When Nokia (NYSE:NOK) launched the iconic model 3310 cellphone 17 years ago, it was an instant classic. The brick-like handset came with a modern feature set for its day, including custom ringtones, the popular Snake II game, and support for very long SMS text messages. Above all else, the 3310 featured 260 hours of standby battery time and the durability of Roman concrete. Even now, some people wonder whether the Nokia 3310 was the best cellphone ever made -- and jokes about it are dropped with a tender passion.
Nokia ended up selling 126 million units of the 3310. But that's not all. Hoping to tap into that warm sensation of hard-earned nostalgia, the company has relaunched the Nokia 3310 in 2017.
What's new? What's not?
The reborn Nokia 3310 is a modern take on the classic handset. Battery life has been tripled to about a month of standby idling or 22 hours of talking, the color screen plays an updated version of Snake, and the new phone comes with a modest digital camera. It's not a full-fledged smartphone, but a tightly packaged feature phone with a limited set of pre-installed functions and no app store.
The low-resolution screen features full color, but it's not a touchscreen. You will still control your Nokia 3310 strictly via the gently updated keypad. The phone won't need your Wi-Fi password and the included web browser only works with older, slower 2G and 2.5G wireless networks.
Early reviews celebrate the new Nokia 3310 as a passionate modernization of the original device, though it doesn't seem quite as sturdy and indestructible. Then again, reviewers didn't exactly expect tank-like durability out of a much lighter handset that retails for 49 euros (or roughly $55).
Should I get a Nokia 3310?
The rebooted handset is not available in the Americas yet, and might never make the jump across the pond.
At launch, the Nokia 3310 requires a 2G network frequency that is not supported by any of the U.S. mobile carriers. An American version would need a retooled wireless network platform, supported by different chips and a redesigned internal antenna. That development work isn't free, so the company would need to make sure that the U.S. redesign is worth the effort.
The phone launched in the U.K. at first and will arrive in India later. The supported 900 MHz radio frequency band is commonly used around the world, opening up the possibility to release the new Nokia 3310 in many other markets. Together with the device's low cost and the old 3310's global reputation of fantastic build quality, this could become a popular handset in developing nations around the world.
Just don't hold your breath waiting for an American launch.
Why is Nokia doing this?
Actually, the old Nokia doesn't make phone any longer. The handset division was sold in 2013 in order to refocus the company on wireless infrastructure operations. A hop, skip, and a jump later, a group of former Nokia executives started up a new company named HMD Global to sign an exclusive license for Nokia's phone brand.
HMD Global's headquarters sits literally next door to Nokia's Espoo main offices, staffed mostly by former Nokia employees, and with a Nokia executive serving on the new company's board of directors. It isn't exactly Nokia proper, but a close proxy.
The company has announced several Nokia-branded phones. For the most part, these are Android-based smartphones. The Nokia 3310 relaunch was more of a side note than the main event at the handset announcement event in February.
Yes, there's a serious business plan here. HMD Global would like to serve cost-conscious consumers who rank simplicity and durability above smartphone features and app stores. But mostly, it's a reminder of HMD Global's storied background. Connecting the dots between the Nokia 3310 and the resurgent brand could increase interest in HMD Global's other, more profitable, handsets.
Nokia would love to see the 3310 succeed, as the company stands to collect royalty payments for every device HMD Global can sell. But it's really a sideshow for a dominant network infrastructure player.
The Finnish company is wise to take it slow here, keeping the handset operation at arm's length.
Nostalgic relaunches have the potential for significant success, as proven by Nintendo 's (OTC:NTDO.F) Classic NES mini-console that sold out way ahead of schedule. Old-school gamers just couldn't get enough of the affordable device that came loaded with 30 nostalgia-soaked game titles. Nintendo may follow up with a downsized Super NES system for good measure. Reaching back to the glory days can truly work sometimes.
But it's hardly a surefire strategy. In the smartphone space, BlackBerry (NYSE:BB) tried to reignite enthusiasm for its physical keyboards and security-minded messaging services in 2015, but failed to strike a spark. The Canadian smartphone veteran is now almost exclusively a provider of mobile software and services. The handset game is a fading memory for BlackBerry and its investors.
If HMD Global's handset sales start to pick up, Nokia could fully embrace its handset history again with a quick acquisition. If not, the failure to deliver won't hurt Nokia's bottom line.