Nokia 8110 4G, First Take: The 'banana phone' reborn

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When Nokia relaunched the iconic 3310 last year I approached it with some trepidation. I'd reviewed the original, and felt a nostalgic glow at the thought of its resurrection. The revived 3110 delivered long battery life and covered the basics like texts and calls, but I felt the £50 price was just too high.

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Nokia's 2018 reboot of the 1996 8110 will cost £70.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

Now along comes a new version of the 'banana phone', as the original Nokia 8110 was often called -- so-named because of its curved shape. The then very novel slider covering the number pad extended the curve, wrapping the handset round ear and mouth allowing for clearer calls. Sliding the keypad cover open also automatically accepted calls, or just turned the screen on and off. Those features were advanced stuff for 1996, when the handset was released. The other main claim to fame of the original was its appearance in the cult sci-fi classic movie The Matrix.

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Nokia sent me a banana yellow version of the 8110 4G, which is also available in black (as used in The Matrix). Whichever variant you opt for, the phone costs £70.

This new version of the Nokia 8110 is full 4G, has dual SIM support, and sports a range of apps not even dreamed of in 1996. YouTube and Google Maps (both launched in 2005) are preinstalled, and there's an app store that will get you Twitter and a variety of games. However, if you're expecting to enhance the handset with plenty of extra apps be warned: the app store stock is small and may well not grow much. A version of Nokia's classic Snake is already on-board along with an email client, an FM radio, a music player, a browser, a calendar, a calculator, a voice recorder and that favourite of old-time handsets, a unit converter.

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The tiny monochrome screen of the original 8110 has been replaced by a 2.45-inch colour screen with 240-by-320-pixel resolution, the build is more compact and lightweight (133.45 x 49.3 x 14.9 mm, 117g), and the antenna that was necessary on the original handset is no longer required. That's progress. Then again, the plastic build used here feels a bit vulnerable to drops and knocks, and the slider itself feels rather flimsy.

The removable 1,500mAh battery, which charges via Micro-USB, will go the kind of distance that flagship smartphones can only dream of. Nokia says it will last for 25 days on standby in single-SIM mode, or 17.7 days with dual SIMs. It'll provide up to 7 hours of 3G talktime, play music for up to 48 hours and video for up to 6.1 hours. The flat buds on the provided headphones won't suit all ears, but do play radio and music to a reasonable quality. They plug into a standard 3.5mm jack.

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The Nokia 8110 4G is powered by Qualcomm's dual-core MSM8905 processor with 512MB of RAM, 4GB of internal storage and a MicroSD slot for external storage expansion up to 32GB -- not massive by today's standards, but better than nothing. There is no front camera for selfies, and the rear camera only manages 2MP images. That's pretty low resolution, but you're not going to select this handset for its photography prowess. Dual SIM support will appeal to some -- there's one Micro-SIM and one Nano-SIM slot under the battery cover, with access to the former requiring removal of the battery.

The operating system is by KaiOS and it does look a bit like the software that sat on old candybar handsets. Reactions to button presses are a bit on the slow side, and I had to scale back my response time expectations.

Conclusions

It would be unfair to compare the 8110 4G to a modern Android smartphone as that's not what it is trying to compete with. In some respects it isn't competing with anything except our own level of interest in a handset that's a modern take on an old classic. On those grounds, it does some things well (good battery life, ease of taking calls via the slider) and others less well (flimsy build and a screen that isn't great in bright sunlight).

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Other drawbacks include the low-resolution camera and a non-touch screen that relies on the D-pad for scrolling -- a slow, painful experience. I'd have liked to see the designers go just a little further in some areas when reimagining this retro feature phone.

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