Nokia X Review

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The Nokia X and X+ are almost identical, except that the Nokia X+ has more storage and an SD card. The XL has a 5-inch WVGA display and a 5-megapixel camera with autofocus, LED flash. There’s also a 2-megapixel front-facing camera. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll just talk about the Nokia X, which I saw ahead of MWC.Taking a look at the Nokia X handset, you’ll see a lot of familiar design motifs cross over from other Nokia phones. First, there’s the loud color, bright green in the unit I saw (it also comes in cyan, red, yellow, white, and black.) Then, there are the 90-degree corners and straight sides, which means that the phone can balance upright without any human intervention, like the Lumia Icon for Verizon and the Asha 503.Similar to previous Nokia phones like the Lumia 620, you can swap back covers to mix up the color theme.Specs on the dual-SIM Nokia X are modest.

It has a 4-inch screen with an 800×480-pixel resolution, a 1GZH dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, and Assisted GPS. Beneath the display, you navigate the screen with the Home button that doubles as a Back button. The phone measures 10 millimeters thick (0.39 inch) around the middle, which is pretty typical, if not a bit thicker than a lot of premium phones (but hey, it stands upright!)The X gives you something to grab onto, weighing in at 4.5 ounces (128.66 grams) and measuring 0.4-inch thick.While there is a 3-megapixel camera, it uses fixed focus and the phone doesn’t include a flash. That’s normal for ultra-affordable Nokia phones like this — after all, at 89 euros something has to give — but it would still be nice to have. Nokia gives the X a rated battery life of 10.3 hours talk time over 3G on a 1,500mAh battery. Storage space is short at just 4GB, but you can expand storage with a microSD card slot up to 32GB.Perhaps the Nokia X felt like a cobbled-together approach in the brief period of time I had to play with because I’m familiar with the separate parts. But since I am familiar with Asha and Windows Phone navigation, it was pretty easy to locate apps and customize the home screen. The menus don’t run deep enough to get lost, but there are still settings and customization options to dive into — and intrepid Android followers can also sideload apps to customize the phone, in theory.

 

20140224_082229-580-90Hardware

The Nokia X is not a powerhouse by any means. The Finnish company’s first Android smartphone features a 1Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Play dual-core CPU with an Adreno 203, and just 512MB of RAM (While the slightly higher priced Nokia X+ features 768MB RAM). There’s 4GB of internal memory (out of which only about 1.3GB is available to use) with a microSD card slot. There’s no microSD card included with the Nokia X but we’ve been told that the Nokia X+ will come with a 4GB microSD card slot pre-loaded.Those specs might not sound very impressive until you look at the price tag. It’s more than enough to provide a decent enough smartphone experience. Though in terms of benchmarks it’s definitely far, far away from flagship Android phones.On this hardware, the Nokia X UI chugs along smoothly enough but it does stutter a fair bit. The best way I could put it, is that the Nokia X UI is smoother than an Asha 501, but not as smooth as something you’d see on a Nexus 5 that costs about $250 more, or the Moto G (8GB) which costs about $100 more. You do see bits of lag here and there, and an app can take one whole second (or two) to start up after you tap it’s app icon. Once you’re in an app though, everything is smooth enough.For example, Twitter works great, even Facebook works okay-ish (which is huge considering how laggy it can get on even flagship Android phones), and the pre-loaded games like Fruit Ninja and Tetris are very playable. That being said, a very small selection of Android apps might not work on phones with just 512MB of RAM, and heavy apps do take a while (between 3-4 seconds) to start up. Heavy websites tend to drive the browser a little nuts, as well.Apart from those specs, the Nokia X features 3G, Wifi, GPS, Bluetooth v3.0 with A2DP, FM Radio, and Dual-SIM support. In terms of connectivity, that’s not too bad at all. Sure there’s no LTE, but considering the developing-markets target, it’s not really that big a concern.

 

20140224_082057-580-90CPU

The dual-core processor seems perfectly able to handle all tasks – it stuttered a fair bit when opening some apps, and in the demo the mapping application didn’t like rendering 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. It’s likely to be pretty kind to that 1500mAh battery, so at least you won’t be reaching for the charger every seven seconds.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 media as well as downloading apps – there’s not a lot of room for much else.

Update: So it turns out we were fed wrong information on the Nokia stand – there is a microSD slot here, as you can see, meaning the only difference between the X and X+ is the extra RAM…we’d always recommend paying more to get that speed boost, but in some countries a few pounds difference in the price is a huge thing.

There’s also a removable battery in the mix too (like its brother) – I’m going to guess that Nokia will only release either the X or X+ in more developed markets, and it will likely be the latter to ensure greater app performance, given how close these models are.

 

Dual-SIM

The Nokia X family of phones come in both Dual-SIM and Single-SIM versions but some regions might only get one variant of it. India, for example, will only get the Dual-SIM version.The Dual-SIM functionality works just like you’d expect it to, with support for 3G on both SIM cards, and Dual Standby. You can also set a different ringtone for each sim card, set a primary sim for SMS and calls, set a SIM as offline, etc.That being said, only SIM 1 supports 3G.

 

20140224_082505-580-90Android in disguise

The big deal with the Nokia X, however, is that it runs Android 4.1. Not that you’d know it at first glance. In fact, from a distance, the X looks more akin to Nokia’s Windows Phone handsets. The homescreen is all square tiles – and live tiles at that, complete with snippets of information – and it scrolls vertically rather than horizontally.As with Windows Phone devices, the tiles can be reordered, resized and dragged around the homescreen. A swipe from the left brings up Nokia’s Fast Lane interface, a feature borrowed from the firm’s Asha range of budget handsets, which presents a stream of activities, including app notifications and messages in a vertically scrolling list.There’s also integration with Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud storage service, and a selection of preloaded apps that will be familiar to Windows Phone fans, including Nokia’s Here Maps and Mix Radio, Microsoft Outlook and Skype.It all looks pleasant enough. However, Nokia’s version of Android is a bit of an ugly duckling. It lacks the cohesion and slick feel of Nokia’s Windows Phone devices and, perhaps more critically, it lacks the flexibility of pure Android.

The big catch is there’s no access to the apps, music or video services of Google Play; instead, owners will have to use Nokia’s own app store, which the firm claims is populated by more than 100,000 apps already. It will also be possible to install apps from third-party stores, such as the Amazon Appstore. Android afficionados will be pleased to discover that Nokia isn’t blocking the sideloading of apps either.

 

20140224_081834-580-90Software

The Nokia X runs Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean. Technically.The thing is, it looks nothing like Android Jelly Bean, or any version of Android for that matter. Most manufacturers usually create a UI that look atleast somewhat like stock Android, but Nokia’s UI looks more like a mashup of Windows Phone and Asha UI. Infact, put an Asha 5xx series phone next to the Nokia X, and it would be hard for most people to realize which phone runs Android.The Nokia X runs a forked version of Android 4.1.2 that uses Google’s standard AOSP but doesn’t actually have access to any of Google’s suite of services. As such, there’s no Google Play Store, no Google Maps, no Gmail, none of that. Instead, Nokia has tried to focus it all on Microsoft’s Cloud services and their own apps. In select countries, the Nokia X will come with one whole month’s worth of unlimited international calls via Skype, but due to regulatory issues (with the Indian government) that offer is not available here in India.

There’s also lots of OneDrive integration, Outlook, and ofcourse Nokia’s own HERE Maps, Nokia MixRadio and so forth.Nokia’s MixRadio app on the Nokia X is a bit more basic compared to the Windows Phone version, but you can still stream music for free, and there’s support for offline mixes as well.Nokia’s HERE maps will only offer voice guided navigation in one country on the Nokia X though, and you’ll have to choose when you first start the app up.With Microsoft taking over Nokia anyday now, I’m not entirely certain what this means for the Nokia X line of devices, or why Microsoft allowed Nokia to go ahead with this project at all, but this would allow Microsoft to get way more users dependent on their services, which I’m guessing they are really looking forward to. The only reason Microsoft would want you to buy the Nokia X, is because you’d get so used to this UI and their services, so when it’s time to upgrade, a move to Windows Phone would seem logical.Flipping through the UI is quick enough and generally navigation is smooth. The simplistic UI is probably the most intriguing thing about the Nokia X, and it’s pretty well organized, a lot like Windows Phone. The Nokia X launcher has a series of neatly arranged “tiles”, all on one screen. you can add folders, and even widgets, all in one single long-scrolling pane, which is a very new take on the Android app drawer menu. The animated tiles are essentially just a clever way of doing Android widgets, and it looks great. The icons even act as live tiles, telling you, for example, how many unread emails you have, or how many new SMS messages, etc.There’s the same notification dropdown that you’d expect from any Android phone, but it’s more like the Asha 5xx’s UI, where it doesnt really list all your notifications.Instead your notifications are sent to another screen area called “Fastlane”. Fastlane is a kind-of “notification menu” that is a swipe away from the main menu, and lists all your notifications, and whatever apps you recently used or events you performed on your phone, or available app updates from the Nokia Store, in the chronological order that they’ve happened. For example, suppose you get an email but then use Instagram after, the Fastlane section will list the new email as an event, with Instagram being the recent app used, on top of it. You can customize what appears here and what apps you want to be notified about, even delete notifications or items you no longer want to be listed, but I’m not entirely sure it’s the best way to handle notifications. It definitely takes a bit of getting used to. Folks who’ve used the Nokia N9 or any of the Asha 500 series phones will find this familiar. There are also relevant shortcut operations such as replying to a message, returning the call of a contact, or resuming music playback, etc.Notifications also show on the lockscreen, in a swipe-able format.

nokia_x_xl_0Most Android users would be a little freaked out by not having all their notifications listed in one place, in the dropdown, and might even find fastlane to be a bit maddening. But folks who have never used an Android phone, or any smartphone for that matter, might actually get along with this pretty well.All of this and there’s just one single touch-sensitive button under the display: tap to go back a step, tap and hold to return to the homescreen. Very easy to figure out. Also worth mentioning, is that there’s even the ability to change the colour of some apps to match your theme, but you cant do this to all app icons, which means this feature is kinda useless.Apart from the fast lane, even the onboard apps look very different from what you’d see on your average Android phone. All the core apps look more like they were inspired by the Nokia N9, than what Google intended them to look like. Fans of the N9 will immediately recognize certain elements, like the clock app.There’s also a whole bunch of games such as Fruit Ninja, SimCity Deluxe, Real Football 2, Kingdoms and Lords, Bejeweled 2, Monopoly, Green Farm 3, The Game of Life, and Wonder Zoo. Although it doesn’t use the official Google Play Store, the Nokia X comes with the Nokia Store preloaded.The Nokia Store for Nokia X features plenty of Android apps, such as Facebook Messenger, Viber and Opera Mobile, but they’re specially curated by Nokia and misses out on some high profile apps like Instagram or WhatsApp which arnt listed (yet).According to Nokia, developers just need to slap in a few lines of code (a mere three new APIs) into the same APK that they use for standard Android builds of their apps, before submitting it to Nokia and getting certified and listed on the Nokia Store. As such, it should be easy for developers to bring their apps over, but only time will tell as to how many apps get listed, and by how many developers. The company is hoping that the fact that the Nokia Store has support for in-app purchases and carrier operator billing (which is very useful in developing countries where people dont always have credit cards), are also tempting enough for developers.You can always install a third party app store like the Amazon App Store, or just manually find APK files and sideload or install them. All you have to do is go to settings -> Security and make sure “Allow Installation of apps from unknown sources” is checked. Nokia stated at the launch that their UX is built on top of AOSP, so technically anything within the AOSP is possible to do on the X, which means widgets, launchers, ROMS and more should be coming along soon enough.Installing the Google Play Store is possible, if you find the APK, but it will refuse to start up on the Nokia X.Now, all this means that the Nokia X has access to almost any Android app that can run on 512MB of RAM and doesnt require Google services. But hunting for APK files can be quite tedious. Hopefully the Nokia Store for Nokia X will improve quickly.The keyboard might feel a little cramped for some folks out there, even though there’s a huge 4 inch screen here. In some regions, popular 3rd party Android keyboard SwiftKey is pre-installed. You can always download it from the Nokia Store if it is.Nokia’s messaging app is simple and straightforward to use but setting up email is a bit tedious. I wish Nokia made the setup process a little simpler, because currently it asks you for way more information than just your email address and password, even for outlook or gmail accounts. When you try to add a new email account, it’ll ask you if you want to setup a corporate account or just “Email”. Selecting email then asks you for your username and password, but the next step after is to ask you whether it’s a POP, IMAP or Exchange account, which is most definitely going to confuse certain users. Choosing IMAP, then asks you for the IMAP server address, port number, security type, etc which is just way more complicated than setting up a basic Outlook/Hotmail account should be in this day and age.

 

Camera

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Nokia’s 3MP effort without flash is just that: non-flashy. It’s a super-basic snapper, and it’s almost so basic that I feel the Finns should be making a bit more of an effort, even at this price point.However, there are some tweaks: you can alter the white balance and exposure levels ( a fairly easy trick for most chips these days) so you can start to improve the brightness when the darkness begins to set in.The pictures you take also append to a Live Tile on the home screen in a similar way to Windows Phone – although only if you’ve sized up the window, given you can make the Live Tiles bigger and smaller as you wish in most cases.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 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 had just done this before signing itself away to Microsoft, as this could have been a really good addition to the Android game.

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Call Quality

Call quality is never usually a problem on Nokia phones and that’s the same story here.Calls come in clear, and the earpiece is good but could have been slightly louder, in my opinion.There’s apparently noise cancellation onboard but I’m not entirely sure about that. Regardless, folks on the other end of our calls said we sounded loud and clear.

 

Battery Life

The Nokia X features a 1500 mAh battery. Considering it’s powering a dual-core processor, Android, and a 4 inch IPS display, that’s an okay amount of power.Officially, the Nokia X is rated at up to 26 hours of music playback, or up to 13 hours, 20 minutes of standby on 2G (and 10 hours, 30 minutes on 3G).In my time with it, I got very average battery life out of the Nokia X. It’ll last for about a day’s worth of average use (on 3G), but heavy use on a proper work day means you’ll need to charge it up before you head home for the evening. My network (Airtel in India) has terrible 3G coverage in Delhi, so this might be subjective.

In the boxNokia-X6-Review-Design-011

There’s the charger, the microUSB-to-USB cable, the headset, and user manuals.

Conclusion

Overall, though, we have to say we’re not bowled over by the Nokia X. On the one hand it’s a very well-made device, the screen seems decent enough and it’s very cheap. It’s everything you’d expect of a modern Nokia phone.On the other, its operating system lacks the charm of Windows Phone and the flexibility of a true Android handset. It’s a very strange smartphone indeed.