The Dumb That Went For The Dumb


By Low Teck Mee

I admit: I was dumb. Hype had me. I was sold to it. The dumb was duped. I was quick to find the idea of a re-issued of Nokia 3310 appealing. What, in reality, would I do with a handset that is a “dumb phone” but goes by the more euphemistic description “feature phone”?

Truth be told, I have not had a hands-on with the new 3310; I was not at the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, where the phone was announced. What I know is based on what I have perused thus far. But once I read what is out there about the Nokia reincarnation, I can’t help but feel let down. Serve me right. Just because everyone is talking about it doesn’t mean I want it.

To be sure, I did not really want it. I was looking for a phone with keypad for my father and uncle. When I came to know of Nokia’s plan for the old 3310, I was excited by what I maybe able to purchase for two technology-averse patriachs. At the same time, I was seized by nostalgia, remembering the good days when cellphones were still novel and you could buy them in a myriad of styles and shapes, unlike now, when, in terms of silhouette, smartphones are as sexy as chocolate bars.

The new 3310 retains the curvy form factor of the orginal. Against everything we see these days, it’s quite a buxom. (Nokia did have a flair for unusual shapes. Remember 2003’s 7600 that was shaped like a leaf?) Even the 3310’s buttons are oval, not like those digital ones on our screens that seem to be inspired by mahjong tiles. So too is the enlarged screen: not rectangular—now looking like a wine goblet flatten by an elephant’s step.

Inside, it is a lot less similar that the oldie, but not anywhere close to what we’re used to in a smartphone. The 3310 does not operate on Android or Windows. Instead, it’s built on Nokia’s own OS, which means no downloadable apps… yet. To make it worse, this is a 2.5G phone, meaning you can’t use it here, come 1 April, when all our telcos only support 3G and up. If that’s a deal breaker, this will surely make you balk at the 3310: there is no WiFi connectivity! A little comfort may come in the form of a colour screen and a camera, which, gasp, is only 2MP-enabled. Retro fashion, I understand, many people love, but retro-spec tech?

New gadgets have become so constant in its perceived newness that we are so easily enticed by them. Even with 3310’s only-just newish skin above barely newish technology, we (maybe it’s just me) become rapidly seduced. Smartphone makers should not be too concerned with a faded name such as Nokia, yet they and tech reporters were all agog with the possibility of relieving the glory days of the 3310.

Sadly, the game-changing technology that had us all enamoured with smartphones is really no longer changing anything—not in the way we live, the way we work, the way play, the way we use our phone. Isn’t today’s phone already packed with everything including the proverbial kitchen sink?

A retro buy such as the Nokia 3310 should hold little attraction to me, but I do sometimes wonder: if we can’t move forward, is it so bad to slide back a little?

The Return Of An Old Favourite—Keypad, Too

The Nokia 3310, sold in excess of 100 million pieces in the 2000s, is rumoured to be re-released. Will it be the vinyl of smartphones?

Nokia 3310.jpg

By Low Teck Mee

I have been out looking for a new phone. No, it isn’t for myself; it is for two elderly gentlemen who have as much trust in a smartphone as in the prettily-dressed Chinese woman with a Beijing accent loitering in the void deck. One of them is my uncle who thinks Android is a new form of fibroid and wanted to know if his wife should be sent to a gynecologist for a check. Two months ago, he was given a Samsung smartphone, but was completely at a lost when it came to using it. He would call me on his land line to say that the contacts that I had placed on his home screen had “strangely disappeared.”

The other is my father. My dad has always been a bit of a technophobe, and the smartphone had presented him with a strange problem: “why is it smart when I can’t use it to dial”, he once asked me. To make matters worse, both men—in the 80s, I should, maybe, add—are as adroit with a touch screen as a Wyomingite with a pair of chopsticks. My dad, especially, swipes his screen as if he’s doing an imaginary tick on a piece of paper. His index finger performs as lightly as a wrecking ball.

So, as you can imagine, I am left with no choice but to buy them a phone with the old-fashioned 12-key keypad. The problem is, I can’t find them, in Sim Lim Square or anywhere. Mustafa has a few, but they are tagged as “export models”. Since I am not sending my father and my uncle to, say, Tasmania, they’re probably of no use. I was told that you can still find phones with “normal keypad”  in India, but I am not about to visit to book a flight to New Delhi to find a handset (or two) and, at the same time, enjoy some Maharashtran air.

So you can imagine how thrilled I was when I read that Nokia is rumoured to be releasing the 3310, the phone once (still is, in fact) considered “indestructible”. The Telegraph even calls it “historic”. It should be said that while I have used Nokia phones (my first was the 8110, also known as the “banana phone”), I am not a huge fan of their design aesthetic, particularly their UI. Still my three-year affair with the 3310 beginning 2001 was more-than-pleasant one because I rarely had such a strong digital mate.

Not much has been revealed about the re-born 3310 or what Nokia will do to make it relevant in the era of Snapchat and Youtube. The original version, I still remember (even when I no longer own it, having traded it in for a Sony Ericsson K300) as being quite an unusually shaped phone—sort of oval-ish, with keys that were somewhat like eyes. It was definitely not brick-like, the way smartphones these days tend to be. And there was the case (plastic) that was blue, a nearly navy that was to me cooler than the standard black or silver, the white of its day. Mobile phones had by then become a fashion accessory, and colour, as it now is, mattered.

These days, few people remember that we did not need to recharge our phones three times a day, or more. We did not have to carry a battery pack. We did not have to remember to bring along a charging cable, or wear one as a bracelet. Nokia 3310 was supposed to last more than a week with a single charge. I don’t remember how often I had to charge mine. In fact, I don’t remember much about the battery life other than the fact that I could play Snake II on my set over a few days, without having to recharge it that often, the way we have to these days after barely an hour of Pokèmon Go.

Nokia has not released any statement about the 3310 (reportedly to be sold for 59 euros) other than the fact that new phones under the Nokia name will be announced during Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on 26 Feb. Will the new iteration come with a camera? Will it be able to receive WiFi signals? Will we be able to download apps?

I can’t wait to find out. Buying a new phone is always exciting and fun. The Nokia 3310 redux may be more so.

Photo: Getty Images