Nokia X Hands-On: It's Android, But Not as You Know It
The rumours were true. As if there was ever any doubt, Nokia now has a range of entry-level Android smartphones. The 4-inch Nokia X and Nokia X+ handsets are aimed at emerging markets, and feel quite different to any other Android handsets on the market.
Rest assured, these are by no means high-end phones. Priced at roughly $125 and $135 for the X and X+ respectively, those looking for fancy PureView camera tech or speedy processors should turn their attentions elsewhere. I tried out the Nokia X+ handset, which is virtually identical to the standard Nokia X aside from two key differences — firstly, it comes with 4GB of built-in storage with microSD expansion whereas the X has only the bare minimum onboard storage required to house the OS and pre-loaded apps. Secondly, the X+ gets a marginal RAM boost, packing 768MB compared to the 512MB in the X. Yep, they're the sort of numbers we're dealing with here.
Both make use of a 4-inch IPS LCD, 800 x 480 resolution screen, and each comes in a range multi-coloured, polycarbonate cases, just like the Lumia range. Each is quite a chunky handset, measuring 115.5 x 63 x 10.4mm and weighing 129g, but the colourful casings do give them something unique in the sea of Android devices. Only three buttons sit on the handsets — power and a volume rocker along the edge, plus a touch-sensitive back button just below the screen, which doubles up as a home button if long-pressed. Each also offers dual-SIM capabilities.
Most notably different from other Android devices though is the operating system. Nokia has opted to use the AOSP, Android Open Source Project, tweaking the OS considerably to include a Lumia-like interface and plenty of Nokia and Microsoft's own services. The likes of Outlook and Bing replace Android standards such as Gmail and Google Search, for instance.
The UI will look quite familiar to anyone who has used one of Nokia's Lumia Windows Phone devices. It features rows of square app tiles, arranged and resized in a grid formation as you see fit. Some of these will also include live and updating information, while putting the photo album app on your homescreen, for instance, will see your snaps cycle through automatically in a small square pane. The lockscreen is simple, offering time and date, social networking and messaging notifications and a detailed look at remaining battery. A double-tap will wake the screen from sleep.
Swiping down from a homescreen offers quick access to a small selection of connectivity options, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, as well as a spot from which you can swap the active SIM. All notifications, app history and favourites however sit in a screen called the "Fastlane", which is accessed by swiping right to left on a homescreen. Here you have quick access to notifications, recently used apps, calendar and alarm notifications, among other features. Organised as a vertical list, it's easy enough to browse and is well laid out, though we're not sure why it couldn't have just been accessed from the downswipe area — it undoes years of Android navigation muscle-memory.
Alongside the 512MB/768MB of RAM in the X and X+ respectively is a 8225 Qualcomm Snapdragon 1GHz Dual Core processor. It's not the snappiest out there by any means, and I noticed a considerably delay when trying to re-arrange apps on the homescreen. It doesn't bode well for intensive 3D applications.
Without Google's Play Store to access, Nokia has included its own app portal, the Nokia Store. It's equipped with hundreds of thousands of apps immediately, including all the major social networks, custom keyboards such as SwitKey and top games including Jetpack Joyride. It's simple enough to navigate, with a search bar at the top, a large featured app banner and then other recommended apps in tiles that can be scrolled through vertically below. Hitting an app brings you to its purchasing page, with information including file size, developer and price displayed.
Developers will also be able to offer try-before-you buy options and operator billing, adding flexibility for the low-income buyers the handsets are aimed at. Nokia also allows access to third-party app stores, as well as the side-loading of standard Android APK files. So while the Nokia Store may not match Google's own in terms of sheer numbers of applications, you've seemingly enough options to be able to get any missing apps onto the device either way.
Fans of Nokia's PureView camera tech will be disappointed with the 3MP rear sensor. It's merely functional, taking shots which look slightly washed out, and lacking in detail. Apart from white balance and on-screen digital zoom controls there's no built-in filter options, so you'll have to download a third-party app if you want to add some retro stylings to your images.
You get what you pay for then; at roughly $125 for the X and $135 for the X+, it's a perfect entry into the world of smartphones for those in emerging markets or on a low income. But it won't see Nokia bothering the premium end of the Android smartphone spectrum. The Nokia X should be in stores immediately, with the Nokia X+ following at some point in Q2.