Handset manufacturer Nokia unveiled the first of a family of Asha smartphones with the introduction of the Asha 501, a colorful and affordable smartphone—carrying a suggested price of $99—that suggests the company, which famously agreed to partner with Microsoft on its fledgling Windows mobile platform, is hedging its bets by releasing the phone with the new platform.
The Asha comes with Nokia Xpress Browser preloaded, which is aimed at making mobile browsing faster. The company also announced the availability of Xpress Now, a Web application that recommends content based on location, preferences and trending topics, which will be available through the browser’s homepage or as a download from Nokia Store.
The handset is expected to start shipping in June, and will be available through approximately 60 operators and distributors in more than 90 countries, a company statement said. The 501 is available in single or EasySwap Dual SIM models, and all models come with WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity. Other features include a 3.2-megapixel camera, talk time of up to 17 hours and an additional 4GB of memory.
The handset comes in just two parts, a removable casing and the scratch-resistant glass display, and features a three-inch, capacitive touch-screen and a single back button. Users interact with the phone through a choice of two main screens, Home and Fastlane. Home is a traditional, icon-based view for launching individual apps or accessing a specific feature, like the dialer or phone settings.
On the flip side, recently accessed contacts, social networks and apps, unique to each person, are stored and presented in Fastlane. It provides a record of how the phone is used. It offers a glimpse of their past, present and future activity, and theoretically helps users multitask by providing quicker access to their most-used features.
"Nokia has surpassed expectations of what's achievable in the sub-$100 phone category with a new Asha handset that is unlike any other, with design cues from Lumia and a mix of features, services and affordability that is valued by price-conscious buyers," Neil Mawston, executive director of IT research firm Strategy Analytics global wireless practice, said in a statement. "This is a welcome addition to the market and a refreshing option for consumers looking to upgrade from feature phones."
The 501 is the first smartphone built on the Asha platform, which leverages Nokia's investments in Smarterphone, which the company acquired last year. The Here interface, based on Nokia's location-based platform, will also be available as a download for the Asha 501, starting in the third quarter of 2013 and will initially include basic mapping services.
"The new Nokia Asha 501 raises the bar for what is possible in affordable smartphone design and optimization," Timo Toikkanen, executive vice president of mobile phones at Nokia, said in a statement. "The synergy between the physical design and the engine that is the new Asha platform has created a smartphone with both style and substance at a great price."
In addition, developers can create apps for the Asha 501 that will be compatible with future Asha platform-based devices, and Nokia gives developers the chance to make money through the global reach of Nokia Store and tools like In-App Payment and Nokia Advertising Exchange (NAX), as well as the company’s operator billing network. A host of applications are available or in development for the Asha platform, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and a variety of video game publishers.