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Nokia 8110 4G review: The Matrix “banana phone” is back

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
69.99
inc VAT

Nokia’s iconic feature phone was made famous by its appearance in The Matrix. Twenty years on, is it still the baddest phone on the block?

Pros 
Cheap
Iconic design
Doubles up as a fidget spinner
Cons 
No touchscreen
Slow user interface
Keyboard slider not spring-loaded
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The original Nokia 8110’s cameo appearance in The Matrix (1999) remains the coolest bit of product placement ever. Neo rips open a mysterious FedEx package to find a curved black handset, which immediately begins to ring. He holds it in his palm and, with the slightest touch, activates a sliding mechanism to reveal the concealed keyboard. He puts the phone to his ear; it’s Morpheus.

Now, two decades on, the 8110 is back. Sadly, the spring-loaded slider, which was an exclusive modification for The Matrix, has not made it into the re-release: according to Nokia, it would have made the device too bulky and heavy. What the re-released 8110 does have, however, is 4G network connectivity, dual SIM slots, and smartphone apps such as Google Assistant and Facebook – so now you really can access the Matrix from your Nokia mobile.  

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Nokia 8110 4G review: What you need to know

Nokia’s reloaded 8110 4G is the second release in its retro Nokia Originals series, the first being 2017’s Nokia 3310. That phone was met with a wave of nostalgic glee, and the response to the 8110 has been similarly joyful. Apparently, in Nokia’s survey of Britain’s favourite 90s cultural landmarks, 20% named the original Nokia 8110 as their favourite tech device of the 1990s.

Thus the Nokia 8110 4G was born, with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 205 dual-core processor, 512MB of RAM and 4GB of internal storage. It runs KaiOS, a feature-phone operating system with a limited number of smartphone features. Riffing on the “banana phone” nickname, Nokia has also released a special Banana Yellow colour in addition to the standard Traditional Black.

Nokia 8110 4G review: Price and competition

At £69.99, the Nokia 8110 4G is very affordable – a good thing for what is clearly a novelty release. The Nokia 3310 launched at the same price back in 2017, and can now be picked up for under £40 on Amazon. That one’s only for true retro-heads, though, as it hasn’t even got 4G connectivity.

As for smartphones in the same price bracket, there aren’t too many worth buying. The notorious Alcatel 1 can be had for £70, but I can’t recommend it with a straight face.

The Nokia Smart N8 is, however, worth a look at £85, while the best smartphone in this ultra-budget price range has got to be the Vodafone Smart Prime 7, which punches well above its weight in terms of battery life and display quality – at less than £50, it’s incredible value for money.

Frankly, though, if you’re considering the Nokia 8110 4G, it’s probably for nostalgic reasons, in which case a modern rival isn’t going to do the job.

Nokia 8110 4G review: Design

For the new 8110 Nokia has fully embraced the distinctive curved design that earned the original model its “banana phone” nickname. The 8110 4G is noticeably lighter and sleeker than its 20th-century ancestor, however: it weighs 117g compared to the original’s 145g, and the protruding aerial is, thankfully, no longer present.

The 2018 release also has more compact dimensions: at 133.5 x 49.3 x 14.9mm it’s much more pocket-friendly than the 1996 model’s 141 x 48 x 25mm. It slots nicely into the palm, and, believe it or not, even fits into the smaller pocket of my jeans situated above the main pocket – you know, the one that’s normally too small to be useful to anything apart from displaying the jean company’s logo.

You can still answer phone calls in the same very satisfying way, however: simply slide down the cover to answer, and slide it back up to hang up. The mouthpiece is no longer placed at the bottom of the sliding cover as it was back in 1996, so the mic doesn’t sit right by your mouth when extended, but I’ve had no problems with voice pickup.

The curved casing also enables the “helicopter spin”, a silly feature which Nokia has made a big song and dance about: place the phone on its back on any flat surface and give it a spin and it’ll twirl for up to 45 seconds. It’s pointless, but fun for restless souls.

On to a few practical points: the removable back snaps on and off with ease, and beneath it are two SIM slots, one standard-sized and one nano. You can also slot in a microSD here to expand the storage space from 4GB up to 32GB. At the top there’s a micro USB socket for charging and a 3.5mm headphone jack; the bundled headphones don’t even sound too terrible, although after five minutes or so I found the plastic buds started to get uncomfortable.

The most challenging aspect of the 8110 4G is undoubtedly the keyboard. Given time, I’m sure my touchscreen-pampered fingers would regain the knack of pressing physical buttons, but it’s a big adjustment: it took me about two minutes just to log into Facebook for the first time. If you’re switching from a smartphone, you’d better be committed.

Nokia 8110 4G review: Display

The Nokia 8110 4G has a 2.7in TFT screen with a 3:4 aspect ratio and a resolution of 240 x 320 pixels. It feels absurdly small by modern standards, and it looks very cheap, with poor viewing angles, particularly beneath bright office lighting.

Watching YouTube videos is like going back in a time machine. You can forget about HD: even if you turn the phone on its side and set the video mode to full-screen, the image is small and smeary. Unexpectedly, you have to keep the keyboard cover open while you watch, as closing it shuts down the app – an easily forgotten, and very frustrating, quirk.

It’s also a shame that Nokia hasn’t included a touchscreen on the 8110 4G. The display’s clearly too small for touch typing, but it would be nice to be able to scroll browser pages with your thumb, swipe through pictures and pause and skip videos. Even if it brought up the cost, it would have made the phone much pleasanter to use.

Nokia 8110 4G review: Camera

The Nokia 8110 4G’s single rear-facing camera takes me back to a time before selfies, when everyone’s profile pictures were taken in front of the mirror. Its 2MP sensor produces images that look just as poor as you’d expect: on outdoor shots, in particular, the contrast is bland and colours bleed into one another, and it can’t handle shadows or low light weather conditions at all.

Indoors it picks up a little more detail, but the flash function is ghastly, resulting in yellow-tinged, cigarette-stained monstrosities. Video performance meanwhile is so bad it doesn’t warrant discussion at all, and to review your clips you have to go to a video menu in your phone that’s totally separate to your image gallery. It’s just like the olden days!

Nokia 8110 4G review: Software

The KaiOS operating system, created by KaiOS Technologies, is designed specifically for super-budget feature phones like the Nokia 8110 4G and Reliance JioPhone, while aiming to deliver some of the power of a smartphone OS. It comes with a few pre-installed HTML apps like Twitter and Facebook, plus a handful of games, most of which are demos for boring 2D scrollers. There’s also a bizarre version of Snake in which you can only turn diagonally, which utterly spoils the simplistic joy of the original.

Surprisingly, KaiOS also has Google Assistant, and this works as well as it does on any smartphone – although there’s no “OK, Google” detection, so you have to activate the AI by pushing a button. Google Maps is serviceable too and actually proved faster at finding my location and giving directions than the Android Go Google Maps on the Alcatel 1. You can download additional apps from the Kai Store, but there’s very little there beyond a few paid games and a weather app.

I have to mention that the UI is also annoyingly sluggish. Oftentimes the phone doesn’t appear to react when you press a button, so you’ll press it again; then it does respond, twice. If you’re accustomed to the instantaneous responses of a modern smartphone, this will probably trip you up a lot at first. Patience is the key with the 8110 4G – it will do what you say, but it might take a second or two.

Nokia 8110 4G review: Verdict

Retro tech gadgets are rarely much cop, but the Nokia 8110 4G is an inspired revival. It looks as cool as it ever did, and despite the slow, limited OS, tiny non-touch screen and fiddly keyboard, it’s a significant improvement over the previous Nokia Originals release, the 3310. If you’re willing to learn its quirks, the KaiOS software and 4G connectivity make it actually fairly usable in the 21st century.

What’s more, even on an empty battery, it’ll keep you entertained with its mesmerising spinning function – a pleasure that not even a £900 iPhone X can give you.  

Buy the Nokia 8110 4G now from Amazon

Hardware
ProcessorDual-core 1.1GHz Qualcomm MSM8905 Snapdragon 205
RAM512MB
Screen size2.4in
Screen resolution240x320
Screen typeTFT
Front cameraN/A
Rear camera2MP
FlashLED
GPSGPS
CompassYes
Storage (free)4GB
Memory card slot (supplied)microSD up to 32GB
Wi-Fi802.11 b/g/n
BluetoothYes
NFCYes
Wireless data4G
Dimensions133.5 x 49.3 x 14.9 mm
Weight117g
Features
Operating systemKaiOS
Battery sizeLi-Ion 1500 mAh battery

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