Mobility

Why the Nokia 3310 reboot will struggle to do the original justice

HMD Global's reported reboot of the Nokia 3310 at this month's Mobile World Congress could be a welcome relief in a crowded market, but the company will find it hard to stick to the phone's original concept in today's climate.

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Image: Nokia

Nokia's 3310 will be rebooted at this month's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, according to VentureBeat, and will launch as "a homage" to the original. HMD Global, which purchased the rights to the Nokia brand name in December, will release the phone for a comparatively moderate price of €59.

SEE: CNET's coverage of Mobile World Congress 2017

The Finnish company will allegedly announce four phones in total at the event, including an entry level Nokia 3 and a mid-tier Nokia 5, becoming the first series of handsets released by the Nokia brand in Europe since 2014.

The original Nokia 3310, which was launched in 2000 and sold 126 million units globally before being discontinued by its parent five years later, is still a benchmark for mobile phones and continues to be touted as such for reasons other than pure nostalgia. Here's why.

The 3310 was a big tough cockroach of a phone that would've eaten the Note 7 for breakfast. It was my very first phone, and I held on to it for as long as possible before upgrading to a Samsung E330. It finally conked out after about eight years. Its successor, the 3410, was just as long-lasting, and continues to be used by my mother to this very day after nearly 13 years.

In my view, the crux of what makes a great mobile phone should be measured on two simple fronts: Mobility, and whether it makes phone calls.

My current Microsoft Lumia 950 — incidentally part of the line that was rebranded from Nokia's handsets division when it was sold it 2013, now discontinued — has all the bells and whistles in terms of features but it lacks a fundamental aspect of what makes a phone mobile: It's too big, just like 90 percent of smartphones on the market today.

Some of us don't want a mini laptop-sized device to make a phone call on the go, nor do I want to walk up a flight of stairs as if I'm wearing a leg-brace because I don't want to crack the screen. The mobile concept was never supposed to be like this.

The Lumia also has a weak battery life in comparison. The golden rule of a mobile phone, with an emphasis on mobile, is you don't need to have daily access to a power point, and this was an area where the 3310 truly excelled. It was perhaps the phone's most memorable feature, said to be up to 260 hours in standby and nearly five hours of solid talk time for a 1000mAh battery. I remember going almost a whole week before having to charge up; now I have to keep my phone charging every single day, as if it's a landline.

SEE: Mobile device computing policy (Tech Pro Research)

The 3310 also boasted legendary durability, which continues to be parodied in a variety of memes and social media posts, and possibly the greatest mobile game ever in the form of Snake II, which is rumoured to be included on the reboot.

But most crucially, the 3310 kept close to the concept of a real phone. It had a keypad. It could fit comfortably in one hand. You could reach every button with your thumb. These should all be on page one of the smartphone maker's manual, yet are something that models such as the iPhone 7 or Oppo R9 fall short on.

The 3310's extra features were also kept to a modest minimum: SMS Chat, calculator, stopwatch and quick dialling among them. Granted, this moderation was only because of the relatively limited tech available to smartphone makers at the time, but the 3310 now serves as a snapshot of a time when phones were allowed to be phones rather than all-in-one life-savers. The more features you add and enhancements you make, the greater the likelihood of things going wrong, as demonstrated by last year's Note 7 debacle. In an age where smartphone makers are searching for an eye-catching feature that puts it ahead of the pack in a saturated market, news of a 3310 relaunch is a welcome relief.

The original 3310 was by no means perfect, and for the reboot I'm chiefly hoping for two minor modifications: A slight weight reduction and an upgrade on the 84 x 48 pixel monochrome display. It will also need to maintain its durability, or even improve upon it taking into account the hardware advances since 2000.

Details about the reboot are limited, but it surely won't be a straight-up recreation of the 2000 version. It will be a fine balancing act for the company to both respect the original and offer something that suits today's network standards and consumer demand.

To make it commercially viable, HMD Global will simply have to offer features such as 4G access, and front and back megapixel cameras for today's selfie generation. At that point it will essentially become a brand new phone, and the 3310 moniker would surely only exist to capitalize on a nostalgic tech-buying public.

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