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WIND Mobile Nokia 500 Review

We know, we know. It’s hard getting excited for the Nokia 500′s of the world when there are so many smartphones to choose from. But everyone has a mom, brother or cousin who just doesn’t care about pixel density, megahertz and aperture size. Often, these folks want a phone to, you know, call people and, occasionally, check their email or open a web page. Rarely, if ever, does this group want to spend over $200 for a device, and, ideally wants to keep the monthly bill below $40.

These folks are a diminishing bunch, but an ample herd they still are. Which brings us to the Nokia 500. I had a chance to check out Nokia World in London this past October, and let me tell you, outside of North America the brand is still very much a big player. And it’s devices like this, in that important sub-$200 category, keeping them in business.

And while the Nokia 500 runs Symbian, it’s the C^3 Anna version “optimized” for touch screens — we stress the quotes — and purports to offer similar functionality to smartphones hundreds of dollars more expensive. Does it deliver? The short answer is Yes but there are a lot of sacrifices. Read on to find out if it’s still the device for you (or your cousin).

Specs:

-  Symbian Anna OS
-  3.2″ 360 x 640 pixel capacitive LCD display
-  1Ghz ARM11 processor
-  256MB RAM, 512MB ROM, 2GB microSD card included (max 32GB)
-  5MP camera, VGA video@15fps
-  WiFi, A-GPS, Bluetooth 2.1 w/A2DP, Compass
-  Stereo FM radio
-  111.3 x 53.8 x 14.1 mm, 93 grams
-  1100 mAh battery

The Phone

For lack of a better description, the Nokia 500 looks like a Nokia device. It’s a candybar, thick and narrow, three buttons below a deeply-recessed 3.2″ screen. There is a power button on the right side which sits below a single-button volume rocker. All the buttons are cheap, with barely any give, and feel like they could fall off at any moment. The top portion, amply-spaced, houses a headphone jack, microUSB, and proprietary circular charging port.

The back of the 500 actually fares quite a bit better, and appeals to the matte plastic lover in me: it is smooth and grippy and simple. The camera lens is deeply recessed and covered with glass that dirties very easily. The Nokia logo, arrayed vertically, stares at you warmly; “I am the last of my kind,” it seems to say. We can’t say we’re sorry for the loss.

For a 3.2″ display the capacitive screen performs well. You will rarely find such a high-density screen at this price point, and Nokia does well to furnish its three home screens with playful round icons and plenty of helpful widgets. Colours are muted; all yellows appear mustard; all reds a dappled fuschia. Nonetheless, the backlight is strong so whites are bright and accurate. Blacks are more grey than I’d like, but viewing angles hold up remarkably, and the screen performs decently in sunlight. What more could we ask for?

Symbian & Performance

Incredibly, the Nokia 500 wipes the floor with your N8 or E7. Indeed, I noticed this the moment I booted it; it took around 30 seconds, nearly half the time of the former flagships. Symbian Anna is a capable operating system if you give it the right guts, and the 500 is able to keep up with our gestures, for the most part.

Like previous C^3 versions of Symbian, there are three home screens bedecked with widgets and icons. These widgets can be moved to any grid of three icon spaces and, like Android, can update intermittently. By default your main home screen gives you access to the most important tenets of the OS: Camera, Contacts, Nokia Store, Nokia Maps, Messages, Email and Browser. Scrolling through them or, when you enter the app drawer by pressing the middle button below the display, vertically through a list of apps, is no longer an arduous, painstaking activity. Nokia have also improved the look of its icons immeasurably, creating squared-off ovals (or rounded-off squares) where before there was just noise.

Slow and inaccurate text input has been improved in this new version, offering a full QWERTY option in portrait mode where before there was only a keypad. Predictive text has been beefed up and, as long as you go slowly, is remarkably accurate. While the narrowness of the screen offsets the portrait keyboard’s usefulness it is a dramatic improvement over S60 and the original C^3 versions of Symbian.

You also have access to Nokia Store, the evolution of the now-defunct Ovi Store. Apps can be downloaded to either the 512MB of ROM or the 2GB microSD card, and though the fare is pretty meagre — you won’t be using your favourite iOS app on here anytime soon — there are some multi-platform favourites to choose from. Mainstays like Skype, Slacker Radio, WhatsApp and, yes, Angry Birds, are available from Nokia Store and while you’re there do yourself a favour and download Swype. It will be the best texting decision you’ve ever made.

Nokia bundles some decent native apps, too: Mail for Exchange now works, which is the first time we have been able to say that, well, ever. That means Gmail, Hotmail or corporate Exchange users can sync their mail, contacts and calendars without receiving an error every ten minutes. (Yes, we’re a little bitter.) The browser has received an overhaul, rendering pages much faster and more accurately than previous versions. For those of us used to an iPhone or Android browser, this is most definitely still a WAP experience — expect wait times in minutes, not seconds — but at least Javascript no longer locks up the phone and desktop pages can be scrolled through and zoomed in on.

The rest of the phone’s offerings is pretty standard Nokia fare: Maps has recently been updated and for many people is reason enough to buy a Nokia device. You get free turn-by-turn navigation, offline map caching, detailed driving and walking maps, and tie-ins with tons of services such as Lonely Planet, Michelin and Trip Advisor. While these may seem to be little more than advertising in the guise of features, being in a foreign country with a context-aware Lonely Planet guide at your fingertips could be invaluable.

There is a very capable music player, which is bundled with Nokia Music, an unlimited streaming service that hasn’t quite launched yet so we didn’t get to try it out. It looks to be like a Zune Pass where you can download tracks to your device and keep them for up to 12 months. Shazam, everyone’s favourite song name hunter, is pre-installed, along with a stereo FM radio.

Social networking is covered by integrated Facebook and Twitter support. The apps are clunky, slow and frustrating, but lacking official third-party apps makes Nokia’s built-in option the most convenient. If you’re really truly sticking with Symbian for the long haul, I’d recommend the excellent (and pricey) Gravity app  for Twitter. It may in fact be the best app on Symbian as a whole but at $9.99 is also one of the most expensive.

Incredibly, we’re not done with the Nokia 500′s built-in features. As with any good smartphone OS there are dictionary, calculator, voice recorder and note taking apps, as well as popular third-party voice-to-text solution Vlingo. Also hidden in there is the F-Secure Anti-Theft app which, once activated, allows you to find your lost phone through GPS or, if it’s truly gone forever, remotely wipe the memory. It also offers browser protection and attachment scanning.

Camera

There really isn’t much to say about the Nokia 500′s camera. While it claims to be 5 megapixels, and I have no reason to believe otherwise, pictures look to be of about the same quality as my Motorola RAZR. No, not this new Android version, but the one from years ago.

Colours are muted, detail is lacking and despite being thick enough to support an auto-focus mechanism there is none to speak of. Add to the experience a barely-usable camera UI and a “Please wait: deleting data from memory” message every time I open the app there may as well not be a camera on the back of the device. Oh, and the device takes VGA video at 15fps. Go figure.

Drawbacks

What, you mean besides the camera? Yes, Symbian Anna does have some outstanding issues. Firstly, connectivity: Symbian does not deal with multiple APNs and WiFi networks very well. Every app stores its own settings, and prioritizes them based on your last selection. Used a WiFi hotspot when last in the browser? It will attempt to reconnect to it, regardless of whether you’re a thousand miles away. Instead of dynamically selecting the best option — if no WiFi, move down the APN list until one connects — it explicitly asks you to choose, every time. It’s like a nagging six year-old.

And while the overall performance is dramatically improved over previous Symbian devices the Nokia 500 is by no means fast. It saunters along at its own pace, and slows to a crawl when you have more than a couple apps open. Forget about streaming music and browsing at the same time, or doing anything else while you’re downloading and installing an app from Nokia Store. It just won’t happen.

Speaking of Nokia Store, I continue to have problems getting apps to install. For every success there are three failures. Eventually the app will just snap to life and work, but it’s a frustrating endeavour to say the least.

Network, Sound and Battery

WIND has done a great job picking devices that support their HD Voice protocol, and the Nokia 500 is no exception. Like the C5-04 before it, when calling another WIND or Mobilicity user with a supported device (which, admittedly, is pretty unlikely) sound quality is crisp and lag-free.

Network speed is decent, though after using LTE devices like the Raider and Optimus LTE, WIND’s network seems slow. In reality it’s operating at a crisp 14.4Mbps, but due to Symbian’s inherent speed limitations it never feels as such.

And what of the battery? Well, it’s no surprise it lasts forever, at least in comparison to most modern smartphones. I was able to eek out three full days of use from it; Nokia claims seven hours of talk time and 18 days of standby.

Conclusions

I’ve said a lot about a phone that probably won’t appeal to you. But it may, and I hope it appeals to your mom, brother or cousin. The Nokia 500 is one of the best deals currently available on WIND, and the more people that don’t buy cheap Android devices and instead opt to buy decent workhorses like this one, the better the industry will be. Let’s give credit where it’s due: Nokia has done a fantastic job catering to the budget-friendly phone buyer who just wants something that works, lasts a long time and makes really great sounding, reliable phone calls.

The Nokia 500 is available from WIND Mobile for $179 or $29 on WINDtab.

Pros:

-     Sharp, responsive screen
-     Small and light, well-constructed
-     Symbian Anna is fast and much-improved from previous versions
-     Nokia Maps is the best free mapping software available, anywhere
-     Browsing and text entry improvements are notable
-     Inexpensive smartphone alternative
-     Excellent messaging and email solution
-     Fantastic call quality

Cons:

-     Terrible camera
-     Slowdown is common
-     Nokia Store has meagre selection
-     Finicky connectivity settings
-      Slow network speeds
-     Browser is still way behind iOS and Android, even BlackBerry 7

  • JustAnotherDan

    More Nokia = +1
    More Huawei = FAIL.

    Good for WIND for carrying Nokia phones.
    Now just start supporting Windows Phone 7. ;)

    • Robert

      Regarding the Reception:

      When WiFi is enabled, the Nokia 500 keeps getting switched to Wind Away.

      My older Huawei U7519 gave me Wind Home where I live.

      Not sure if the Wifi is causing me to go Wind Away but it certainly seems like it.

      It wont even search for Wind Home since it has a good Wind Away signal.

      Since I am not official covered in the map I cannot complain to Wind Mobile.

      Also I do not want to disable Wind Away, because if it loses the signal I will miss important calls.

      I think Wind Mobile made modifications to the firmware which is causing issues.

  • Tom

    Regarding the intro…

    This is a smartphone, so I think it is comparable to a low-end Android.

    And if I’m going to buy a low-end smartphone I’d rather it have an OS that is viable and healthy – not one that is dead.

    Just wish I could find a low-end Android with the ‘fantastic call quality’ that you ascribe to this phone. Anyone know of one?

    Too bad Nokia doesn’t make Androids!

    • Me Ted

      Nexus S

  • cheenachatze

    “These folks are a diminishing bunch.” Do you have any statistics to back this claim? Or do you base it on you and your two best friends?

  • They see me Trollin’, they Hatin’

    If it doesn’t have WP7 on it, it’s garbage.

    • Mark

      Are you the one and the same who earlier was “throllin”? Why the big change?

  • T H

    I always enjoy when the 20th Anniversary Optimus Prime makes an appearance in Daniel’s test shots. Nice touch!

  • Magneto

    Hmmmmmmm this or the Galaxy Nexus???

    lolol

    • Raoul

      Are you trying to be funny?…Or are you just stupid?

    • Wil

      Great comment! Good to know that you think Galaxy Nexus is so bad that it should be compared to Nokia’s cheapest entry level smartphone. By the way, you’ll get about three (3) Nokia 500s for the price of a single Galaxy Nexus. The decision which one to select should be a no-brainer, at least for those people who need to use their own hard earned cash to purchase their smartphones.

  • T H

    It’s okay, Magneto, I think Raoul is one of those unfortunate souls born without the sarcasm gene… ;)

  • roman129

    Your review missed one important aspect. Reception.
    I’ve had a Nokia 5230 (predecessor of the 500), and it was awful, but it had amazing reception. In areas where my current Nexus S can barely hold on signal, the 5230 has half of its signal bars intact.

    I imagine the 500 retains Nokia’s legendary reception performance, and that’s the only reason I would consider this phone, especially on Wind’s newer, less dense network.

    • Daniel Bader

      @roman129, I thought I did address this, but if you need further clarification, I found the Nokia 500 to give me full bars where other devices wouldn’t. The antenna appears to be very strong and I never lost a signal or dropped a call.

    • amc

      reception very much same as 5230, i mean excellent.
      i had 5230 for almost 2years (and unfortunately broke it), so, i can really compare it with 500:

      500 pro:
      - much faster
      - 1.5Gb of free storage, it does not have annoying “disk full” problem when you can’t install in phone memory because too much space taken by your mailbox.
      - wifi
      - much better home screens, not at android level yet, but far away from awful old symbian
      - better design

      500 cons:
      - unstable symbian^3. it does reboot once a day or more often.
      - dramatically less app selection: you may not be able to find 5230 app for 500.
      - no skype (did i say app selection is bad? yes it’s VERY BAD)

      500 advantage over cheap androids (200$ less)
      - NOKIA reception quality
      - screen. have you tried to use 240*320 cheap android? it’s useless.
      - battery life

      Final:
      1. 5230 is (was) better because you have much better apps selection. you may end up without something which are using every day or every week, like no skype on 500. so, 500 looks better, but 5230 functionally better.
      2. never buy cheap android. never. if you can’t pay 300+ go with nokia. it’s unbelievably better.

      disclaimer:
      it’s my point, based on personal experience. and i fully expect someone else may have totally different opinion.

    • Robert

      This is NOT true.

      When WiFi is enabled, the Nokia 500 keeps getting switched to Wind Away.

      My older Huawei U7519 gave me Wind Home where I live.

      Not sure if the Wifi is causing me to go Wind Away but it certainly seems like it.

      It wont even search for Wind Home since it has a good Wind Away signal.

      Since I am not official covered in the map I cannot complain to Wind Mobile.

      Also I do not want to disable Wind Away, because if it loses the signal I will miss important calls.

      I think Wind Mobile made modifications to the firmware which is causing issues.

  • droidacolyte

    Man I wish Nokia made Androids. Nokia know how to make a PHONE. I like my smartphones. But they excel more as handheld computers rather than phones since they don’t exactly have good radio antennae. People will drool over the latest handheld computer from Apple, Samsung and HTC that just happens to have a radio antennae and readily give these phones high reviews. But rarely look at the reception. The iPhone 4 got a 9/10 from Engadget but it was plagued with reception and death grip issues. Critics are mostly fanboys who review smartphones based on how good they are as handheld computers. They don’t put enough emphasis on how great of a phone the device is.

    The Nokia may not have Android OS. But it’s not a POS like the Motorola Spice or the WIND Huaweis or Alcatels (I have a funny story about the Spice. I accidentally re-dialed a number and I hit the End Call button on the screen but the damn phone was laggy. So I hit End Call again and nothing. I started panicking so I hit it multiple times frantically to get the call to end but it didn’t. The other person finally hung up after hearing me cuss like a sailor on the other end in a fit of rage). Getting those low-end Androids is pretty much pointless. You are better off with the Nokia 500 or hell, even a featurephone, over those phones. Though stuff like the LG Optimus One (not available on WIND/Mobi but just using that as an example) appear to be decent for a low-end Android from what I heard.

    • astudent

      I own an optimus one in my arsenal of phones, it is a damn good phone for the price I paid. A lot of great developers are behind it over at XDA so its getting phenomenal support.

      You are right, Nokia knows how to make a phone; case and point n9/lumia 800. Its why my next phone is the lumia 800 once it comes to Canada. Its more for hardware quality although I do love wp7 as well.

  • T1MB1T

    WHAT are you waiting for! Support WIND!! So what if it does not work well WINDS needs subs! How else are they going to force the Government to lock out all the big 3 so WInd can buy all the spectrum!!!!

    WIND!!!

    • Rocco StiffReddi

      Well it seems it finally came out bitter.. Wind is shipping away all of the call centers jobs. No matter how much you cried amount it never going to happen it did. Justin Imbecile and the Steamed Veg all knew it to be true but they were quiet. Wind has less than 300k subs The imbecile confirmed that and the 5 billion? it was an offer of 500 million my friend BUT that is against the ownership rules and they will not do it because the big 3 will slap them with an injunction and not allow them to bid.. poor poor pay troll..

      Contracted, outsourced jabronied and now begging for pocket change.

  • kartic awasthy

    is nokia 500 a good option???

  • Gautam

    Nokia 500 Is that raely good?

  • Imran Khan

    THIS MOBILE PHONE IS VERY NICE.
    BUT NOT HAS VIDEO CALLING 3G & BATTERY BAKUP IS VERY WEAK

  • anees ahmad

    bohot zadardast mobile. ye mobile merai pas hai.

  • ibrahim srour

    can you tell me where is the nokia 500 made in ?

  • andrew mariki

    this phone is not good at all, it is now a week since i have got it, it keeps on crushing/hanged up whenever i opened the webpage or do more than one task….unless otherwise if there is any one who has it for more than three months and it is still function without any problem.

  • come at me bro.

    i just wanna know if the nokia 500 is good, because i might buy it. comment me whatcha think! ;)

  • samuel

    I am an android developer, and I hadn’t heard of symbian, I thought nokia had given up on their “smart” phones. I think that pretty much sums it up; don’t buy!

  • Alejandro Nova

    Please, for the love of everything divine, re-review this with Belle. Symbian Belle on this is like getting a new phone, no less than that. And that includes the slowdown problems, the unstability, the WiFi issues, and more. Also, you’ll feel like you had a display upgrade also (Belle, unlike Anna, has subpixel antialiasing) and a CPU upgrade (a 200 MHz overclock comes for free as part of the upgrade).

  • asian

    hey, can anyone help me how to enable wifi hotspot joikuspot lite? And if i purchace i, will it works anyway?

  • asian

    it*

  • Dixit ksvs

    Big failur model in nokia no stable in performance with symbian or belle os’s no longer application run use less model

  • nkbhagat

    sometime light upand down

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