The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

WoWasis field test: the durable, inexpensive Nokia 1280 phone for Asia

Written By: herbrunbridge - Jun• 05•11

While traveling, if you need a pricy phone that browses the internet, takes pictures, breaks easily, and is a target for theft, this is not the review for you. If, on the other hand, you want an inexpensive, durable telephone that works well in any Asian country, the Nokia 1280 telephone is your best pal. At a price point of $20-$30 USD (and you can find good used ones at a fraction of that price), no one will ever steal it from you, either, which is not the case with tri or quad band phones.

This phone is durable. Here at WoWasis, we’ve dropped it more than a few times, with nary a problem. The audio is crystal clear, important for noisy urban areas. Although it’s ancient by today’s standards, it’s still sold everywhere. It travels well, too. Just slap a SIM card inside when you visit a new country, and you’re in business (check out our post on using mobile phones in Bangkok for more info on how all this stuff works).

The Nokia 1280 is actually a replacement for the durable Nokia 1112, which was released in 2006. The software is bulletproof. With graphical icons and large font sizes the Nokia 1280 is an easy to use mobile phone that aims at first-time mobile phone users. As a dual-band device it operates on GSM-900/1800 networks, which includes most of Asia, Europe, and Africa, but not in the Americas (for more on differnces between dual, tri, and quad band phones and supported frequencies, see the note at the bottom of this post). The Nokia 1280 has a 96 x 68 pixels resolution monochrome display with white backlighting and an integrated handsfree speaker. The cell phone has built in utilities, such as a calculator and a stopwatch and it supports polyphonic ringtones. Beside other basic features like SMS and picture messaging it has a speaking clock and alarm. Its internal memory is 4 MB in size, enabling it to hold up 200 phonebook entries. The battery powers the phone for up to over 5 hours talk time, or up to 15 days if left in stand-by mode.”

AsiaPromoBannerLost and stolen phones are a way of life for the traveler these days (we recommend a cheap snap-off lanyard that you can loop around your belt, which will keep your phone from accidentally falling out of your pants pocket). We left our Nokia 1280 in a taxi one day, called the number an hour later, and our driver returned it. I can’t guarantee that would have happened if our phone hadn’t been a cheapy. Durable phones are a necessity. A friend’s phone slid off a nightstand onto a hotel rug, and the screen broke in half. We’ve dropped our 1280 off bigger heights, and it’s taken a sound beating, generally speaking, as we travel. If you need a sturdy, expensive phone in Asia that will humbly keep on working, the Nokia 1280 is for you.

Additional note on bands, frequencies, and countries. The folks at chankaudaya have an excellent post on the subject. Here’s what they say:

Different Frequency Bands used in different continents of the world.

If you want to travel to different  continents of the world with your mobile phone, not only the mobile operator or SIM card matters, but also the capabilities of your mobile phone. You may sometimes want to go to USA ( say you are living in Srilanka). You will go to one of the mobile operators and ask for the roaming facility. First question they will ( should ) ask from you is that whether your phone is a dual band, tri band or quad band. All of a sudden you have got into a some kind of trouble because you don’t know about these frequency bands. This post will give you some idea about different frequency bands used in different countries.
Dual-band – An Asian dual-band phone operates at both the 900 MHz and 1800 MHz spectrum. Dual-band works in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and much of South America. Normal 2G phones used in Srilanka like Nokia 1200, 3310 are included into this category. In Europe two bands (900/1800 MHz) are used in the same country to improve coverage.In America two bands (850/1900 MHz) are used in the same country to improve coverage.Dual band phones are also used to enable roaming between different countries. For example, a cellphone with dual band 850/1800 MHz will work in both the United States (850 MHz) and India (1800 MHz).
Examples for Dual Band Phones: Nokia X6, 1800, 1280, N900 Tri-band – A tri-band phone operates on three frequency bands, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz and 1900 MHz, allowing you to use it in Europe, Africa, Asia, nearly all of North America, Australia and New Zealand2G Triband phones are mobile phones that support the GSM 900/1800/1900 MHz bands commonly sold in Europe, Asia and Africa, (for example the LG KE820 is a triband mobile phone that is sold in Europe, but works in big cities of America but not so well in suburbs and rural areas).Or alternatively the 850/1800/1900 bands (commonly sold in the Americas). The Motorola V300 formerly carried by Rogers Wireless used a rare combination of 850/900/1900. A 2G Quad band (850/900/1800/1900) offers more coverage and is now quite common.
Examles for Tri-Band Phones: Nokia 5530, 6700, X3, C5
A 3G Quad band offers more coverage. Quad-band – A quad-band phone allows you to roam almost anywhere globally. It covers the 850 Mhz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz and 1900 MHz frequency ranges. Many countries in South America only have 850 MHz GSM service while both 1900 MHZ and 850 MHz GSM services are supported in the USA. 99% of all countries use the GSM standard. We believe eventually GSM will be the only cell phone standard in the world.A quad-band mobile phone is used to designate a phone that can operate in the following GSM frequency bands:
• 850 MHz (U.S./Canada/Latin America/Brazil (Only the carrier Vivo))
• 900 MHz (Africa/Europe/Brazil/Africa/Australia/Asia (ex Japan and S. Korea))
• 1800 MHz (Africa/Europe/Australia/Asia/Brazil)
• 1900 MHz (U.S./Canada/Latin America)

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  1. The 1280 won’t work in the Americas, Swee, and we’ve published an addendum (see post above) for the explanation. Again, we love this inexpensive, durable phone for Asia use. If we lose it (OK, we use a pocket lanyard, so it’s never happened), we’d just buy another new one for $20 USD. And because it’s so inexpensive, it’s not as attractive to thieves as tri or quad band phones.

  2. swee says:

    I brought my Nokia 1280 back to Canada. I can’t get any signal with a new Canadian SIM card and top up with minutes.
    Any suggestions?

  3. Going to Taiwan? At Taipei’s Taoyuan airport, you can buy your telephone SIM from FarEasTone, located a few steps away from the tourist information counter, Terminal 2, 3rd level Departures.

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