It took a long time between Microsoft announcing it was to buy Nokia’s mobile division and the deal be completed. During that period Nokia had plenty of time to plough its own path with products without the oversight of its future parent.
Although Microsoft might wax lyrical about how much it is behind the Nokia X, the reality is that it feels like a strange fit with the existing product line and very odd indeed for a soon-to-be-Microsoft company to produce a device running the Operating System of its arch rival, Google.
First of all, let’s talk about what the Nokia X isn’t. It isn’t a flagship device. It isn’t even a powerful device. And it doesn’t run Google’s feature packed version of Android with the Play Store and Google apps. So what is it?
The Nokia X is an entry level device targeting emerging markets with it’s €89 price tag. Specification wise it packs a lowly Qualcomm S4 Play processor, 512MB RAM, 4GB of internal storage, dual SIM slots and a fixed focus 3.1 megapixel camera. The OS is based on version 4.1 of AOSP (the Android Open Source Project) with Nokia additions such as the Nokia Store and Here Maps on board.
To understand the motivation for releasing the device it’s important to understand Nokia’s product line. At the lowest end come the devices that are just regular phones. These are the ones you can buy in Tesco for £10.
Next come the budget Asha line, the ‘almost Smartphones’. Above that sits the new X range with the Windows Phone powered Lumia Smartphones sitting at the top of the Nokia tree.
The thinking is that users will buy the value Nokia X range devices (a X+ device with slightly boosted specs is available as is a XL with a larger screen) and when it comes upgrade time, they will naturally move up into the Lumia range. It’s a sound idea, but we’re not so sure it will play out in reality.
Although the Nokia X has decidedly mediocre specs, one area where you can’t fault it is build quality. Available in a variety of bright colours (including the signature green which almost glows!), the device is made of the familiar plastic that Nokia uses on a number of its products.
From that perspective the X looks similar to Asha devices and, as on those phones, the build construction is fantastic. Yes, the materials are ultimately cheap but they don’t feel second-class – there’s no creak or flex in the device at all and it feels built to last.
When you start using the device, the first thing you’ll notice is that the screen, while responsive to touches, isn’t particularly bright. It’s a regular TFT rather than an IPS unit, which doesn’t compare well to most of today’s handsets. In use too performance of the X is average at best, with the ageing processor often struggling to keep up with the user interface.
On the positive side, the software is well thought out, with a homescreen similar in style to Windows Phone but with the ’fast lane’ history page also seen on Asha phones just a swipe away.
The Nokia Store is surprisingly well populated given how new the device is and the inclusion of here maps (which includes offline maps for one country) makes the phone something of a bargain as a personal navigation device.
We mentioned previously that the strategy of leading X users into Lumia might not work… but why is that? First of all, the UI experience, while similar in some places to Windows Phone, is on the whole pretty different and users trading ‘up’ might find this confusing.
More worryingly though, as the Nokia Store gets populated more and more by Android developers who can add support with virtually no effort, it’s possible that before long the Nokia Store will have far more apps than the Windows Phone Store, making switching to that effectively a downgrade from the ecosystem perspective. This is an issue Microsoft will need to deal with if it encourages the upgrade path.
Overall, despite its modest specs and at times sluggish performance, the Nokia X is a strangely charming phone. Its built-to-last construction and quirky character do their best to win you over and in emerging markets it is easy to see the X doing well.
What about here in the UK? There are better phones available for a similar price, and if you can stretch to the cost of, say, a Moto G, you will get a massively superior device. Just not in bright green.
Written by Paul O’Brien