Wok, bicycle, Nokia 3310

Stefan Hammond
22 May 2017

Simple, reliable, efficient devices proliferate worldwide and span decades, if not centuries. Let’s look at a few.

Woks keep knives in the kitchen (and out of guests’ hands, a plus if you’re dealing with bristly warlords) and maximize the heat-energy used to cook. Bicycles need no external fuel, and transform humans into load-carrying machines-not to mention their basic transportation function. The simplicity and usefulness of these devices means that millions are used daily, subtly altering the trajectory of civilization.

Let’s toss electricity into the mix. Nokia released their iconic 3310 mobile in 2000. During those feature phone days, the 3310 was the shiznit. It made calls and allowed threaded SMSs, and the battery (about the size of a large chocolate mint) was legendary. The phone was beloved by its users, although entertainment was mostly limited to Snake: a simplistic game that proved surprisingly addictive.

I’m bored, swap the case!

I was one of the 126 million who bought a 3310. In Asia, retailers offered cheap swap-’em-out plastic cases for popular phones. I liked that the phone “could be infinitely customized with garish fascias,” as UK newspaper The Telegraph put it. My favorite was combining a white case with a silver case: by using a white top with a silver bottom I was able to spoof the look of an iPod (then available only in that color-configuration).

Case-swapping was silly, but the phone was rock-solid. Drop it, kick it around, let the dog chew on it...it’d still work. You could carry a spare battery in your wallet, but you probably wouldn’t need it. The 3310 had a magic aura about it other Nokia handsets couldn’t match. According to Wikipedia, in 2015 the Nokia 3310 was chosen as one of the first three “National Emojis” for Finland.

Publicity coup

In 2017, as manufacturers release sleek lookalike Android-powered phones, Nokia decided to one-up the “shiny rectangle” form factor by going retro. And someone in Nokia’s PR chain had a stellar publicity idea: re-issue the long-discontinued phone with new features.

The telecoms press erupted when the 3310 2.0 version-manufactured by Finnish company HMD Global-was announced. How much of the original not-so-smart phone would be retained? And...what about that snake game?

80 grams of 2.5g

Unsurprisingly, the new 3310 adds features like a micro-SD card slot, a color screen, even a built-in camera with a stonking 2 megapixels for those precious selfies. And while the battery on the original 3310 was impressive, the new phone promises “22-hour talk-time and month-long standby” on a single charge. Gloss finishes in yellow and “Warm Red” have that shiny candy look, but more sedate users may prefer matte finish dark blue or grey.

And no one’s forgotten Snake, which kept users of the original glued to the 3310’s keyboard, trying to keep an incrementally lengthening digital snake from doubling back on itself as it slid around the 48x84-pixel monochrome screen. “Snake will be snaking its way back into people’s hearts,” said HMD in a statement, promising a new version “available to play on Messenger, part of Facebook’s Instant Games cross platform experience.” At press time there was no information on whether users not hooked into the Facebook mothership can use Snake as a standalone game.

All sounds good, but what about that 2.5G cap?

2G or not-2G

“Yes, [the] Nokia 3310 is a 2.5G phone,” said an HMD spokesperson. “We will start rolling it out in Q2 to markets where a 2.5G device is demanded by our customers.”

OK, but some markets are closing down their sub-3G networks-the latest being Singapore, whose telcos shut their 2G networks on April 1 (no joke) to free up spectrum for future use. No 2G network access effectively turns the new 3310 into a shiny red or sedate blue brick.

You could still play Snake assuming you don’t have be tethered to Facebook 24/7.

Asked about the possibility of a 3G version, the HMD spokesperson said: “We are focusing the shipping start of Nokia 3310 in Q2 right now. We won’t comment on our future plans.”

Fair enough. The introduction of mobile telephony to developing countries has changed the lives of countless villagers, and a phone with massive battery life and the ability to deliver, say, the latest crop prices via SMS, carries great value in some parts of the world. The 3310 was part of that original revolution and, like the legendary Ouroborous snake that eats its own tail, its reintroduction takes us back to the future once again.

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