When is an Android not an Android? When it’s filled to bursting with Microsoft’s bits and pieces.
The Nokia X is the Finnish brand’s big effort to make greater waves into the low, low end of the smartphone market – and it’s enlisted the help of Android to make that happen.
The Nokia X is a phone that comes with a fairly decent spec list for a phone that’s coming in at €89 before tax (around £75, $120, AU$135) – we’re talking a dual-core 1GHz processor from Qualcomm, 512MB of RAM, a 4-inch WVGA screen and a 1500mAh screen.
However, it’s important not to compare to this to the likes of the Moto G, as it’s not meant for the more developed regions in terms of smartphone use. This is for areas where Android devices are sold at a much lower average price, but still can do the basic things that others can.
With that in mind, the Nokia X is probably a little better than OK in terms of impressing. The polycarbonate body is fairly chunky, but in the hand it dovetails well with the smaller screen, as it would be hard to hold something that small and thin.
The screen doesn’t seem to suffer either – the contrast is strong, helped by the smorgasbord of colour on offer from the live tiles.
There’s not a lot else on offer here in terms of ports or anything – the mandatory headphone jack and camera (which is only a 3MP option with no flash) are the only other items in a sea of matte plastic.
But this isn’t meant to be a phone that’s all about design – the Nokia X is supposed to offer a differentiated user experience from the rest of the identikit Android phones on the market.
To that end, I actually rather liked what Finland’s top Microsoft subsidiary is doing – there’s a nice fusion of Android familiarity and Windows Phone functionality.
The live tiles idea is really cool – it’s essentially just a clever way of doing Android widgets, but while other launchers try and make things look too complex, Nokia is doing things its own way and making it all seem a lot cooler.
For instance, there’s no ‘Apps’ key that shows all the little bits of software you’ve downloaded – now it’s all in one long list that just endlessly scroll. To that end, it can get a bit messy, so Nokia’s method of creating folders is needed and something that wasn’t possible on Windows Phone.
It’s nothing special, and like other brands you can’t just drag and drop to create a folder, instead needing to tap an icon. But at least dragging the live tile icons for each app will allow you to move the order around automatically, and some (such as the gallery) will allow you to expand to show pictures in your album.
There’s even the chance to change the colour of some apps to match your theme – although the fact you can’t do all of them means this feature is slightly negated.
The other big change is Nokia’s Fast Lane – it’s an odd change from the notifications bar, as it’s essentially the same thing but one long scrolling that can be accessed by swiping right or left.
It’s cool in some respects as it allows you to dynamically control things like the music player from within, and always keeps your most-used apps close at hand. However, there is still the same pull-down bar as on other Android handsets here, but it’s only for changing settings.
Come on Nokia, you don’t have to change EVERYTHING.
The dual core processor seems perfectly able to handle all the tasks with relative aplomb – it stuttered a fair bit when opening some apps, and on the demo the mapping application didn’t like rendering the 3D images at speed, but on the whole it was OK.
Then again, it feels like this should be a little cheaper as a device once you’ve dug a little more into it.
The Nokia X only features 4GB of on board storage, and no microSD card expansion (unlike the Nokia X+, which has that option and 768MB of RAM to speed things up a little) which is a real worry when it comes to trying to add in media as well as downloading apps – there’s not a lot of room for much else.
Nokia has been very careful to remove everything from Google here and make it all about Microsoft – there are lots of similarities between the UI on show here and with Windows Phone.
OneDrive is front and centre, and with 10GB of storage on offer that might seem enticing for those stuck using Android phones with no access to Google’s Drive.
However, there does seem to be a feeling this is forced into the phone – part of me keeps wishing that Nokia has just done this before signing its life to Microsoft, as this could have been a really good addition to the Android game.
The Nokia X is a hard phone to work out – on the one hand, it’s a super cheap handset and as such has the budget specs you’d expect.
On the other, it seems to be not much better than the Lumia 520, which is a Windows Phone handset and supposed to sit above it in the product line – on current prices, it’s also cheaper.
There are some worries here even for the developing nations: that 4GB of storage could get eaten up quickly, and while Nokia is touting the ability to add third party apps through other stores, new phones can live and die by app availability and that could kill the Nokia Android project.
The Nokia X is constructed well enough, has a interesting new UI and is breaking new ground – but as a new phone, it seems a bit expensive for what’s on offer.