Many companies descend on the annual Mobile World Congress event to plug their first smartphone launches of the year. It’s an established routine, but HMD Global undeniably stole the show in 2017 with, of all things, a new feature phone. Flexing its newly-acquired license to the Nokia brand, HMD put on a marketing masterclass by announcing a re-release of the iconic Nokia 3310. This year, it’s attempting a similar trick, preying on ’90s nostalgia with the new Nokia 8110 Reloaded.
The 8110 was de rigueur when it launched two decades ago, but if the late ’90s are a little hazy, you might best remember the phone for its recurring cameo in 1999 sci-fi classic, The Matrix.
Quick tangent: HMD’s use of ‘Reloaded’ is kinda clumsy here, since it was Samsung that created a weird, futuristic phone specifically as a promotional tie-in to the Matrix sequel of the same name. Also, sorry to burst your bubble this early, but the new 8110 doesn’t have a spring-loaded slider like the modified versions of its predecessor used in the movie. Looks like you’ll have to wait for a Nokia 7110 re-release for that.
Much like HMD’s take on the 3310, the new 8110 is by no means a carbon copy of the 20-year-old handset that inspired it. They share the same banana-shaped design, which can’t possibly feel comfortable in your pocket for any length of time, but the stubby antenna of old is now gone.
Naturally, it’s also a lot smaller than the original 8110, but nowhere near as small as HMD could’ve made it. Compared to the cute and neat 3310 re-issue, the new 8110 is still rather long and chunky, particularly for a feature phone. Given that components and materials are much lighter these days, though, it doesn’t have that brick-like quality old Nokia phones are known for. The plastic slider feels conspicuously flimsy, for instance.
The recognizable curved frame carries with it a number of features you won’t find on turn-of-the-century phones, such as a 2.4-inch color screen (320 x 240), an awful reimagining of Snake, a 2-megapixel camera, much more capable feature-phone software, WiFi and even a 4G modem. This is primarily so you turn the thing into a retro-styled WiFi hotspot — the 4G version of HMD’s 3310 also has this functionality, but that handset’s only available in China. A speedy 4G connection isn’t totally useless if you don’t have another device that’ll benefit from a hotspot, though. Compared to the 3310, the browser on the 8110 is much better at rendering mobile websites in a readable way. Surfing on such a small screen is still a test of patience, mind you.
HMD adds that several popular apps will be able to take advantage of the data connection on the 8110. (For reference, you can get basic Twitter, Facebook and Facebook Messenger clients on the 3310.) At our briefing, HMD wouldn’t be any more specific, but we’re thinking maybe Instagram, WhatsApp or Snapchat — perhaps a decent navigation app. Those kind of names would make the 8110 more appealing to hipsters wanting a talking-point phone with up to 25-day battery life, as opposed to a digital detox device.
As HMD now has two re-issues in the 3310 and 8110 Reloaded, it’s going to start calling these Nokia Originals. It’s the company’s way of saying this series of nostalgic handsets won’t end with the new 8110. HMD still refuses to explicitly comment on whether the 3310 was, as most journalists suspect, a calculated marketing ploy. Representatives won’t talk sales figures, only saying it was a “success.” Beyond the countries where feature phones still enjoy significant market share, apparently plenty of people bought it as a back-up to store in their glove box or to take to festivals, as something new for their less tech-savvy parents or just as a fun collector’s item.
HMD is hoping the 8110 Reloaded will have the same broad appeal when it starts shipping in May in classic black and bright yellow (an obvious nod to its banana shape). However, at €79 (roughly $97, or £70), that puts it in the same price bracket as HMD’s new entry-level Android smartphone, the Nokia 1. ‘Success’ comes in many forms, though, including simply getting people talking about Nokia again.