The new Nokia 3210 isn’t the phone I remember – for better and for worseon June 15, 2024 at 08:00 Tech Advisor


It’s early 2000, and a young man in his first year of uni has realised that he has left his creaky old Nokia 5110 on the train. Having just started a new relationship, this is seen as a disaster, even in such benighted pre-social media times.

Flush with cash (well, credit) from his rapidly dwindling student loan, he rushes to the nearest Vodafone shop and signs up for their latest and greatest mobile phone: the Nokia 3210. And so a whole new relationship is kindled, one that would eventually lead him to write about mobile technology for a living.

We’re taking this self-indulgent trip down memory lane, dear reader, because HMD has just released a new and updated version of the Nokia 3210. I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks, so here’s how it compares to one of my favourite ever phones.

Do I know you?

While a quarter of a century is a long time in, well, anything really, it’s not hard to recall what made the original Nokia 3210 so special. It set itself up for future Hall of Fame status through good old-fashioned nifty design.

This thing looked like nothing else on the market at the time, making even Neo’s Nokia 8110 feel like the clunky gimmick it was (come at me). It was the first phone to feature an internal antenna, creating an instantly iconic clean outline that essentially carried through to today’s smartphone era, albeit via a significant flattening-out process.

pulling the new Nokia 3210 out of its box completely failed to evoke any sense of nostalgia in me

Jon Mundy / Foundry

The first and perhaps most pertinent thing to note is that pulling the new Nokia 3210 out of its box completely failed to evoke any sense of nostalgia in me. Memories can be tricky things to pin down of course, but there was only the vaguest sense of familiarity here.

That’s because HMD, the Finnish manufacturer that makes phones under the Nokia license, hasn’t really released a new Nokia 3210 at all. It’s released another new Nokia feature phone in its extensive Nokia feature phone range.

That’s right, you can still buy brand new Nokia dumb phones, and have been able to do so for years – the Nokia 3310 got the same treatment five years ago. This Nokia 3210 is less a blast from the past, and more a case of business as usual.

You’ve changed, man

Performing a Google image search for the old Nokia 3210 confirms that my powers of recollection haven’t completely abandoned me. The two phones look quite different from all angles.

Jon Mundy / Foundry

The physical keypad has the same layout, but above that there’s a new directional pad with a central selection button in place of the original’s solitary central button. There are also dedicated call and end buttons each joined by two contextual menu buttons, rather than a ‘C’ button and an up and down navigation rocker.

There’s the fresh provision of a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top of the phone which, together with Bluetooth support, reflects its potential to serve as an MP3 player – something that the original was incapable of doing. With only 128MB of storage, however, you won’t have much space for music files – not without slotting a microSD card into the hybrid second-SIM slot.

Another even more modern flourish is a USB-C slot on the bottom of the phone for charging with the bundled brick, as well as for data transfer. As is the way with all such simple feature phones, you can count the standby time in days, not hours.

One of the quirky, youth-leaning features of the original 3210 was its interchangeable faceplates

Jon Mundy / Foundry

The new phone leaves a similarly sized ‘candybar’ footprint, but it’s about 40% thinner and lighter than its chunky predecessor.

One of the quirky, youth-leaning features of the original 3210 was its interchangeable faceplates, which enabled you to customise the look of the phone. There’s no such provision here, sadly.

Sight for sore eyes

Another key element that’s completely different to the original Nokia 3210 is the screen. It’s a fundamentally different beast here, in line with modern day feature phones that continue to be sold to older users and those embarking on a smartphone detox.

Out, then, goes the tiny 1.5-inch backlit monochrome LCD of the original, and in comes a 2.4-inch TFT display. It’s got a much taller aspect ratio, a much sharper QVGA resolution, greater brightness, and of course actual colour.

I kind of wish HMD hadn’t bothered

Jon Mundy / Foundry

It won’t be giving any vaguely modern smartphone a run for its money, but it’s certainly more pleasant to fire off texts on than with the monochrome original.

Flip the phone over and there’s another element that speaks to modern times. There’s a teeny tiny single camera module, which wasn’t something that the original Nokia 3210 featured.

I kind of wish HMD hadn’t bothered. The quality of images captured by this meagre 2Mp sensor is nothing short of terrible. There’s a flash here, but really you shouldn’t even be considering taking any shots in less-than-optimal lighting.

Navigating the Settings menu is a bit of an ordeal, as I discovered when I tried to mute the hideous boinks that accompany your every D-pad press.

Something old, something new

Getting back to that display, it’s necessary to run Nokia’s Series 30+ operating system. This is a feature phone OS that can track its legacy back to 2013, but it’s still way more advanced than the original Nokia 3210’s Series 20 UI.

The home screen displays a rudimentary 3×3 grid of app icons that will be broadly familiar to a modern smartphone-savvy audience. There’s an FM radio app, which is quite quaint, as well as icons for basic functions like Alarm, Messages, and Contacts.

Navigating the Settings menu is a bit of an ordeal, as I discovered when I tried to mute the hideous boinks that accompany your every D-pad press.

Jon Mundy / Foundry

The only nods to internet connectivity here come from dedicated Facebook and Opera Mini browser apps. Surfing the web on the latter is an exercise in pain, even with access to 4G network speeds. There’s no Wi-Fi provision whatsoever.

Besides that low-res non-touch display, a large part of that sub-optimal web performance (to put it mildly) comes down to the humble Unisoc T107 chip that runs the show here, as well as a minuscule 64MB of RAM. We can often forget how capable even the cheapest smartphone is these days, but phones like this provide a stark reminder.

Of course, web browsing is about the most intensive thing you can do on the new Nokia 3210, with no access to modern applications. There are some games preinstalled, but they’re properly old-school.

It’s got Snake, like the original Nokia 3210, but also trials for Doodle Jump and a greatly simplified Crossy Road. You can buy the full games, but would you really want to in a time when many way more advanced smartphone games are totally free, and when you can play a full-fat version of Resident Evil 4 Remake on a tiny smartphone?

I had such high hopes…

Reviving the Nokia 3210 actually makes a lot of sense. Yes, there’s the usual baked-in market of nostalgic 30 and 40-somethings looking back to simpler times. But there’s also a portion of the younger generation seeking to take a break from the constant distraction that smartphones now provide by getting basic phones (aka dumb phones).

The new Nokia 3210 certainly has potential for the latter group of people, with its lack of app access and limited online capabilities. But in that sense, it doesn’t really offer anything that hasn’t always been available. The truth is that feature phones never really went away, and you can buy a phone that does the same basic things for even less than the £74.99 asking price of the Nokia 3210.

As for that nostalgia crowd, I don’t think the Nokia 3210 serves them particularly well either. Beyond a very vague physical resemblance, this new Nokia 3210 is really nothing like its predecessor. Its key layout is different, the tall colour screen is a totally separate prospect, and the OS is from a different era entirely – though still pretty limited.

As a stripped-back feature phone for modern folk who want a compact device for calls and texts, the new Nokia 3210 is perfectly fine. It’s not a phone that my Y2K teenage self would have recognised, however.

Budget smartphones

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