, but looks come at a price
4/5
Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge look great, but looks come at a price
We think today's smartphone manufacturers could take a cue from phones like the Nokia 3310 shown here
5/5
We think today's smartphone manufacturers could take a cue from phones like the Nokia 3310 shown here
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The Nokia 3310 – one of the most popular cell phones in the world just after the turn of the millennium (along with its variations) – is having a surprising resurgence in popularity, amidst reliable rumors that Nokia will re-introduce a modernized version of the phone at the Mobile World Congress later this month.

However, all signs point to the reiteration being a "dumb" phone, that is, the kind of brick we were all sporting before the iPhone ushered in the smartphone era. That makes the rumored reintroduction the stuff of clickbait, a flash-in-the-pan indulgence of nostalgia that should get people talking, but not much else. The rumored going rate for the new generation is only 59 Euro; the source speculates that it will be hawked as a second phone.

It sounds like a tough sell, even for nostalgic mobile enthusiasts. There are a number of mobile and desktop solutions that can fulfill the need for a second phone, if indeed you ever encounter it. Instead, we wish that smartphone manufacturers (Nokia included) would take a cue from the traits that made the trusty little bricks endure so long in the public memory. Here are the Y2K-era selling points we'd like to see come to smartphones.

Indestructibility

The original Nokia 3310's indestructibility is the stuff of legend (not to mention memes). On the other hand, it would be a foolhardy move to rock a smartphone without a case.

Broken displays are common problem in the smartphone era
Broken displays are common problem in the smartphone era

Yes, we appreciate the recent trend toward increased water resistance and incrementally tougher builds, but that's not enough. Now that smartphone ownership is nearly a given, the industry isn't cutting consumers any deals. Not only must we pay for more expensive phones, we have to pay for the data plans and the third-party accessories to go with it. We'd be thrilled if more smartphones were capable of surviving impacts and drops without additional protection.

Terrific battery life

The Nokia 3310's 900 mAh battery is dwarfed by the 3,000 mAh+ powerhouses seen in today's flagships, but its overall life (up to 4.5 hours of talk time, or 260 hours of standby) was impressive for its time, especially considering that phones did a lot more standby time back then. The phones seemed to last forever between charges.

It seems that today's leading manufacturers are prioritizing charging tricks over battery duration, and that's a questionable strategy. Fast and wireless charging are often billed as attractions, but does it matter how a phone is charged if you only need to do so every few days?

The Mophie Base Case + Battery accessory adds another 4,000 mAh to the iPhone 7 battery
The Mophie Base Case + Battery accessory adds another 4,000 mAh to the iPhone 7 battery

We know battery life can be added without deal-breaking bulk. Accessory makers are dreaming up ever-thinner battery cases that can double the life of a phone while adding only millimeters of thickness. That kind of built-in capacity would be quite welcome.

No beauty contest required

Don't get us wrong: We're not about to condemn the gorgeousness of ever-shrinking bezels or a slim, sexy smartphone. But not everybody needs or appreciates that aesthetic. When you consider that many flagships have only minor differences in build details, and that they're usually stuffed into a case anyway, cutting-edge appearance doesn't hold much value.

In practice, "good looks" in a smartphone means adhering to the established thin/light/unibody standard. For those who don't want to pay a premium for incremental improvements in those departments, there aren't many choices.

Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge look great, but looks come at a price
Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge look great, but looks come at a price

If a halfway-decent looking phone was released with an abundance of user-friendly details, we could easily overlook its lack of a supermodel status. (For what it's worth, we think the Google Pixel and Pixel XL flirt with this "performance over presence" concept.)

The original Nokia 3310 fits that description well. It didn't look super-futuristic and its bar-style build wasn't ogled like its slim flip phone counterparts, but its no-nonsense style and optional personalization make it look equally at home in a teenager's purse or a businessman's briefcase.

Simple pleasures

Snake 2, a customizable screen saver, optional modular face and back plates, compose-your-own ringtones: These bells and whistles are humble, but they made users feel like part of a club. Those little pleasures are a big factor in today's Nokia nostalgia.

Modernized versions of these pleasantries could take any number of understated, achievable forms. One current example is the Google Pixel's cat-themed Easter egg, but the blue chat bubbles that iOS users see when they hold an iMessage conversation could also fit the bill.

Google Pixel's kitty-catching Easter egg
Google Pixel's kitty-catching Easter egg

We feel these personal touches help the user feel welcomed and appreciated. It seems like back then, manufacturer egos took a backseat to customer satisfaction (another sea change we can credit to the iPhone). Nowadays, even high-value offerings like the OnePlus 3T are emblazoned with aggressive branding – "Never Settle", its stock wallpaper proclaims.

In summary - good value and customer appreciation

Yes, super-sophisticated builds, the latest operating systems, and cutting-edge performance are important to some mobile buyers. But if you want value – a phone that works well without insisting on its own greatness – there really aren't many options.

The Nokia 3310 is remembered fondly because it occupied a sweet spot between capability and affordability. If a comparably-situated smartphone hit the market, it could inspire some powerful brand loyalty. But somehow, we don't think egos the size of Apple's are going to listen.

View gallery - 5 images
5 comments
Bob Flint
"Not a Dumb Phone" It was intended as an affordable functional reliable portable phone, that's what it does....period After the marketers bloated everything from software to apps just to increase profits....enough is enough, keep it simple, and it will be a great phone again...
Christopher Erickson
The iPhone did NOT usher in the smartphone era. The Palm Treos did that. They did voice, texts, web, email, played movies, music, took pictures and video. In fact there isn't much that the latest smartphones can do that the Palm Treos didn't already do years ago.
Get your history straight.
PAV
One of the things I remember best about my Nokia was the piss poor audio quality. "what, say again..."
JoelTaylor
A lot of us out here just want a phone for making calls, nothing fancy. Something I don't need, or will feel the need to replace every 2 years because it has a harder time running the latest apps. Also, by this point I already have several "outdated" smart phones that I use for everything else except making a call. Heck I'm still use my old Galaxy S3 as a small "pocket" tablet/media player/camera/GPS.
bergamot69
Nokia haven't stopped making 'candy bar' shaped phones for the bottom of the market- I've got 3 of them- my current everyday phone being a Nokia 215- an extremely inexpensive 'dumbphone' with basic web browsing capability. The other two older phones were bought for £5 and £1, brand new, respectively (yup, they were in the back of the retailer's closet and they decided to sell them cheap).
And whilst none of them boast the legendary build quality of the 3310, if you were to drop any of them (which I've demonstrated many, many times being a klutz), the worst that happens is that the back falls off, the battery falls out, and you just put it all back together again and switch back on- hey presto! - works every time.
Now the 215's web browser is underspecified and painfully slow, but for someone who doesn't use Twitter, Facebook, or feel the need to be endlessly glued to other social media, it's fine for occasionally looking up facts, or timetables, etc. And the camera works passably well too.
All for £20.