Nokia 3310 3G

There are a lot of people who could do with stepping back from their perpetual smartphone obsessions. Many of us would like to dial back to a day when you actually had to pay attention to the world around you. And plenty of Americans agree. According to Pew, 18 percent of mobile-phone users in the US are still on feature phones, whether it’s because they don’t want to deal with smartphone features, or they don’t want to pay for them. The $60 Nokia 3310 3G is an affordable, good-looking, unlocked phone for those looking for simple voice service. I just wish it had better network coverage, and bent just a bit more to the needs of 2017 society.

Design and Physical Features

The Nokia 3310 3G is an attractive, pastel-colored lozenge that comes in blue, gray, red, or yellow. It measures 4.6 by 2.1 by 0.5 inches (HWD) and weighs a light 3.1 ounces The silver plastic buttons are clicky, if cheap-feeling. The top half of the phone is a somewhat dim 320-by-240 color TFT LCD screen. The speakerphone, camera, and flashlight are on the back panel. It isn’t water-resistant, but by virtue of being a very simple phone with a plastic screen, it’ll likely handle minor drops without a problem.

There are several, physically identical versions of the 3310 being sold. Some of them don’t support US networks. The one you need is model TA-1036. I might as well also mention that this phone has some sort of cult nostalgia thing going in Europe, where the original 3310 was spectacularly popular in the early 2000s. The original 3310 was never released in the US, although a variant, the 3390, had limited success on AT&T and T-Mobile in 2003.

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Voice Quality and Networking

As a voice phone, reception and voice quality here are key. The 3310 fares well on voice quality, but it really falls down on coverage and network compatibility.

Voice quality on the AT&T network is loud, but harsh, without the roundedness you get in phones that support HD Voice. Still, though, I’d rate it better than the 2G Blu voice phones we’ve tested. The speakerphone isn’t terribly loud; I wouldn’t use it outside. But the volume and sound quality are fine indoors on a table, or in a quiet car. There’s some background noise cancellation, although it isn’t as complete as top-of-the-line smartphones.

Battery life, at 6 hours, 16 minutes of talk time, is less than I’d like. But the phone has days if not weeks of standby time, because there aren’t a lot of background processes chewing up battery.

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If you’re going to connect to US cellular networks in 2017, and especially in 2019, you really need LTE, and the 3310 doesn’t support it. The phone works on the 850/1900MHz 2G and 3G GSM bands. I couldn’t figure out what variety of HSPA data it uses, except that it isn’t particularly fast. Still, though, it’s quite a lot faster than a 2G EDGE phone would be.

The 3310 doesn’t work on Sprint or Verizon at all. On T-Mobile, it’s only compatible with the sliver of a 1900MHz 2G network the carrier has left around for Internet-of-things gadgets. I found that T-Mobile coverage dropped anywhere inside our office building. The 3310 has better AT&T coverage on AT&T’s 3G 850/1900 network. But there, too, AT&T has started to slowly cannibalize its older network for 4G.

Your best bet is to pair the 3310 with a low-cost carrier that uses the AT&T network. Red Pocket’s $10, 500-minute plan fits the bill nicely, for instance, and there’s no commitment, so if AT&T decides to reduce its 3G coverage, you aren’t stuck.

The phone’s lack of Wi-Fi also hurts its voice capabilities. All the US carriers now have some kind of Wi-Fi calling solution, but you won’t get it here.

The Bluetooth 2.1 is noticeably lower quality than on smartphones with Bluetooth 4.0 or higher. The phone wouldn’t pair with my Plantronics Voyager Focus UC stereo headset, although it worked with a Voyager 5200 single-ear headset. But the connection to the 5200 was plagued by irritating pops and clicks, which I didn’t experience with smartphones with Bluetooth 5.0.

I’d rather use a wired headset here, which also has the advantage of activating the 3310’s built-in FM radio.

Nokia 3310 3G

Yes, You Get Apps

The 3310’s Java-based Series 30+ interface has some of the standard old-phone apps. There’s a calendar and contact book, a basic music player, a basic video player, and Opera Mini as its Web browser. You can download and run Java-based apps and games if you get hold of them, and you can access mobile Web sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail through Opera Mini. The phone comes with a few games, and they run sluggishly. I was deeply disappointed in the nouveau version of Snake, which ‘upgrades’ graphics and gameplay to look more like slither.io. I know Snake. This ain’t Snake.

The contact book has an intriguing feature which lets it sync contacts with an Android phone over Bluetooth, but it creates a huge number of duplicate contacts as each phone number becomes a new contact. Still, that’s better than typing them all in. The calendar doesn’t sync with anything and is rather useless.

With only 64MB of the built-in 128MB storage free, you’ll want to add a microSD card, which fits in a slot under the battery. Don’t use one bigger than 32GB, it won’t work (we tried). The music player will gather together MP3, WAV, and M4A files from the memory card, but not OGG or FLAC. The video player handles old-school MPEG4 AVI files at up to VGA resolution, but don’t try decoding H.264.

To get files on or off the phone, you can send them via Bluetooth, or use a standard micro USB cable and mass storage mode.

The phone’s 2-megapixel camera feels like a lie. While it snaps photos quickly, the images are covered in hideous artifacts that look like they were upscaled or altered. The phone records 352-by-288 videos whose jerky quality harkens back to the previous decade.

You can use one of 12 tinny ringtones or your own MP3, but you can’t assign ringtones by person or by group. The phone supports SMS and MMS, but not emoji (they just appear as boxes). You also have to triple-tap all your messages, there’s no T9 or predictive text, which is an odd omission.

Conclusions

The Nokia 3310 is the cutest little voice phone we’ve seen this year. As long as you stick with AT&T, its feature set is on par with other cheap voice phones such as the Doro PhoneEasy 626 and the LG B470, although the B470 has an extra-loud mode and a text-to-speech function which seniors may like. Because the 3310 costs under $60 unlocked, it pairs well with cheap virtual-operator plans on the AT&T network, like Red Pocket’s plans.

But I’m still disappointed because in a 2017 voice phone, I’d like to see a phone that excels in voice calls. I want to see a phone that takes advantage of features like VoLTE and Wi-Fi calling for the best possible reception, has current Bluetooth for clear connections, and receives the emoji that younger family members may want to send you. Because the kids don’t call any more: They text you little pictures of pigs.

I don’t think that phone exists, alas. Soon, we’re going to check out the Alcatel Go Flip series, which works with T-Mobile’s and Sprint’s growing 4G LTE networks. It may point the way toward the future, rather than just acting like a phone from the past.