Having looked at several models from Nokia’s Symbian^3 smartphone range over the past few months – including the range-topping Nokia N8 – today it’s the turn of more basic fare from the company. The Nokia X3-02 Touch and Type may have a touchscreen but it also keeps a numeric keypad, albeit one with an unusual layout, for those for whom T9 has yet to be eclipsed by on-screen keyboards. Is Nokia still the king of budget cellphones? Check out our full review after the cut.
The X3-02′s hardware is unmistakably Nokia in origin, but even having come from the slender C7 its compact dimensions are a pleasant surprise. Measuring in at 106.2 x 48.4 x 9.6 mm and weighing a mere 78g, the chassis is plastic – with a brushed metal battery cover – but feels sturdy and high quality. It’s still unusual to see a candybar phone with both a touchscreen and physical keypad, but Nokia squeeze in both: the X3-02 gives you a 2.4-inch QVGA display and a well-sized, nicely-clicky keypad.
Both have some compromises, to accommodate the X3-02′s size and relatively low £159 ($247) SIM-free price. The touchscreen uses a restive panel, though it’s a decent example of the technology; you don’t get multitouch gestures, but neither do you get lag or an overly squeeze feel to the display. Meanwhile the keypad has an unusual 4 x 4 layout, with the star, zero and hash keys shifted to the side of the 1-9 buttons rather than underneath them. Dedicated call-end, messaging, media and call buttons run along the top row; we’d prefer them down the side instead and a more regular layout, but our fingers did eventually get used to the change.
Inside, there are quadband GSM and quadband WCDMA modems (850/900/1900/2100) along with WiFi b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR and an FM radio; you also get a microUSB port and a separate Nokia charging port. Disappointingly absent is GPS, which means one of Nokia’s key advantages, Ovi Maps with free turn-by-turn navigation, isn’t available. Internal storage is a mere 50MB but you can use up to 16GB microSD cards. That’s handy, considering the X3-02 has a 5-megapixel camera.
Unlike the N8, C7 and C6-01, the X3-02 uses Nokia’s ageing S40 OS. That puts it resolutely in the feature-phone category, rather than smartphone, but it’s actually a solid platform for those with less ambitious expectations from their mobile device. The combination of touchscreen and physical keypad works well, with decent-sized on-screen icons and text. The only real stumbling block is scrolling, which tends to be more jumpy as a result of the touchscreen technology, but it’s a minor issue.
The S40 homescreen supports widgets, shortcuts and themes, though the flexibility isn’t as broad as with Symbian^3. Think more customizable launcher than anything else. Preloaded apps include the usual Nokia Messaging Service 3.0, which offers POP/IMAP compatibilty along with Gmail, Yahoo!, Windows Live and Ovi Mail, with up to ten simultaneous accounts supported. There’s also Ovi Chat, the Ovi Store for downloads – though these are general Java applets and lack the complexity of what you’d find in, say, the Apple App Store or Android Market – and the Opera Mini browser.
The internet experience on a 2.4-inch QVGA display is nothing to write home about, and heavy webpages generally brought the X3-02 to a standstill (or at least a timeout warning). Opera’s rendering system does its best to strip out most of the complexity to suit the Nokia’s capabilities, but if you’re planning on doing much in the way of mobile web browsing then you should probably look to a smartphone not a feature-phone.
5-megapixels is impressive stuff for a feature-phone, though we’ve been spoilt by Nokia’s optics over recent years. While the X3-02 produces decent stills with a fair amount of detail and nice color balance, video is limited to 30fps QVGA resolution or just 15fps VGA resolution; that’s likely a shortcoming of the handset’s processor rather than the camera unit itself.
Phone performance is strong, with clear audio to both parties, and we had no problems using a Bluetooth headset either. Nokia claim up to 300 minutes talktime or 430 hours standby; in practice, even with several calls and some messaging, the X3-02 lasted multiple days between charges.
With the focus on mid- to high-end smartphones, it’s easy to forget that there’s a considerable market for capable, well-designed feature-phones. The X3-02 isn’t perfect in that respect – we’re not keen on Nokia’s tendency over the years to tinker with their keyboard layouts – but the numeric keypad isn’t as outlandish as some we’ve seen from the Finns, and the tactile buttons go a long way to making up for it. The touchscreen may not be capacitive but it does the job, and S40 lacks the finesse and ambition of a smartphone platform but should satisfy most mainstream users.
At £159 SIM-free and unlocked, or around £89 ($138) on pre-pay, it’s also reasonably affordable. Entry-level smartphones like the Android-powered Orange San Francisco offer strong competition at around the £99 ($154) pre-pay mark, but at the expense of the camera performance and battery life. If your focus is on calls, pecking out SMS/MMS messages, snapping photos and going the distance between recharges, the X3-02 will likely fit the bill. Still, cheap Android devices provide a tempting step-up onto the smartphone ladder.
Writing for R3 Media since 2006, Chris Davies is currently executive editor for SlashGear, Android Community and the other network sites. Based in London, UK, he's responsible for SlashGear's editorial decisions and covers all forms of consumer technology. You can follow him on Twitter.