February 21, 2013

NOKIA C3-00 REVIEW


This was bound to happen - "Indian" phone makers like Micromax, MVL, Karbonn, Lemon etc. have heavily bred countless number of inexpensive QWERTY phones into the Indian market, and it was high time the big guys took notice. These cheap QWERTYs are good value for money as they let you use mobile internet to accomplish basic tasks like chatting on Gtalk, posting Facebook/Twitter updates and listening to music (although not all at once). Most of them also have the capability to operate two SIM cards.

So, like I said before, the alpha cellphone makers have taken notice to this new market and are reacting as well. For example, LG's got their GW300, Motorola has the dual-SIMed EX115 and from Nokia's stable we have the Nokia C3 that we're going to test today. A Series 40, non-Symbian, non-smartphone that seems to accomplish most of the tasks that the above-mentioned Indo-Chinese models do. Let's see whether the King can still get his respect back in the sub Rs. 5,000 range.  


Build and Design

At first glance you might mistake the Nokia C3 for its higher IQ sibling - the Nokia E63. But there are a few changes that tell the brothers apart. The Nokia C3 has adopted the slightly curvy flow for the QWERTY keys; the arrangement of which matches the shape of a smile. This is a welcome change from the perfectly horizontal rows of keys on the E63. As far as key tactility goes, it's pretty good to type on. A good thing about Nokia QWERTY phones are the individually assigned full-stop and comma keys that we oh so often use - a good habit that the Micromax's and even the BlackBerry's could imbibe.

In a commitment to show its love for the country, Nokia has put Devanagri script characters besides each English alphabet. However, the initial issue we faced while using this bilingual keyboard was the utter confusion in trying to find the placement of symbols. This could be even more frustrating if you're never going to type in Hindi or Marathi on it. Let's hope there's a Nokia C3 with just English alphabets.  



Other buttons are fairly large to click on, except for those two thin shortcut keys to the 'Communities' and 'Messaging' apps. Another button-related anomaly is that the volume buttons to the side are missing, so you'll have to resort to using the D-pad to control the earpiece volume during a call. Above those keys is a typical 2.4-inch QVGA display that's seen on almost all Nokia QWERTYs these days. The clarity is good, fonts appear sufficiently large but like every previous Series 40 phone, there's no control for brightness (although the default brightness was good enough for us). Visibility under direct sunlight was average; the saving grace being the light-toned background on the menus. 




The phone is fairly light and comfy to hold and pocket. It's duo-tone design at the back is rather attractive, especially given the choice in colors. The build quality is also pretty sturdy. There's the typical microSD card slot and microUSB port to the left side, while the charging pin and 3.5mm headphone jack lie at the top. At the back is a rather measly 2 megapixel sensor and a speaker grille next to it.  




Here's another disappointing thing about the C3's Series 40-based UI; one cannot minimize third party applications, let alone shuffle between multiple ones (the competing LG GW300 can do that). You have to compulsorily quit the app, unlike Micromax and phones of its creed, where at least minimizing them was possible. But on a positive note, the music player can play tracks in the background while you're chatting or browsing the web, something other inexpensive QWERTYs can't do. 




Web-browsing using the default browser was pretty decent; rich webpages opened just the way it would appear on the computer screen. There were times when the device would run out of memory on opening heavy sites and thus would stop loading images any further. But Opera Mini can come to the rescue in that case.

I was glad to see that there weren't any stupid text input issues in Java-based apps that we've seen in many inexpensive phones. You can type directly into the text box and just hit enter to perform the action on the Nokia C3. 



User Interface

Nokia's put in a good effort to design the Series 40 UI on the C3 similar to the Symbian OS on their newer smartphones like the Nokia E5. But the commonality blurs as you go a couple of levels deep into the menu structure. The homescreen is configurable with useful elements like a Notification bar that lets you know of missed calls or messages, music player controls, shortcuts to apps etc. Then there's also this social networking feed box that shows either Twitter or Facebook updates (it unfortunately can't concatenate both). The menu structure is simply designed and should be a no-brainer for someone who's never even used a phone before. 


The 'Communities' app is an integrated social media client for Facebook and Twitter. It's very basic in use; you cannot Re-tweet something, just reply or view profile. The Facebook app shows the News Feed, events, accept friend requests and post a picture taken from the phone.


Being a non-smartphone, we were surprised to see Nokia's Ovi app store in the menu. It basically looks and behaves just like the Symbian Ovi store. Although the quality of the apps we saw didn't really awe us, but maybe some people might be satisfied with what is offered. A good addition seen in the messaging app was the 'Conversations' view, which is basically threaded messages. But unlike following convention where the most recent message appears at the bottom (just like a chat conversation), here it appears in an inverse order. Typing messages was eased by the predictive text mode that corrected mistyped words, but you'd want to switch it off if you are breaking away from the traditional English word formations (eg: Typng lik dis).

For chatting, there's a built-in chat app that lets you connect to Google Talk, MSN and Yahoo Messenger; no Facebook chat support unfortunately. At least it runs in the background, so you can stay online even while doing other things. But the same can't be said about the Mail client. Although the box the C3 came in says it supports Push Mail, it didn't work for us on your GPRS connection. We set up our Gmail as well as Ovi.com e-mail accounts in the mail client. We tried sending mails to either of these accounts, but we could only see them once we opened the Mail app. Surprisingly, when the phone was connected to the internet over Wi-fi, we did receive notifications, albeit with a delay. Otherwise the mail client is fairly functional for text based e-mails. Note that HTML e-mail (for example those newsletters you receive) aren't formatted properly.

Performance

As a phone, we had no issues with the call clarity and network reception of the phone. Just that the ear-piece's maximum volume felt a bit low to me, especially when I was moving through noisy areas. The loudspeaker is fairly loud for phone calls, but it's not pleasing to listen to music at a high volume.

The Nokia C3 is endowed with Wi-fi to suck on all the fast and probably free internet you can get. In our usage, Wireless Internet did work as expected. But as vigilant TechTree reader Bhaskaran from Mumbai pointed out, you can't use Wi-Fi with 3rd party Java apps like Opera Mini; and rather works only with the default apps like the Nokia browser. This indeed cripples the Wi-fi feature; but with generous GPRS plans given by many operators at affordable prices, some of you may forgive the phone for this flaw. Another thing; mobile phones are generally not expected to have as good a range as laptops, so don't cry if the phone doesn't detect a network two rooms away.

The 2 megapixel camera at the back takes grainy snaps that we wouldn't be too proud to post on our Facebook page (maybe Orkut). The audio quality via the default pair isn't much to talk about, but when hooked with a better set of headphones, it did sound good enough that you wouldn't miss your dedicated MP3 player.

The battery life on the Nokia C3 is also pretty good - it survived for a little over two days with fairly heavy usage of phone calls and messaging.

Price and Verdict
The Nokia C3 sells for Rs. 6,000. This price is a little more than the Micromax's and other inexpensive QWERTYs that you find for well underRs. 5,000. We'd like it if the price fell by a grand at the very least. So, what do you get if you choose the C3 over the Indo-China models? A well-designed QWERTY keyboard, a better interface with big fonts that offer good readability and quad-band world phone support (for e.g. the Micromax Q75 is a dual-band phone). Also, there aren't any text input issues on it. What do you lose? Most of the phones we mentioned earlier support two SIM cards, while the C3 supports just one. 




How is this phone compared to a smartphone like the Nokia E63 that is just a couple of thousands away from the C3's asking price? Well, if you consider yourself anywhere close to a power user, then it is miles away. You can't minimize applications nor is there multi-tasking, push mail support is spotty, third party apps will be limited to the Java-based ones that don't perform superior tasks like make VOIP phone-calls (for e.g. NimbuzzOut or SkypeOut). So, if you're even a little excited about pushing the phone to its limits in terms of the tasks it can perform, then this phone is not for you.

But for people who just want an inexpensive phone to do a bit more than just phone calls, the Nokia C3 would work out just fine (except for taking quality pictures). Nokia has done a decent job with the C3 and we didn't find any major deterrents that should prevent you from buying it.

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