YOU KNEW where you were with a Nokia phone in the 1990s. It was the world’s number one brand and its handsets were better built than the rest, easier to use and generally more reliable.
Of course, phones in those days did very little. They made and received phone calls and later texts, and a few let you play primitive games on their thumbnail-sized screens. When, a decade ago, Apple and Google reinvented the handset, Nokia was left behind.
Today, after several changes of ownership, the brand name is something of a curate’s egg, and it’s easy to get confused over what is a Nokia phone and what isn’t. The Lumia range of Windows smartphones, for instance, used to carry the name but has abandoned it for Microsoft branding.
This year, the Finnish company which now owns the rights to sell smartphones with the Nokia name, received a great deal of publicity when it announced it would make an updated, £50 version of the 3310, one of the most familiar models from the brand’s golden era. It was a turkey. It did little more than the original, looked tackier and set a low bar for future launches.
However, the latest Nokia confounds the bad press and is actually a decent choice among low-cost Android phones, not least for children who need a new one when they go back to school next week.
The Nokia 3 costs £130 on the high street and comes with a 5-inch screen and fairly decent 8 megapixel cameras front and rear. Its performance won’t set any benchmark records but it’s respectable for the price.
Other than a couple of models vying with Samsung and HTC in the fiercely competitive mid-market sector, it is the only Nokia not to still have an old-fashioned physical keypad.
Its principal rival is the fifth generation of Motorola’s Moto G, which costs £30-40 more. It has the same size screen - though at a higher resolution - and, like the Nokia, is constructed from aluminium as well as plastic. Both phones have 2gb of memory and 16gb of storage, which can be expanded by popping in a micro SD card. The Moto’s cameras have more megapixels and the phone’s processor is more powerful.
You could do worse in back-to-school week than to also consider the Chinese manufacturer Huawei, which gives the bigger names a run for their money at several price points.
The P8 Lite costs around the same as the Nokia 3 and has a better camera but an otherwise similar specification, though with a plastic body. A newer 2017 version with a slightly larger screen and an extra gigabyte of memory is also available, though most of the UK stock appears to be tied to the Vodafone network.
That’s something else to bear in mind when choosing, because the other phones I’ve listed are sold independently of any one operator, which means you can run them on a pay-as-you-go or SIM-only tariff and swap between networks as often as you please. The choice is much greater this way, and you will save money in the long run.
This sort of flexibility is a far cry from Nokia’s heyday, when there were only two networks and you had to pay through the nose for either. So while it was a golden era for one company, the good times for the rest of us could just be now.