Barely a month left before the deadline for Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia and the Finnish smartphone giant threw a curveball by launching its X-series of Android smartphones. Though Nokia has been careful about stripping out everything Google from the phones and replacing them with Microsoft’s services, the key takeaway is one can sideload Android apps via APK files. Nokia is curating its own app store for the platform, it is also providing third party Android app stores for easy access to existing Android apps. We went hands-on with all the three smartphones and here are our first impressions.
All the three devices – the Nokia X, X+ and XL – follow the same Lumia and Asha design language. All of them will come with the same polycarbonate plastic finish in myriad of bright color options. They look and feel premium, unlike most smartphones available in the Rs 7,000-Rs 10,000 price range.
The X-series smartphones retain the lonely back button from the Asha full-touch phones rather than having the three button layout we are used to with traditional Android smartphones. This is a critical point as it defines the entire user interface.
With the X-series you don’t get the typical Android user interface – there’s no home button for multitasking. Instead what one gets is the Fastlane interface from the Asha series that displays the last used apps. Swiping across the display brings the tile interface from Windows Phone. So you don’t exactly get the same multitasking interface like other Android smartphones and apps don’t run in the background. Some apps seem to retain their last used status while others don’t.
Nokia seems to have purposefully done this in order to not undermine Windows Phone. The company is positioning it as a stepping stone for first-time smartphone users who haven’t used Android smartphones and is hoping that they would then upgrade to a Lumia after getting sucked into Microsoft’s services ecosystem like OneDrive, Outlook and Skype. For existing Android smartphone users, the X-series won’t look or even work like other Android smartphones.
Apart from the UI changes, Nokia has stripped away every Google service and replaced them with either Nokia or Microsoft service. So instead of Gmail one gets Outlook and Microsoft Exchange for email, Nokia Express browser rather than Chrome, Here Maps instead of Google Maps and Bing Search for Google Search. Any app that calls Google services for location, in-app payments and authentication will have to replace those API calls with corresponding Nokia/Microsoft alternatives. However, one can sideload Google’s Chrome browser and it works alright, though we could not sign in to our Google account and sync our bookmarks or saved passwords.
Having said that, the X-series is unlikely to sway existing Android smartphone users, but that isn’t the aim either. Instead Nokia is looking at the next billion smartphone users who do not have an online identity yet and wants to ensure they embrace Nokia and Microsoft ecosystem and not Google.