I can still recall the general shock and collective groans that permeated through the Internet on February 11, 2011 when Nokia’s CEO Stephen Elop announced he had tied the Finnish smartphone giant’s fate with that of his former employer Microsoft. While we now know how that story ended, many wanted to know if things would have panned out any differently for Nokia had it chosen Android instead of Windows Phone as its primary smartphone platform. Just before Nokia changed its call sign it decided to launch its range of Android smartphones under the Nokia X series. The existence of this series of smartphones is said to have pushed Microsoft to acquire Nokia’s handset and services business. So does Nokia’s Android smartphone deliver what its fans hoped for? Let’s find out. Also Read - Nokia X20, X10 India launch hinted by local website, could break into 5G handset market
The basic pretense for Nokia not going for Android was that Elop felt Nokia would not be able to differentiate its products from its rivals. Fast forward three years and Nokia’s first Android smartphone is being marketed as a stepping stone between its Asha feature phones and Lumia Windows Phone smartphones. The idea behind the strategy was that Android smartphones were getting cheaper and encroaching upon Nokia’s Asha full touch phones. The Nokia X is supposed to be a stop gap arrangement till Lumia smartphones could be made available at a lower price. This, according to Nokia, will ensure first time smartphone users embrace its and Microsoft’s services, rather than going for Google’s services. While I agree with the idea, the execution is somewhat flawed. I’ll come to that a little later. Also Read - Jio 5G service: Reliance Jio, Intel partner to develop 5G network for India
The Nokia X is the first of three smartphones that will run on Android or rather the open source elements of Android that have been stripped of all Google services. In order to differentiate itself, Nokia has added a skin that is a cross between the tiles layout of Windows Phone and Asha’s Fastlane — its multitasking UI that shows new updates as well as apps you have used recently. If you have used an Asha phone, you would find yourself at home here. Also Read - Nokia C20 Plus budget smartphone launched: Check specs, price and other details
Talking about the design, the Nokia X is as premium as smartphones come in this price range. It is almost indistinguishable from the Nokia Asha 501, which is a good thing. The polycarbonate plastic casing available in bright colors not only look good, but also feel great to hold. The front has the 4-inch WVGA display and the lone back button that goes one step back at a time but also does the trick of being the home button by pressing it for a slightly longer duration.
Nokia has also curated its own app store, working with developers to strip out all Google elements from their Android apps and customizing it to Nokia’s specifications. Apps cannot use Google’s location, authentication or payment APIs. In case you cannot find an app in Nokia’s store, it conveniently points you to a third party app store like One Mobile Market. Here you can get APKs of popular apps like Instagram and WhatsApp, which can be sideloaded by ticking off an option in settings to enable installation of apps from unknown sources. Very convenient, but it is also an invitation to malware and other risks. Also apps you sideload still won’t be able to access Google services. For instance, you can get Chrome browser on it but you won’t be able to sign in to your Google account to sync bookmarks or browsing history.
Then there are a few things that take time getting used to on the Nokia X. My biggest usability issue has been multitasking, which does not work as I am used to. Instead of having a drop down notification bar, which for the record even Microsoft has implemented in Windows Phone 8.1, one has to swipe to the side to go to Fastlane and see if there are any new notifications. A person upgrading from an Asha phone might find it intuitive but why would Nokia limit the functionality when it has the option of a better UI, which by the way, is how its users will multitask if they decide to upgrade to a Lumia smartphone in the future?
While the Nokia X looks and feels good, I found the 1GHz dual-core A5 process with 512MB of RAM to be underpowered. While apps do run fine initially, you are bound to find apps taking a while to load and the phone requires a reboot almost once a day. Even the touchscreen response isn’t that great.
The battery lasted us for just about a day, which is better than what most Android smartphones at this price point offer. The 3-megapixel camera takes decent shots but is nothing worth writing home about. Having said that, these are not problems exclusive to the Nokia X. Instead, this is something we face from most Android smartphones priced below Rs 10,000.
But that’s where Nokia’s logic of the Nokia X being a stepping stone to Lumia falls apart. Barring the Nokia brand and a better build quality, a regular Android smartphone provides much better user experience while using third party apps. If Android apps are your main motive, the Nokia X is not the smartphone you’d want to buy. Now available for approximately Rs 8,000, the Nokia X is not the best Nokia/Microsoft experience you can get on a smartphone at that price, either. That claim is still held by the Lumia 520 with its smoother interface and better user experience.
The Nokia X has been one of the most intriguing smartphones I have ever reviewed. If you are looking for an Android smartphone, I won’t recommend the Nokia X as it throws up a lot of limitations with which apps work, how they work (without Google integration) and I don’t expect normal users to go around rooting their phones, even though it takes less than 5 minutes to root the Nokia X. If you are looking for the best Nokia and Microsoft experience (I’d like to meet you), then the Nokia Lumia 520 is a better option.
Photos: Paranjay Dutt