Before there was iPhone, there was 3310. After its launch in 2000, Nokia sold more than 125 million models of its indestructible candybar, turning Snake into a cultural icon and searing that tinkling ringtone permanently into the back of your mind. If you didn’t own one, you probably knew someone who did. And you were probably jealous.
It’s been almost 17 years since the 3310 first came out. In that time the Nokia brand has been bought, sold, and stripped for parts. At one point the 3310 even made a comeback, in the form of a wonky Windows Phone device with a huge camera bump that didn’t exactly excite the buying public. The company now making Nokia phones is HMD Global, a private equity-backed firm created explicitly to make new Nokia phones. For their first act, the new owners set about restoring the 3310 to its former glory, while bringing the beloved old phone into the new era.
Today at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the company re-launched the phone as a “One More Thing” at its press conference. The intro was swift: HMD Global CEO Arto Nummela held up the phone and said the only three things that matter. Its battery lasts a month, it has Snake, and it has the Nokia ringtone. And then he was gone.
In emerging markets, where money, data, and battery life are precious commodities, a device like the 3310 has huge appeal.
The 3310 is still very much a feature phone. It has a web browser, but only barely—it’s a dumbed-down version of Opera, basically there for emergency tweeting. It exists for you to make phone calls, send texts the way you did a decade ago (T9 FTW!), and play Snake. The 3310 weighs less than three ounces, and its battery lasts an absurd 31 days in standby time, or up to 22 hours of talk time.
Still, HMD didn’t just open up the warehouse doors, grab the old 3310s, and ship ’em to Best Buy. The company pulled and tugged and tweaked things a bit. (My editor suggested the phone should be called the 3311 to signify this, which I think sounds pretty cool.) The new 3310 has a camera, for one thing, a 2-megapixel shooter. It also has a 2.4-inch, 240×320 screen, which is hilariously small and low-res but still a huge improvement over the original. That model’s resolution was listed as “five lines.” It feels weird that this is worth mentioning, but it has colors now! The handset comes in white, blue, red, and yellow, and its edges round smoothly, more like a polished pebble than a chunky brick.
When it launches in Europe, the 3310 will cost 49 Euros, which is about $51. It’s almost a grocery-store checkout purchase, or something you throw into your In Case of Apocalypse bag and never worry about again. HMD figures some people will buy it as a second phone, a way to get away from the tyranny of your dinging iPhone and buzzing Apple Watch without fully disconnecting.
However, the market for feature phones is far bigger than the novelty buyers. In emerging markets, where money, data, and battery life are precious commodities, a device like the 3310 has huge appeal. In Africa, for instance, in mid-2016 smartphone purchases actually declined while feature phones went up more than 30 percent. The feature phone can be for some a burner phone, others a secondary device, and for many a primary means of communication. HMD probably won’t sell 125 million more 3310s, but it’s definitely making a real phone for real people.
Aim For the Middle
HMD’s plan is for Nokia to have phones at all price points, for all users. With that in mind, it’s launching three new smartphones alongside the 3310. The Nokia 3, a 5-inch smartphone made of aluminum and polycarbonate, comes with an 8-megapixel camera and a 720p display. It costs about $150. For $50 more, the Nokia 5 has an all-aluminum body, a 5.2-inch display of the same resolution, a 13-megapixel camera, and a more updated Snapdragon 430 processor.
At the top of the range there’s the $315 Nokia 6 (the numbering scheme seems akin to the BMW 3, 5, and 7 series), which is another all-aluminum device with a 5.5-inch, 1080p screen, and a 16-megapixel camera on the back. It’s been available in China since January, and is now going global. All three phones run a clean, untouched version of Nougat, the latest version of Android, which HMD says will be true for all Nokia phones going forward. No word yet on whether they can also play Snake.
None of the new devices are gunning for Samsung or Apple’s place atop the smartphone heap. But taken together, the three give Nokia a pretty good starting point for new smartphones. The devices are well-designed, as you’d expect from anything named Nokia, and priced pretty competitively. They have at least functional specs, and don’t try to mess with Android. And unlike too many Nokia phones before, they’re not obsessed with camera specs to the point of ruining the phone altogether. Nokia may not even remotely resemble the company it was in 2000, but it appears to be getting some of its swagger back.