While everyone seems fixated on smartphones, there’s still need for feature phones. In Kenya, besides being in use for various purposes alongside calling and texting, they are popular for one thing: M-PESA, the country’s popular mobile money service. Thanks to Microsoft, we have what we can call “a new advanced M-PESA phone”, the Nokia 216.
Like other Nokia-branded feature phones from Microsoft we’ve seen over the last one year, the Nokia 216 has access to basic internet (2G) to power bundled apps like the Opera mini browser and Opera mobile app store, Bluetooth connectivity (very important for the Slam feature) and a battery with up to 18 hours talk time. It runs on Series 30+ and has a pair of 0.3-megapixel cameras on both the front and the back.
The ability to tuck in a memory card that can hold up to 32 GB of data will come in handy as the device, like many of its size and stature, lacks any internal space to accommodate the photos one may take and the MP3 music files one may want to carry along. The Nokia 216 does, after all, have a 3.5mm headphone jack not just for this purpose but for listening to FM radio as well.
From the Nokia 216’s specifications (see all of them here) it is a step behind last year’s Nokia 230, and an upgrade to the Nokia 215 that was announced in early 2015 (it has double the RAM, for instance).
What’s more, the 2.4-inch display Microsoft feature phone costs just $37 (a little under Kshs 4,000) or in other words, it is in the price territory of a fantastic entry-level smartphone already in the market, the Orange Kaduda Smart.
It is hard to make the case for feature phones like the Nokia 216 when they are priced like some entry-level smartphones from local carriers Telkom Kenya and Safaricom (the old Neons) but Microsoft’s insistence means that there’s still a huge market for these devices (they sell millions of such every year) and who doesn’t like choice anyway? Plus, the kind of reliability one gets from Nokia 216-esque devices is much better than from similarly-priced smartphones which mostly struggle to deliver desirable mobile experiences.
The Nokia 216 may be the last of Nokia-branded devices from Microsoft. HMD Global, a Finland-based company that entered into a 10-year agreement with Nokia to exclusively make and distribute Nokia-branded mobile devices, recently agreed to buy the feature phone business from Microsoft in a deal worth $350 million that is expected to close before the year ends.
Update – 23rd September 2016
Microsoft East Africa has confirmed in a statement released earlier today that the Nokia 216 will be coming to Kenya in November. Both the single SIM and dual SIM variants will be available on sale then with pricing starting at $34 (about Kshs 3,400).