Back when I was in lower primary school, the Nokia 3310, a phone that not many kids who are in high school in Kenya today will remember let alone associate with, was king.
I first saw the phone at a family event in 2001 when a close relative of mine who happens to be an engineer and the only person in the family with as keen an eye on mobile tech as I do, showed up with one. I took note of its stylish design and top power button, a stark contrast to Sagem, Alcatel, Ericsson and Motorola phones that the rest of the family had and which I had gotten used to. Over time, I’d notice the phone in school and everywhere I went. The local cyber cafe that I frequented (where it took 5-10 minutes to load up the Yahoo homepage), soon started stocking covers of all colours and inspirations and suddenly the Nokia 3310 was everywhere I went.
It didn’t take long before my father bought one and soon enough I was so hooked to Snake and the “gun game” that closely resembled Game A on my coveted Brick Game. In fact, I enjoyed playing both games on the Nokia 3310 than on the Brick Game. However, it was not the games that were the highlight of my interaction with the Nokia 3310. It was two other things: its long battery life, which meant fewer trips to get the damn thing charged as had been the case with my father’s earlier phones whenever I was at his house, and the screen saver that, when activated, would kick in every 5 minutes. I also really liked the confirmation prompt which was an animated check box. It was nothing like what I’d seen in my mother’s tiny Siemens A35 (by those day’s standards).
Sadly, my father’s Nokia 3310 would end up with a new owner one fateful night when he’d had one too many and couldn’t remember where he’d kept it. He moved on to another iconic Nokia phone from those days, the Nokia 1110. If you’re following then by now you realize that the 3310 and the 1110’s release dates are 5 years apart. My father had stayed with the phone for quite some time. I can’t remember the exact timelines but it felt like forever. By the time he was moving on, a bond had been created. Even though by that time I was already salivating at the coloured screen Samsung flip phones that dominated the classifieds section of every day’s Standard newspaper, fond memories of the 3310 would stay with me for a long time. That explains why a non-Android device finds itself here.
Checkout: Nokia 3310 specifications
First look & Design impressions
When you remove it from its transparent retail box the very first time, you’re immediately struck by how light the device is. And tiny too. Maybe it is because memories fade and I wasn’t half the man I’ve grown to be today but I remember my father’s 3310 being very large and bulky. Only matched by the Ericsson’s T-series phones that had large, ugly protruding antennas. The Nokia 3310 (2017), in contrast, is paperweight, basically. Not much changes when you slot in the battery in its rightful place, at the back.
The plastic build of the device, while tightly held together, still feels cheap. The dark blue (like the one I have) Nokia 3310 (2017) and the grey-coloured models both have a matte finish making for some slightly better feel compared to the glossy material that adorns the other colour options (yellow and warm red).
I can’t exactly remember how the old Nokia 3310 used to feel like since it’s been a long while but I just know that the 2017 edition is nowhere as fat as its ancestor used to be. It’s gone to the gym, had leg day and drank 8 glasses of water daily. The new one weighs in at just 80 grams, a far cry from the old one’s 133 grams. The old was 22 millimetres thick, the new is just 13 millimetres. Slimpossible, device edition. It also lacks the long power-on button and fascinating scrolling key arrangement that characterized the old 3310. Instead, we get a simple button approach that is more in line with our phone use cases today than was the case almost 2 decades ago.
The new Nokia 3310 packs a 2.4-inch colour screen that actually seems quite large. I don’t know, maybe it is because I came to the 3310 not expecting much. It’s a glorified feature phone, after all.
There’s a cosmetic addition at the back of the device: the camera. Like the appendix in the human digestive system, it’s pretty much useless. Unless taking pixelated images and struggling to tell people and things apart on a 240 x 320 pixel (167 pixels per inch) screen is your thing. Other than showing what difference 17 years can make, the camera is inconsequential and is something that could (and should) have been left out without taking anything away from the device. Maybe it would’ve even led to a slight drop in the price?
There’s not much that you will be able to get to do with the Nokia 3310 other than making and receiving calls, texting and the occasional bout of Snake. More about Snake in a moment. However, the little that the 3310 can do, it does it so well. I have used it to tune in to local FM radio stations during my daily work commute and play my favourite Lost Frequencies music. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that dumb as it is, the device responded to my Huawei P10’s earphone buttons. Well, at least one, the play/stop button. When I was not plugging in white things to my ears, the 3310 was belting out Imagine Dragon’s Thunder on my desk because the speaker located at the back, is quite loud even though the sound, as you would expect, is horrible.
It’s not a Nokia 3310 without Snake, right? The only problem is that I found the Snake game on the device a tad too confusing and hard, lacking the familiarity of the one I used to play when I was in lower primary school on my father’s phone which was a mirror of the Snake game on my Brick Game (remember those?). The game is made by Gameloft and it’s colourful, has lots of barriers and whatnot. Long story short, my high score, so far, is 8. Sigh. They ruined a good phone by putting in a bad game. I have no idea what Snake should have matured up to be but it’s definitely not this. Maybe this?
The Nokia 3310 (2017) is an overpriced and underpowered phone that banks on nothing but history to get its good graces in the eyes of any user. Not surprising, from the way it has been selling like hot cakes since its arrival in Kenya last month, that appears to be working.
The famous Series 30+ software may be old but that doesn’t show on the 3310. If you used a Nokia device before, then you will be in familiar territory on the new 3310. More so if you are trying to browse using the preloaded Opera mini browser.
One can also buy or install apps from the Opera store. Since WhatsApp stopped supporting Series 30 devices, that means that one of the most popular mobile apps is missing on the device and you’ll be stuck to sending SMS. If you are used to these oversized on-screen keyboards on our phablets then your fingers will be hurting after 10 minutes of trying to send inspirational Bible verses in the morning. It’s good to reminisce about the good old days when the T9 keyboard reigned supreme but actually using it in 2017 is a chore. You will be justified to demand a hardship allowance after half an hour of texting.
Besides Snake, the hallmark of a Nokia is being able to stay all-week long on a single charge. I gave up trying to drain the battery when I hit the third day and there were no signs of battery consumption even going lower than the 75% mark so I gave up. I am told that the device can stay on standby mode for up to a month and the promotional material accompanying the device boldly claims 22 hours talk time so battery-wise, you’ll be spending less time tethered to a wall and more time getting other things done, something our good smartphones with all their smartness and terrible overpricing, struggle to do.
A lot of effort has been made to create a modern day experience while still not crushing the emotional attachment we all have to the OG. As a result, there’s the camera you don’t need, a switch to a standard charging cable (microUSB because nani bado ako na charger ya pin ndogo?), Bluetooth, a 3.5mm headphone jack, expandable storage and, most importantly, 2G network connectivity.
However, none of those things really matter that much to me. The only reason I was jamming to Mike Posner on the 3310 was because I was testing it for this review and that’s pretty much it. Internet? More like for showing off what the device can do on social media, not much else.
That I was stuck in unfamiliar territory in the unsightly version of Snake that runs on the Nokia 3310 (2017) and that there’s no way to go back to blasting aliens in Space Impact like I did on the 1.5-inch monochrome display that crowned the front face of the old 3310, only served to escalate matters from bad to worse.
The other stuff
Will the Nokia 3310 2017 edition survive a big fall? Can you use it as a hammer when you’re out acting plumber on Sunday afternoon like its meme-licious old counterpart used to do? I really don’t know.
Sure, the 2000 edition may have been the Chuck Norris of phones but the 2017 3310 doesn’t look the part. It appears soft and a bit fragile. It lacks that macho look and feel. It probably had lots of Weetabix before commuting to school at Braeburn or something so it wouldn’t want to dirty its hands in the mud like the old 3310 used to do. It’s a cultured pet that will be staying on the living room sofas and eavesdropping on your conversations with visitors as it catches up on the latest Spanish telenovelas. Sorry.
The Nokia 3310 (2017) is a good phone. Probably the best feature phone you can buy in the Kenyan market at the moment. It doesn’t run a smart mobile operating system like our darling Android but it can be a good companion to any Android (or other) device you have with you. Other than being a good candidate for a backup phone for when you decide to go out on Friday night or camping somewhere near Mount Kenya or when you’re on a digital detox, you’ll be hard pressed to make a case for the Nokia 3310 (2017).
For people like yours truly, it’s worth spending more than Kshs 5,000 (I’d buy it again and again) just to get over the nostalgia and relive the old days when our biggest worry was that games time in the school timetable was very short and there wasn’t enough money to buy snacks at break time. For everyone else, Kshs 5,000 is a lot of money to spend on a phone like the 3310. Maybe I am missing the whole point of bringing it back (the awareness that the Nokia brand lives on that HMD Global badly needs going forward?) but if you are in the market for a cheap phone in the region of Kshs 5,000, then the new 3310 is not it. Treat it as a luxury buy. A good luxury buy that, like the iPhone of old, will start a conversation as you wait for the drinks and probably get you a few winks from strange faces across the room. At least it has done so for me.
How to get it
When the Nokia 3310 (2017) was announced at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in late February, I started plotting how I was going to get it as soon as I could. Of course the device was already selling in Kenya through unofficial channels as early as end of April. However, the exorbitant price of the device meant that my poor self would avoid it like plague for quite some time.
With the Nokia brand safely back in the Kenyan market thanks to HMD Global Oy, the Finnish company that has licensed the brand name from good old Nokia, the 3310 is also available at half the price it used to go for through unscrupulous business entities.
Since I started sharing snippets of my daily interactions with the 3310, or the fact that at some point I owned 3 of them, there has been an overwhelming interest in the device so, if you are interested in getting one then quick, head over to a Safaricom shop near you and get one. It costs Kshs 5,300. There’s a reason why I insist that it be from Safaricom (more on that soon): other than the fact that Safaricom will throw in some free 100MB data bundle to get your Opera mini life started, you don’t need to worry about buying a fake 3310.