Nokia Asha 503 review: One step at a time
Fastlane is where everything happens
Since it went full touch Nokia's Asha Software Platform has always had a lot in common with the abandoned MeeGo - the app drawer/homescreen, the multi-tasking, some icons, even the notification area. The Asha 503 runs on the latest 1.2 version of the software, which brings WhatsApp support and better Fastlane UI with social updates.
The Asha platform relies on a single capacitive Back key, and it is only really needed when you need to go a level up from a submenu. For everything else, swipes and taps will do. A double tap will wake the phone up, swiping an app off the screen will close it. We told you - the whole thing is modeled after MeeGo.
Here's the usual video demo to get us started.
The lockscreen doesn't have any active shortcuts to directly launch apps but it will display notifications for missed calls, incoming messages or calendar events. These will take you right to the relevant app, be it the dialer, calendar or messaging. The new 1.2 version introduces an easy way to launch the camera straight from here too - what you need to do is swipe upwards from the bottom of the screen. It's really useful since no Asha comes with a hardware shutter key.
The lockscreen also got another new feature - show the contents of notifications. Now you can choose whether to see just an icon for each new notification or the entire content of that notifications. If you aren't concerned about your privacy then the latter is certainly more convenient.
A double tap will nudge the phone out of standby and display the lockscreen - you need to enable the option in the settings.
The iconic Glance Screen with notifications is available as well.
Moving past the lockscreen you arrive at the centerpiece of the platform - its two homescreens. Those two include an app launcher and the so-called Fastlane. It's a simplified version of MeeGo's three screen layout (social updates, app drawer and social updates), only two of those have been merged together.
The Fastlane keeps track of all your recent activity, opened apps go there, recent web pages, along with contacts you've called, messages and emails, calendar events (birthdays, to-dos), recently installed apps, recently shared content over Bluetooth, recently taken notes and pictures, radio stations, and even social network posts, replies, likes and goings-on.
The Fastlane in the new Asha 1.2 version not only supports all of these, but also allows you to personalize your content. You can now opt out of some of those services in case you are getting overloaded with icons.
The music player will appear in the Fastlane if you've played a track - that makes sense really. What you get is a line with the track name, a tap on which will take you to the Music Player app. Alternatively, a tiny play/pause button next to the track name, will simply resume or pause playback without going into the app itself.
The app launcher is a 4 x 4 grid. All the apps you install reside here and you can rearrange them as you see fit but you cannot create folders. A tap and hold inside the app launcher triggers edit mode, where you can rearrange the app order or delete apps.
A tiny number icon on the Messaging icon in the app launcher shows the text messages you have received but not yet read. That works for email too.
You can tap pull down the status bar to show notifications for missed events and quick toggles for sound profiles, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and mobile data.
In case of a missed call, which requires your attention, the notification area drops down a bit to briefly display the number and then pulls back up, leaving a small handle as a reminder, which you can pull to see who's been calling you.
To close an app you just need to swipe it away from either end of the screen and you'll be back to the app launcher screen. You can also close apps by holding the Back button but for some apps you'll get a prompt to confirm you want to close.
Some apps give you a context menu, which is accessible via a swipe from the bottom.
The interface runs reasonably fast and is easy enough to navigate. Once you get a feel for the swipe navigation there's really no way to go wrong. Even if you open an app by mistake it's only a swipe from either edge of the screen to exit and get back to first base. The notification area comes in handy for toggling quick settings like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and spares you the need to open up the settings menu. Recently opened apps are just a swipe away in the Fastlane.