Nokia's Asha phones get music, photo improvements

The OS upgrade also includes new integration with Microsoft's OneDrive storage service

Nokia's newest Asha phones are getting an OS upgrade that adds the company's free MixRadio music service, camera features and integration with Microsoft's OneDrive Cloud storage service.

The Asha 500, 501, 502, 503 and 230, both single and dual SIM (subscriber identity module) variants, will get the software upgrade, the company said. They all run a proprietary OS called Nokia Asha platform.

Nokia MixRadio will let Asha users, except owners of the Asha 230, stream music for free based on the artists they pick, but they won't be able to select specific songs. The MixRadio so-called mixes can be streamed via a data connection or downloaded and stored on the phone for offline listening.

The upgrades to the phones' camera capabilities include a voice-guided self-portrait feature, which tries to make up for the lack of a front camera by helping the user aim the back camera without seeing the screen. The phones will also get improved video stabilization and a panorama feature.

The integration with Microsoft's OneDrive will let users upload videos and photographs to the cloud storage service automatically or manually. As part of the upgrade, Asha users will get 7GB of OneDrive storage for free.

Fastlane, a key OS feature that lists recently accessed contacts, social networks and apps, will now also display Twitter re-tweets and Facebook "likes", as well as birthday reminders.

An access control feature lets adults place limits on how minors use the phones' browser and on what they're able to buy from the app store.

Microsoft's $US7.2 billion acquisition of Nokia's smartphone business is expected to close at the end of this month, and it's unclear what will happen to the Asha family once the deal is approved.

For now, Nokia is signaling that it hasn't given up on the Asha line. In addition to the upgrade, former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, who will lead Microsoft's devices group, recently voiced support for the products at Mobile World Congress.

Microsoft has started working to make Windows Phone a better fit for low-cost smartphones, but for now Nokia addresses that market with its Android-based X devices and Asha line.

The X family of smartphones was introduced because Asha devices weren't competitive enough and Windows Phones were too expensive. Sales of X smartphones will have a big influence on future decisions, according to market research company CCS Insight.

If the X, X+ and XL "are wildly successful they would not only hasten the demise of the Asha platform but could also eat into sales of low-end Windows Phone devices and dent developer sentiment toward Windows Phone," CCS said in a recent report.

Both the Nokia X+ and Nokia XL are expected to start shipping soon, according to Nokia. The smartphones combine Android Open Source Project software and a user interface with tiles that can be resized just like on the Windows Phone user interface, but also the Fastlane feature.

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