Nostalgia’s a funny thing. It makes us leave the house in the dead of night to imprison a wild Clefairy and scramble over each other to buy an NES Classic Edition decades after we sold our original consoles for a pittance at yard sales. Companies are always finding new ways to push our sentimental buttons, and for HMD Global, that means launching a new Nokia 3310 more than 16 years after the original made its debut in 2000. But does anyone really have fond memories of a cellphone that was only good for calling your dad to come pick you up from school?
Aside from having a similar shape, the new Nokia 3310 is “streets ahead” of its namesake, with features my 15-year-old self could’ve only dreamed of. A 2.4-inch (240 x 320) color display, for instance, though it’s barely visible in direct sunlight. And how about that 2-megapixel camera with flash? It’s pretty bad, and you have to move snaps over to a PC to view them at an acceptable resolution, but it’s better than nothing, which is exactly what you got with the original 3310.
Then there’s the FM radio and MP3 player, MP3 ringtone support, voice note recorder, calendar and weather apps. The device has a video player, too, which doesn’t immediately make sense, besides playing back clips recorded through the 2MP camera. But there are websites that let you easily convert YouTube videos in 3GP format, which you can then bung onto a microSD card — yep, the new 3310 has a microSD slot — and watch through the player. Elaborate, I know, but it works.
Even some of the simplest features on the new 3310 would’ve looked alien on a phone at the turn of the millennium, like the loudspeaker and 3.5mm headphone jack, let alone Bluetooth support for pairing wireless headphones and speakers. Having had no experience with feature phones for as long as I can remember, I’m relatively impressed with everything the new 3310 is capable of.
You’ve got the basic Opera Mini WAP browser for web surfing, though most websites are a mess of unreadable text as they try to render on the tiny display. You can still check your Gmail at a push, and there are simple apps available for Twitter, Facebook and Facebook Messenger that scale appropriately to the conservative resolution. Doing anything online is long-winded and frustrating, however, because you’re forever waiting on the sluggish 2.5G connection (there’s no WiFi to speak of, unfortunately). It’s the worst, and a sobering reminder of everything we take for granted in the 4G smartphone era.
But it works both ways, because the new 3310 embodies some of the user-friendly things we’ve long forgotten about. Remember when your phone would last a whole week without needing to be recharged? Or when your phone wouldn’t shatter into uselessness at the mere suggestion of a 3-foot drop? How about the feeling of real feedback you only get with the glorious click of physical buttons? On a related note, predictive text is awfully accurate considering one key press can be any of three or four letters — not that I want to go back to the pre-full keyboard days.
In various ways, the new 3310 harks back to simpler times, but it also misremembers some important details. How dare HMD even call this a 3310 when you can’t replace the front and back shells? The scope for customization was one of the best things about the old model. Back then, a couple of bucks would buy you a shiny metallic peach number with spring-loaded keypad cover and, naturally, infinite cool points. Now you’ve only four colors to choose from: yellow, red, blue and gray. Boring …
Also, there’s some strange new abomination of Snake made by Gameloft that’s barely recognizable from the semi-infinite arcade game of old. It’s colorful and has levels, power-ups and a choice of control schemes (I don’t like change). Worse yet, there’s no ringtone creator, which was part musical instrument, part game, and the perfect way to wind down after an intense Snake session on the school bus.
All things considered, I really have no clue who HMD Global is making this phone for, and for what reason anyone would legitimately buy one. I almost understand why the new 3310 ended up being the biggest announcement at this year’s Mobile World Congress conference. There’s nothing like a retro product to whip the internet into a frenzy. All HMD had to do was recycle the 3310 name, and you’ve got people like me writing amusing headlines and people like you excitedly sharing memories from your old 3310 days in Facebook shares.
But having used the new 3310 as my primary phone for the best part of a week, I’m not all that interested in pseudo-reliving the Nokia heydays. It’s small and light, colorful and cute, but think about all the apps you use on a daily basis. There’s no loading up Google Maps to navigate an unfamiliar part of town, or checking train times. No WhatsApp or Instagram or Tinder or Spotify or YouTube. I quickly learned I couldn’t copy my Google contacts onto my SIM card so the 3310 could read them. IPhones simply don’t have that functionality these days. And the only SMS messages I receive are takeaway-restaurant spam, so prepare to be completely unaware of what’s going on in your group IM chats.