Hands-on with Nokia's Asha 308 and 309 (video)

They're not the most compelling of devices, but for smartphone first timers, they should do just fine. Officially announced today, Nokia's updating the Asha Touch line with the 308 and 309 -- two new members of the Series 40 family that've moved past the feature phone designation and into smartphone territory. Priced at an affordable $99 (off-contract), this dual- and single-SIM pair are near identical with 3-inch WQVGA displays, 2GB of microSD storage (expandable to 32GB) and a 1,110mAh battery. We just happened to be onsite at the company's HQ in Espoo for the reveal of the diminutive devices, so follow on after the break for our first impressions.

It's worth stressing that the 308 and 309's new classification isn't just marketing fluff -- the pair perform just like mini-me smartphones should. At first glance, they're no more memorable than your first flip phone -- made of a lightweight plastic and feeling rather cheap to the touch. But poke around the MeeGo-like swipe interface for a few minutes and you'll be impressed by a surprising level of responsiveness that belies the humble 800MHz processor inside.

Around back, the phones share a subtle, non-textured patterning that spreads out just below the 2-megapixel camera and serves to add a small amount of flair to what is an otherwise utilitarian build. Ports for micro-USB and a 3.5mm headphone jack sit up top, with the volume rocker and lock key on the right and a covered slot for microSD or, in the case of the (gold) 308, a second full-sized SIM on the opposite edge.

Navigation through the interface was rather fluid and apps seemed to launch with an appreciable amount of speed, though we did witness some extended loading times. Mobile sites on the refreshed Xpress browser rendered slowly, but much of that had to do with the devices' reliance on an EDGE connection (no 3G here, sorry). The UI offers users some useful tweaks, like the ability to swap SIMs, manage music and games from a drop down list or even add a preset third homescreen.

In all, the duo's a decent addition to the Asha Touch line, no doubt adding more choice for consumers in emerging markets looking to make the "smartphone" leap. At $99, they're priced competitively enough, but we wouldn't recommend these over, say, the Lumia 710 as a stepping stone for mobile newbs.

Myriam Joire and Zach Honig contributed to this report.