Nokia Asha 503 review: One step at a time
The Nokia Asha 503 brings a more robust 5MP camera (be it fixed-focus) and 3G to a package we already liked, and that's what we can safely call a good start. Emerging markets are the most likely destination as usual but, yet again, the Asha series look capable of transcending borders. The Asha 501 looked like a good first phone for you kid or a decent second phone that won't break the bank and the 503 is bringing even more value.
And it's not just the added features - Gorilla Glass, fast network data, improved imaging and the "ice layer" re-design. The Asha platform has got an upgrade too - there's a better Fastlane and extended app support (WhatsApp for one). Asha has been getting closer to smart platforms with a dedicated application store, OTA firmware updates, improved social skills, notifications, quick toggles, office and organizer apps. You can of course opt for a dual-SIM Asha 503 too.
The design is another point in favor - granted the new "iced" look may not be everyone's cup of tea but the new styling and feel that started with the Asha 501 is fresh and relevant against the most likely Android rivals and, at the same time, consistent with the Lumia's design language. That new philosophy is matched on the inside as well - a fresh, fluid and good-looking interface.
Overall, there're very few areas where the new Nokia Asha 503 failed to deliver. However the recent shifts in the market mean that the very existence of the niche can be questioned. Smartphone pricing has been dropping rapidly, meaning that the Nokia hybrid platform doesn't have the savings on its side any more.
And for all it provides, there's one area where it's got very little on the entry-level droids and WP smartphones - flexibility. You see for all the performance limitations, the most basic smartphones still have access to immensely larger app catalogues.
The LG Optimus L3 II will give you a bigger 3.2" IPS QVGA display, a 1GHz Cortex-A5 processor, a 3MP camera, 3G connectivity and Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean for just under the price of an Asha 503. It's got a dual-SIM version of its own, too, taking away the other possible reason you might have to choose the featurephone.
The likes of the Samsung Galaxy Pocket Neo and the LG Optimus L1 II may well be the cheapest droids on the market today. Both have 3G and a 3" QVGA display, 4GB of expandable storage and 2MP cams. They're powered by low-end single-core processors, and run Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean. A very close match for the Asha 503 core features, and clearly behind in the imaging department, these two are even cheaper at about €65.
But a greater problem still is Nokia's best-selling smartphone in 2013 - the Lumia 520.The €20 price difference may be a lot in these parts of the market, but it's more than justified - several times the performance, a smoothly running proper OS and 5 times the screen resolution. Unless you really need the Asha 503 dual-SIM option which the Lumia 520 can't match or you absolutely can't afford it, you will be much better off paying the premium.
So, it's the Asha 503 and the smartphones. The line has never been so blurred, when it comes to functionality, but the ecosystem misbalance makes the Nokia hybrid hard to recommend. Sure, there are certain use cases, when you'd be glad to get what is the best Asha so far.
If you like the design or if you are sure that all you are ever going to need is a simple phone for calling and texting than you shouldn't hesitate to buy it. It's certainly more durable than most of its peers so it is probable that it will serve its simple purpose longer. Yet if you are looking to get the best possible value for your money... well, let's just say there's a reason why the Asha lineup didn't make it to our last shopping guide.