Nokia’s due to release a handful of new phones at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week, most of them mid-range Android-powered devices. That’s newsworthy thanks to the tumultuous few years Nokia’s had since it got trounced by Apple, Samsung and other smartphone manufacturers. But what’s piqued pundits’ interest more than any of the forthcoming, contemporary devices is the news that the Finnish company has revived one of the most iconic and beloved devices in mobile phone history: the Nokia 3310.
A bold new look
On Sunday, the new and improved Nokia 3310 was unveiled. It's sporting a bold new look with fun, bright colours - Warm Red and Yellow, as well as grey - and, crucially, a promised 22-hour talk time with standby time of a whole month.
Another new development is the camera - at 2MP, it's not going to replace most smartphones, but it's good enough for a snap here and there. It also has 2G connectivity, and 16MP storage, expandable up to 32GB with a microSD card. As always, the battery is removable - and therefore replaceable, so your Nokia 3310 should keep going and going for years.
A phone for the ages
A candy-bar style handset with a monochrome LCD display that would look horribly pixelated by today’s Retina- and 2K-display standards, what made the 3310 such a classic was its lack of protruding antenna, week-long battery life, tough-as-nails T9-powered numeric keypad, removable (and hence, customisable) covers, and the fact that it could take a beating and still work perfectly. Oh, and the game Snake, of course. Boy, did we lose a lot of time playing Snake.
That ability to endure all sorts of mistreatment is perhaps the thing for which the 3310 is most fondly remembered. YouTube is awash with videos of 3310s that have survived all manner of indignities, from tumbles from astounding altitudes to the sort of abuse you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy’s mobile device. But most of the devices shrugged it off and kept trundling along. So much so, this writer would likely still have his had it not been liberated from him by an opportunistic and skilled pickpocket back in 2002.
The 3310 – and its sibling, the 3330, which offered identical specifications but inverted the blue body and white trim – was also incredibly popular because it was extremely reasonably priced, not just relative to today’s flagship devices, but even compared to other devices of its time.
Instantly recognisable, the 3310 was to university students of the early 2000s what Dr Martens boots were to students of the 90s: an essential accessory that silently advertised your understanding of, and participation in, the consumerist zeitgeist.
It lacked GPS, had no camera, no web browser, no radio or MP3 support, and didn’t even offer the infrared blaster of higher-end Nokia models like the 6310. Calling, texting, alarms, basic games and a phonebook were all the 3310 offered, but it did each of them with aplomb and – thanks to the lack of said bells and whistles we now expect – it could last as much as a week on a charge, depending how much Snake you played or how many calls you made or received.
Second life for the 3310
It’s likely precisely the longevity of the 3310 that makes Nokia’s new parent company, HMD, believe there might be a market for the device in 2017, if only as an emergency phone to keep in the car cubby hole, or as a secondary phone for travellers.
Also, let’s not forget that feature phones continue to sell in developing markets, and despite the rocky decade Nokia’s endured, it’s brand recognition is still strong. In its heyday, Nokia was known for making top-quality devices that suited every budget. There’s probably no better advertisement for those brand attributes than the 3310, and looking at the slew of coverage online in recent days, plenty of people who still make those associations when presented with the Nokia marque.
It’s entirely possible tens of thousands of consumers will want a new 3310 as an ironic and retro accessory, and considering the anticipated recommended retail price of €49 (under R700), that may well prove reason enough to drive sales.
Whatever the motivation, the news of the 3310’s Lazarus moment has got people talking, and that’s impressive in the mobile phone sector where it increasingly takes something truly special to get anyone to pay any attention at all.
Will anyone who can afford a smartphone instead buy a handset with such limited functionality? With the addition of an internet connection, the Nokia 3310 certainly has the jump on feature phones, so it should be appealing to a wide market of budget buyers - plus those of us who'd like a second phone to keep in the car, or take hiking.
Now all Nokia needs to do is make sure the new 3310 delivers on the hype - they're certainly off to a good start.