Monday, August 27, 2012

Nokia Asha, smartphone or not

If you pay a visit to the Nokia site and browse their smartphone catalog, you'll be presented with some exotic Asha devices mixed with Windows Phone Lumias and some Symbian stuff (sigh). Many people get surprised because they do not consider a smartphone anything below an iPhone or a Galaxy, both in terms of looks and price (how can possibly be a $100 device a smartphone !?!)

To shed some light on this matter, let's have a look at the smartphone definition from Wikipedia:

A smartphone is a mobile phone built on a mobile operating system, with more advanced computing capability and connectivity than a feature phone.

Yet another definition, from PC Magazine, trying to be more precise:

A cellular telephone with built-in applications and Internet access. In addition to digital voice service, modern smartphones provide text messaging, e-mail, Web browsing, still and video cameras, MP3 player and video playback and calling. In addition to their built-in functions, smartphones run myriad free and paid applications, turning the once single-minded cellphone into a mobile personal computer.

Whatever definition you choose, it seems to me that Asha devices do fit in nicely. In fact, some Ashas are a better match to this definition than the original Apple iPhone, who lacked an application store (yet no one argued it wasn't an smartphone).

Now, I wish you have a look at the following feature list:

  • 1 GHz CPU
  • 3G, HSDPA @ 14.4 Mbps, HSUPA @ 5.76 Mbps
  • TFT capacitive touchscreen (Corning Gorilla Glass)
  • Bluetooth 2.1, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, USB, microSD slot
  • Proximity sensor, accelerometer, ambient light
  • MP3, FM Radio with RDS and video player
  • Photo camera (3 MP), video recorder (VGA @ 25 fps),
  • Web browser, e-mail, instant messaging (msn, gmail and may others), twitter and facebook applications, games, application store with hundreds of applications..

Did these specifications define an smartphone? Well, as many of you may have guessed already, these features belong to the Nokia Asha 311. This smells smartphone to me.. and it seems I'm not alone with that feeling; Anshul Gupta -an analyst from research firm Gartner in Mumbai- said recently:

They (Asha handsets) have almost all the features a smartphone should have like an application portal to download apps, a touch interface, social-networking integration — so these devices are completely like a smartphone.

However, even Nokia in a press release defined the Asha series as "smartphone-likes" (read: not exactly smartphones)... Is this an honest divide from Nokia? Or just an attempt to take the successful Asha line apart from the Windows Phone powered Lumias? (Remember, the Nokia-Microsoft deal already killed a couple of competing operating systems from Nokia).

In search of answers, I've read through a lot of online discussions recently (but I've also paid attention to some passionate discussions in the shuttle trips) between owners of different devices. From my observations to date, the opinions tend to be biased by budget (how much did YOU pay for this ?) with people trenching in the following groups and positions:

  • The upper class not bothering about sub $399 devices (many didn't even notice of its existence as they're not displayed in the shops or sites they normally visit)
  • Working to lower class folks arguing their devices can do most (if not more) than its premium counterparts
  • Middle class, with some people buying on the "specifications per price" equation and many others impulse-buying high end devices (usually on credit, or tied to long lasting carrier plans) in an attempt to differentiate themselves from the crowd

What do you think? Are the Nokia Asha devices rightful smartphones, or not? Is the smartphone definition becoming classy, setting the boundaries on price and not on features?

Please have your say in the comments section below and help us decide where to stand by.