I am a '90s baby, but using the Nokia 3210 has smashed my rose-tinted glasses

Nokia 3210
(Image credit: Future)

To say that phones have changed drastically over the last decade would be an understatement. We all remember the phones we grew up using, and I’m sure we all look at them with rose-tinted glasses. I got to test that theory recently when I had a chance to use HMD’s latest feature phone, the re-released Nokia 3210.

For anyone who hasn't heard the term “feature phone” before, it is essentially a redesign of the type of classic phone that existed before smartphones. These usually include better batteries, software, cameras, and new charging options. However, the sophisticated features you'd find on an iPhone or Android device are absent here.

The new Nokia 3210 comes with upgraded RAM — a massive 64MB — and access to HMD's own S30+ operating system that runs on the Unisoc T107 CPU. However, it retains the dual SIM and an SD card port, although I'm not sure what you'd use all that extra memory for.

So, with all these improvements, I took the Nokia 3210 around over the weekend to see what it felt like to relive my past as a mobile phone user. While it all started so well, I soon found some of the cracks that time had paved over.

 Nokia 3210: what were the positives  

Nokia 3210

(Image credit: Future)

When I first held the new Nokia 3210, I was definitely in for a shock. I was unprepared for how tiny the phone is and that it weighs next to nothing. I’ve written before about how I dislike how big phones have gotten, and this initially seemed to prove my point. Honestly, Just feeling the difference between having the Nokia 3210 and iPhone 14 Pro Max in my pocket was incredible.

The other feature phone advantage I found initially was how simple everything seemed to be. The Nokia 3210 has a pretty basic design, and finding out where everything needed to go was child play. To start the phone, you put the SIM card in, place the battery in and you are good to go. You won't have to mess around with SIM keys, individual accounts and recalling a hundred passwords

The final positive I found a while for me to realize. I noticed I was getting less distracted, and less focused on checking my phone every 5 minutes. I wasn’t completely disconnected, obviously, but it felt like there was less of a weight in my pocket. It was also different having to use text to reach people — something I hadn’t done in years. I found that I only messaged people when I really had something to say.

However, that wasn't only due to a feeling of being disconnected, it was also down to some of the negatives of the Nokia 3210, and they soured the experience for me. 

 Nokia 3210: what were the downsides? 

Nokia 3210 GSM reveal

(Image credit: GSM Arena)

The first issue I had was that using a keypad to type out text messages is a pain, it's slow and annoying. There’s no getting past how much better using a touchscreen is, or just a general keyboard like we saw on the original Blackberry. Honestly, I stopped trying to text people after a few days out of pure frustration. Added to this annoyance was the rediscovery of a feature of older phones that was best left forgotten. 

One of the biggest changes that ever happened with phones was the invention of app stores where it was easy to find and download either paid apps or free versions. However, that wasn’t the case with older feature phones; instead, they had games pre-loaded and you could try them out. Usually, the phone would let you pay for five rounds of a game, and then you would have to pay for the full version through the sim card. The same is true on the new Nokia 3210, and it is as hellish an experience now as it was then.

Finally, for all the simplicity of use, these phones have one of the most annoying menus I've seen in years. For instance, the Nokia 3210 has keypad tones set so it beeps each time you press a key. Trust me, this is one of the most annoying series of beeps that I think I have ever come across in my life. Turning off the beeps isn’t simple, either: you have to go into the menu and find tones, which are hidden in the settings and, just for fun, the keypad noises aren't affected by the volume of the phone. 

 Nokia 3210: Does it hold up all these years later?

While using the Nokia 3210 was initially pretty fun, the experience soured pretty quickly once the nostalgia wore off. I’ll admit, taking a grainy photo on the 3210's 2MP camera reminded me of going to the park with my friends, and checking Facebook on that screen was a blast from the past. 

However, I am not the same person I was back in 1999, I have experienced more wonders of technology than I can count and this just isn’t hitting where I thought it would.

That said, I can see the benefit of a feature phone for others — people who don’t want a lot of complications or who don’t want to spend their time constantly staring at their phones may have a greater appreciation for the Nokia 3210. There's a reason flip phones have enjoyed a kind of mini-revival.

Still, for people looking to save on a device, a feature phone might feel too limited. I'd argue that you'd be better off getting one of the best cheap phones out there, which are going to give you more options and more of the experience that you've probably come to expect from a mobile device.

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Staff Writer

Josh is a staff writer for Tom's Guide and is based in the UK. He has worked for several publications but now works primarily on mobile phones. Outside of phones, he has a passion for video games, novels, and Warhammer. 

  • Nightseer
    Those keyboards were just something you had to get used to. Typing fast in them wasn't an issue once you got used to. But it is one thing that is hard to get back to or get good at again. Which was helped greatly with that being only choice and likely us being younger and thus being faster at learning and having more energy to deal with it. Another difference between now and then was length of SMS. We used to not have plan with practically infinite SMS, each SMS was paid and you really wanted to squish stuff so phone only sent one. You didn't pass it out because it didn't matter if in background it was broken into 2 or 5 SMSes. Today you just write whatever. I mean remember SMS lingo? Can't give example of English because I don't live in country with native English language, so I only used it in local language. But there was reason why sometimes only we could actually read those SMSes. :-D
    Reply
  • @AdventuresPlanned
    I'd love to have that phone for a few weeks.. I'm an 80s baby (teen in the 90s) and that was the 2nd phone I ever owned.. I'd live to relive that experience again.. but unfortunately I have ATT and I'm not sure if it would work with my carrier..

    Anyone else have an idea?

    If it will, here can I get this phone? I'd love to buy it.
    Reply
  • COLGeek
    @AdventuresPlanned said:
    I'd love to have that phone for a few weeks.. I'm an 80s baby (teen in the 90s) and that was the 2nd phone I ever owned.. I'd live to relive that experience again.. but unfortunately I have ATT and I'm not sure if it would work with my carrier..

    Anyone else have an idea?

    If it will, here can I get this phone? I'd love to buy it.
    Install your own SIM into an unlocked phone and I am sure it would work with AT&T.
    Reply
  • Pietrotull
    What about the battery life? That's the thing I miss about these feature phone the most.
    Reply
  • RocketRyno
    You have to want to digitally detox to get anything from these phones. I have a nokia banana 🍌 phone when I feel like I'm using my phones (work and private) too much and I have some time off I will swap the sim out and go dumb for a short while. I find it helps me reconnect with my kids and I have an ipad if I really need to jump online.
    It's horses for courses. If you can regulate your own screen time you don't need this type of device. For us that need a hand disconnecting this small change is a big help.
    Reply