Nokia And Xpal Power's Cheap, Trend-Bucking Phones Are All About Simplicity, Will Stay Charged For Years

The two companies have unusual phones on display at this year's Mobile World Congress that are kind of anti-iPhones. The markets for each, however, look very different.

Nokia's new 105 phone, revealed at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, owes a lot more to the classic dumbphone of yesteryear than the latest camera-sporting, app-packed iPhone or Google product. But that's intentional, and instead the phone has two remarkable characteristics: It'll cost just $20 before tax, and it has a huge 35-day standby time on a single charge. Also on show at MWC is Xpal Power's SpareOne phone, which is even more bare bones and runs off a single AA battery. And while this phone has almost no features or specs to speak of, the ones it has are impressive: One AA battery can deliver up to 10 hours of talk—and 15 years of standby.

Nokia's 105 phone is incredibly basic, but it does have a color screen and an FM radio, which means it's actually attractive and surprisingly useful for the developing world markets at which it's aimed.

The idea behind the phone is this: Where finding a power supply is tricky, developing world users can rely on this phone to remain useful for a whole month between charges. Nokia won't be making huge bucks on this device unless it sells millions of them, but that's certainly the intention. With even the developing world adopting smartphones and getting hooked to the Net, this is one last window for making money the traditional Nokia way.

Similarly stripped-down, Xpal's SpareOne phone has some really rather bizarre characteristics. It has no screen, it doesn't necessarily need a SIM card, and you don't "recharge" it in the traditional sense. Instead it relies on a single AA battery for juice.

When you tap on this phone's number pad it gives you audio confirmation that you've hit the right button instead of looking at a screen. And it's designed to be light and skinny so that you can simply toss it in a drawer or even the glovebox of your car, where it won't take up much space, and wait for it to be useful. This means that when you do need it you'll have to remember the phone number of who you're calling or pre-program useful ones into its speed-dial. But that's not a problem for the main number this phone will ever dial: 911. You don't need a SIM card in a phone to call the emergency services, you see, and the SpareOne even has a dedicated red button on its face to make the task even easier.

All of this means that, unlike Nokia's cheapie, it's not exactly aimed at developing markets: Xpal's EVP of consumer brands Geoff Fishman explained to Fast Company that pushing a $100 phone in these markets would be a "tough sell," although the company is gently exploring the idea. Instead Fishman said that the SpareOne is much more the sort of device you'll throw in a kitchen drawer, or in an emergency kit ready for when you've got no power—such as in the aftermath of a superstorm. It'll be useful in situations where your current cellphone isn't because, as Fishman reminded us, "you've always got an AA battery somewhere at home. Perhaps in your TV remote." At times like this the SpareOne can accept a standard SIM you grab from your powerless regular phone—so it does rely on the phone network's remaining action—but it's main purpose is calling 911 (or 112, or 999). It can even be set up to alert relatives if it's been given to a grandparent for emergency use, and they've actually used it to call 911.

These anti-iPhones—will we see more of these devices hit developing and developed world markets? Would you pop a Nokia or a SpareOne in your car for emergencies?

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