Review: Nokia C3-01 Touch & Type
Nokia brings the power of touch to its Series 40 platform in the C3. The C3 takes what's familiar about Nokia and sprinkles it with a dash of newness.
Nokia's C3-01 Touch and Type is a novel handset that brings a touch experience to Series 40 while keeping Nokia's bread-and-butter candybar hardware design. It's small, slim and offers (mostly) superb hardware features. But does a touch screen work with Nokia's Series 40, or does it get lost in translation?
Nokia knows how to design hardware. The C3-01 Touch and Type (C3) is a thin phone that offers fine materials and top-notch build quality. It's dense and weighty, giving it a needed air of authority. It feels fantastic in the hand, though the metallic surfaces tend to be a bit slippery. This phone will easily travel anywhere, and fit into the tightest pocket.
The touch display takes up about 60% of the C3's front face. Below the display, the C3 has a solid bar running from one side to the other. The send button is on one end, and the end/power button is on the other. This button is a bit too thin for my tastes, but it has good travel and feedback. Below that is a typical Nokia 12-key dialpad. The buttons are large, easy to find (thanks to some frets that run between the rows of keys), and have great travel and feedback.
Most of the remaining controls are positioned on the right side of the C3. Close to the top, Nokia has placed a too-small volume toggle. It has little nubs for determining the up and down directions, but its small size means you might accidentally press either. Below that is the screen/keypad lock button. This button is way too small. It's flush with the surface and has minimal travel and feedback. For such an important button, Nokia should have given it a bit more presence. The camera button, too, is small, but at least it sticks out noticeably from the side of the C3. It's a one-stage button, no autofocus, but the action is well defined.
All the ports are on the top of the phone. The C3 has Nokia's mini-pin charging port and ships with a mini-pin charger. However, the C3 can also be charged via the microUSB port when plugged into a computer or used with the appropriate charger. In between these two ports, you'll find the 3.5mm headset jack for media playback.
The microSD card slot is located under the metal battery cover. Thankfully, it can be swapped without removing the battery.
Aside from a couple of buttons that are a wee bit too tiny, the C3 is a solid piece of hardware.
The C3 has a 2.4-inch touch display with 240 x 320 pixels. Though the resolution is a notch or two lower than I'd like it to be, it does a fine job with the smaller screen size. Most images, text and graphics appear smooth and free of jagged edges. You can tell the display is resistive, however, as it has that slight haze to it . The haze didn't affect brightness, though. It was plenty visible indoors and survived indirect sunlight fairly well.
The C3 isn't being sold directly by U.S. carriers, but it supports AT&T's 3G bands. That said, it was an absolute signal hound. Either Nokia rigged the signal indicator to always display 5 bars of service, or the C3 has the most amazing antenna ever built. No matter what I did with the C3, almost always showed 5 bars. Where the C3 did fluctuate was in the type of network connection. It bounced between 3.5G, 3G and even EDGE a couple of times (though all with 5 bars). Odd behavior. In practical terms, the C3 never missed a call. Calls always went through on the first try, and it never dropped any calls. Data speeds were unreliable, though.
Phone call quality ranged from stellar to muddy. I'd say about two-thirds of calls were crystal clear, without any sort of digital sound or noise. The other third were mediocre to poor. Connection type had no discernible impact here. I got good calls and bad calls on 3.5G, 3G and EDGE. The earpiece speaker provided a sufficient level of volume for quiet to moderately noisy environments, but it's not strong enough for the loudest places. I had trouble hearing conversations in a crowded shopping mall, windy sidewalk, and noisy coffee shop. The ringer alerts were loud enough so that they won't be missed, but only if you set them at the maximum volume. Using a medium setting might result in some missed calls. The vibrate alert was of average strength. I'd have preferred it offer a bit more kick. The volume of the speakerphone was outstanding, and the quality was excellent.
The C3 is yet another Nokia device with excellent battery life. It easily lasted three days with power to spare, even with the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios active at all times. A solid amount of voice calls, messaging and Web surfing appeared to have no impact on the C3's battery life. About the only thing that directly affected the battery was using the camera's flash. With that thing snapping away, you might expect to see reduced battery life. Otherwise, you're good to go for a weekend getaway sans charger.
The C3 has a resistive touch display. Resistive displays are cheaper than capacitive displays, but don't have quite the same performance. That said, the C3's small screen felt odd to use. Most touch phones have displays with a minimum of 3.2 or 3.5 inches. The 2.4-inch display in the C3 left little room for expansive swiping gestures. Still, it registered most touches the first time, and gave me very few problems. For example, I never encountered the meant-to-swipe-but-accidentally-opened-an-app phenomenon that's all too prevalent on some resistive touch phones that are out in the market.
The C3 uses a modified version of Series 40 that takes advantage of the touch display. There's no d-pad on this phone. Instead, the touch experience focuses more on replacing the d-pad, making it faster to make selections on the screen.
Anyone familiar with Series 40 will feel at home on the main screen, though there are distinct differences between the C3 and standard Series 40. The C3 has a spot on the home screen reserved for the users' four favorite contacts. This is joined by three other user-adjustable slots for content, such as a shortcut bar, the clock, calendar, music/radio controls and a dozen other options. It lets users place what they'll be using most directly on the home screen with easy access via a quick touch.
There is a permanent tool bar at the bottom of the home screen that lets users access an additional list of shortcuts, the main menu, or the full contacts application. It would have been neat to see more than one home screen available, but I suppose that's asking too much of Series 40.
The main menu will be very familiar to anyone who's used a Nokia handset before. It can be viewed in grid or list form, and the icons and selections are practically unchanged. One thing I noticed — the fonts are all bigger. Numbers and words in the menu system are much easier to read, though it comes with the cost of fewer options visible on the screen at one time.
By adding touch to Series 40, Nokia has eliminated the thumb-tiring chore of digging through menu after menu of the dense user interface. Long story short, using the C3 is much faster than any other Series 40 handset.
Nokia has whittled down some of the options in the calling features of the C3. In previous Series 40 handsets, pressing the Send key opened up a fairly extensive way to sort through all, missed, dialed, received calls. With the C3, all calls are lumped into a single, long list. There are no longer tabs at the top.
Interacting with the call log takes a little bit of getting used to. Press any call log entry quickly, and it opens a menu that lets you redial the number or send a text message. A long press brings up a different menu for saving the number, adding it to contacts, deleting the call record, etc. You can't simply tap-to-dial, which is a shame. It requires at least two presses.
In-call options, which are accessed easily via the touch controls, let you mute a call, place it on hold, add a line, or record the conversation.
The contact app is pretty straight forward. It, too, is slimmed down and less cluttered than on previous Series 40 handsets. Adding new contacts is a breeze, as is editing details and searching through the contact list. The dialpad means users can set up speed-dials, though that feature is somewhat duplicated by the home screen shortcuts.
My one complaint is the trouble I had when attempting to sync it with my computer. Nokia's support for Apple machines continues to suck. I was never able to successfully transfer the contacts from my PC to my phone with either Apple or Nokia's software. Unfortunately, Google doesn't offer Google Sync for Series 40, which means my Gmail contacts were stranded and only accessible from the Java Gmail app that Google makes for Series 40.
The C3 supports most forms of messaging out of the box. It has Ovi mail on board, with pre-installed settings for Gmail, Windows Live, Yahoo and other popular POP3 account types. Set up was as easy as signing in. The client is a pull- rather than push-client, however. You have to actively seek out your inbox; it doesn't automatically pull emails from the cloud and alert you to their presence. I found the client to be good enough for casually checking messages, but with a 12-key dialpad, there's no way I'm typing long missives. The Gmail client has built-in support for Google Talk, but I'll be darned if it isn't clunky. Really, it only lets you interact with one service at a time, as switching back and forth between Gmail and Google Talk takes too many steps.
If you want to use other chat services, you have to go through Nokia's Ovi Chat. Ovi Chat will let you access AIM, Yahoo Messenger, and Windows Live, but it's not very good.
The SMS app has (thankfully) been updated a bit. It now offers real threaded messaging, allowing SMS messages to be read in a conversational format. The text bubbles separating sender from receiver aren't as distinct as I'd like, but they're much better than anything Nokia has offered before. Users can insert text or media into messages, as well as emoticons.
All the messaging services have an improved composition screen, and have ditched the crummy UI found on Nokia handsets stretching back for nearly a decade. The screens are cleaner and less cluttered, and the steps are fewer.
As for social networking, there's nothing included on the C3 out of the box. You may choose to go to the Ovi Store to find and download applications that let you access Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Flickr, and other sites. Snaptu was a pretty good one that I found, which works with all four of those services. Dedicated apps for Series 40 are unavailable, based on what's in the Ovi Store. (Gravity, the excellent Series 60 social networking app, isn't available to Series 40.) This is one weak spot.
Series 40 continues to have a kick-ass music player. The user interface isn't the most graphically pleasing in the universe, but it gets the job done. It's a snap to sort through artists, albums, playlists, etc. The music playback tools are simple and work flawlessly. It also offers advanced features, such as a 5-band user-adjustable equalizer, playlist creation on the fly, and more. From the home screen, the media controls are easily accessed because they replace one of the 4 content slots (though some might be annoyed by this).
To top it all off, the included speaker outperforms the stereo speakers on my laptop (no joke!). It can be set loud enough to serve as a music player in a room or office. The quality was also fantastic, even set to the maximum volume. I was very surprised by how well the C3 plays music. Using my favorite headphones was an even better experience.
The one bummer is that the C3 doesn't have access to any music stores. No Ovi Music, no Amazon MP3, no AT&T Music. You're on your own to sideload music via the microSD card.
The same media player handles video chores, as well, though it is somewhat limited. For example, it doesn't support movies downloaded from iTunes or Amazon, but can handle DVDs that are ripped into the right file format. But watching video content on that tiny screen is not the best experience. Clearly, this device is not meant for watching movies.
Nokia took everything that's ever worked on a Series 40 camera and made it even better. Series 40 handsets have always had healthy camera applications that offer plenty of ways to shape the camera's performance. With the C3, Nokia has given the camera app a slightly fresher look and reduced the number of menus users have to jump through.
The most dramatic change, however, is presented by the touch screen. No longer do you have to futz with the d-pad to make adjustments to the settings. Everything is right on the screen, and bundled into groups that actually make sense. The second-most dramatic change is speed. This camera operates at light speed compared to the cameras on some of Nokia's past flagship devices. It launches quickly, takes pictures quickly, and gets you back to taking more pictures quickly.
After pictures have been captured, the preview screen offers the typical list of Trash it, Save it, Send it (via email, MMS, Bluetooth, etc).
The gallery application is mostly carried over from other Series 40 devices. It doesn't offer the neat 3D effects seen on S60 or S^3 devices, but the grid is good enough to get the job done. Pictures can be sorted into albums, as well as added to slide shows. The gallery lets you swipe from image to image, and they move right along. No delays or stuttering. Everything is smooth.
The gallery offers plenty of advanced features, such as sending the photo any which way you want, editing it, and adding fun elements to it. The editing features are extensive and allow for cropping, rotating, color and white balance correction and so on. For a simple phone, the C3 outpaces some of the leading smartphones in camera and gallery performance.
The C3 has a 5 megapixel camera and an LED flash, but no autofocus. It can be dialed down to lesser resolutions if you want to save space on the microSD card or phone memory. Don't let the high-megapixel count and presence of a flash fool you into believing the C3 takes great pix. They are mediocre at best.
Indoor shots were god-awful, full of grain, lacking focus, and lacking any life or vibrancy at all. Shots were very dull. The flash only served to cast an unnatural blue tint over everything, and rarely helped provide even lighting for a nice shot. Outdoor photos showed a marked improvement. Focus, color and white balance were better, but grain was still visible.
It's a shame, as the C3 has a lot going for it. It's disappointing that it falls flat on quality after showing such promise with the camera software. Photos taken with the C3 are definitely MMS worthy and possibly email worthy, but I wouldn't post them to Facebook.
The C3 can capture video up to VGA resolution (640 x 480.) It can also be set for MMS-compatible video (though not at full resolution) or for as long as the memory card holds up.
The quality of video — even with the finest settings in place — was about on par with the still images taken with the C3. The video camera showed plenty of smearing, digital artifacts, and waviness as the C3 was panned about. Video is good for MMS, but definitely not YouTube quality.
The default browser on the C3 is the Series 40 browser, which looks and behaves similarly to the WebKit-based S60 browser, but isn't. It defaults to mobile/WAP web pages, but will display HTML sites if you ask it too. The options are fairly standard and let users choose font size, page layout style, the minimap for quicker on-screen navigation, and visual bookmarks.
My complaint is that it was always slow. Whether the connection was 3G, 3.5G or even Wi-Fi, web sites rendered slowly. Only the most basic web pages jumped onto the screen quickly. But, the browser gets the job done, and, as long as you don't mind using the 12-key dialpad for text entry, it suffices for the basics. It's not nearly as rich as the browser on today's best smartphones and the menu system is still mired in Nokia's odd categorizations.
Opera Mini is also included on the C3, though it is fairly well hidden. I discovered it only by accident when sorting through all the folders and applications on the device. It's not listed in the most obvious places (such as the main menu).
Nokia hasn't changed Series 40's flexibility. It continues to offer end-users plenty of ways to make the device their own. The C3 only ships with 4 themes, but many more are available for download. The main menu can be rearranged, the home screen customized, and a list of shortcuts modified at will. It doesn't offer the flexibility of an Android device, but it does more than most other feature phones will.
I can't recall ever having a problem with the Bluetooth performance on a Nokia device and the C3 doesn't change that story. The Bluetooth radio easily connected to mono and stereo headsets, as well as other phones and my computers. It all worked like a charm. Call quality via mono headsets was OK, and stereo playback was very good.
The C3 allows users to make small adjustments to the appearance of the clock on the home screen. It can be switched between a legible digital readout, and an illegible analog one. More importantly, however, the clock on the C3's lock screen is nice and big, and easily read at an arm's length. Good enough to replace a watch? You betcha.
The C3 is a very capable little phone. It represents Nokia's strengths in that the hardware is good, the battery life is great, and voice quality during phone calls is (mostly) good. The touch element has been tastefully implemented across the Series 40 operating system, making menu navigation far faster and more intuitive. Despite the C3's resistive screen, the touch tech never got in the way of using the phone.
Nokia has improved the messaging apps, with better email support, better messaging tools, and rudimentary support for IM networks. It misses the mark when it comes to social networking, however, as it lacks full, native apps. Third-party apps will get the job done, but not to the extent that an official app would.
The performance of the media software is excellent. The music player and camera/video controls are spot-on, and make perfect use of the touch screen technology added to Series 40. It's a pity that pictures captured with the 5 megapixel shooter don't impress. The C3 offers average browser performance for a feature phone.
Would I recommend this phone? For anyone who is a Series 40 fan and wants something new and different, the C3-01 Touch and Type is the handset to get. It blends the classic candybar form factor with an elegantly designed touch interface that has just the right amount of newness and familiarity. For anyone serious about social networking, web browser, and perhaps imaging, AT&T (and other carriers) has plenty of better options to choose from.
Great Budget phone
Just goes to show...
Great job Nokia and let's hope AT&T or T-Mobile pick this phone up so that the average US consumer might have a chance to get a decent phone... assuming they don't mess it up with their AT&T/T-Mob proprietary apps & disabled features.