For a long time, a lot of people have been clamoring for Nokia, one of the best handset makers, to create a phone based on Android. When Elop was elected as the company’s CEO, those aspirations got major cracks.
When the eventual buyout of Microsoft came to light, everybody thought that it was the final nail on the coffin for Nokia’s foray into Androidsphere. No way in hell would Microsoft ever consider creating a phone based on Android! Then the leaks came pouring in last year, with the phone being code named “Normandy”. Personally, I got excited. I have a love-hate relationship with the Windows Phone platform, but I still put Nokia’s hardware in high regard. At first, a lot of people thought that it’s a case of an aborted project due to Microsoft’s hostile takeover. But as more leaks came pouring in, the more viable the product became.
The announcement of the Nokia X during the recently concluded Mobile World Congress was met with equal doses of praise and skepticism. Personally, I was psyched! It didn’t matter that it’s using a forked version of Android. Just the mere fact that I’d be able to use most Android apps in a platform that has a fully functioning Nokia Here app in a hardware made by one of the best mobile phone designers is enough of a draw for me. Last week, we were given a copy of the phone during Nokia X’s official launch in the Philippines.
I’ve used the phone for more than a week since then. So, does it live up to the hype? Is it the Nokia Android phone we’ve all been waiting for? Is it worth owning? Join me, and let’s delve deeper into this phone.
Nokia X Specs
- Android Nokia X 1.0 UI (based on Android 4.1.2 Jellybean)
- 4″ IPS LCD WVGA resolution (800 x 480), ~240ppi
- 1.0GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor Cortex-A5 with Adreno 203 GPU
- 512MB RAM, 4GB internal storage; expandable via microSD support up to 32GB
- 3.1MP rear camera, no flash
- Dual SIM
- Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, 3G, HSDPA, Bluetooth 3.0, GPS, A-GPS
- 1500mAh non-removable battery; wireless charging support
If we’ll base it on specs alone, you can see that it’s an under-achiever. The venerable Nokia Lumia 520, currently the lowest of the Lumia line, has much better specs than this phone. In its defense, Nokia specifically stated that this phone is targeted for first-time smartphone users and those strictly under budget (i.e. those who buy cheap China-made Android phones – Nokia said as such during the press event). Unfortunately, they’ve set the bar too low hardware-wise, especially if you factor in the SRP of PHP 5,990. It does not seem to be going after the likes of CM Flare, etc. It seems to be more closely related to CM Life-level of phones, which are about at least half the cost of the Nokia X. Though to be fair, it can slug it out with Samsung’s Galaxy S Duo. And not one of those phones can hold a candle to the absolutely gorgeous design of this phone. As with the Lumia line, I’m immediately in a love-hate relationship with this phone. But mostly love.
Packaging and Accessories
Nokia’s packaging is standard on every phone they’ve made, so if you’ve seen one, they’ve seen them all. I have no complaints with Nokia’s packaging, and is still one of my favorites.
The phone comes with the usual accessories, such as charger and cable, and earphones. Interestingly, the earphones that came with is is red. It seems to be Nokia’s Coloud Pop headphones, so no complaints here. It would’ve been nice if we got a microSD card, but since high-profile companies rarely do that, it’s a non-issue.
Design and Build
As I’ve said it before: Nokia produces some of the best-looking phones ever. The phone is encased with a polycarbonate shell. In my case, it’s the neon green version. I’m not too hot with the said color, but it’s not too bad after a while. It’s the “default” color of Nokia X because, according to Nokia, it’s their color for the year. Personally, I just thought of it as being “Ninja Turtle Green” instead of “neon green” and it kind of grown on me. Fortunately, Nokia said that we’d be able to buy polycarbonate shells in the future along with other accessories. If green isn’t your cup of tea, it also comes in other colors such as bright red, white, black, blue, and yellow (no cyan, curiously).
The design of the Nokia X is a curious one. As I mentioned before, Nokia X is a new product family line fit snugly in between the higher-end Lumia line and the lower-end Asha line. The aesthetics show this on the onset. Most of the front is taken up by the 4″ LCD screen. Not being made of Gorilla Glass or Dragontrail Glass, you’ll have to be careful especially since there’s currently no available screen protector for it yet, even in the Nokia Store (that’s the status last week, I’ll try this weekend and update this post if there are screen protectors available). It does initially come with a temporary plastic film that can act as a screen protector for the mean time. Unfortunately, I removed mine, so that’s my predicament right now. There is only one soft touch button (Back button) at the bottom of the screen a-la the Asha line. Yes, there’s no Menu, Multi-process, or Home button like we’re accustomed to in Android. However, the forked Android’s UI is able to address this, don’t worry. The top of the screen has the sensors, while the rear of the Lumia X houses the phone’s main 3.1MP camera loudspeaker.
Removing the polycarbonate shell grants you access to the long battery stick, the microSD port, and the two microSIM ports (yey! it uses microSIMs!). The right side is reminiscentof the Lumia standard: the volume rocker and power button (only thing missing is the dedicated camera button). The top has the 3.5mm jack for your earphones and such, and the bottom has the microUSB port.
Overall, the phone’s design is what you’d expect out of Nokia: elegant, beautiful, and an eye candy. It feels good in the hand, and upon touch, you’re assured that the materials used are of high quality. It doesn’t look and feel like a budget phone at all.
Display and Touchscreen
Despite the low resolution, the screen is bright and colors are beautifully rendered. I had no problem watching high-resolution videos, whether it be 720p or 1080p. At 4″, you should know by now that my bias for screens larger than 5″ would mean that it wasn’t as much an enjoyable experience for me. But I do concede that mileage may vary. At that low resolution, the screen size is a perfect fit, I have to admit. Any larger can make font sizes unbearably low. As it is, reading with this phone is adequate.
Touchscreen controls are surprisingly smooth and responsive for the most part, although lag is noticeable sometimes. This is especially true when swiping from the lock screen to the main screen. As a gaming platform, though, the platform is severely lacking. Anything beyond casual games would be an exercise in frustration. The phones come with a crapload of games, some are trialware, though a few of them would be ok to keep. Don’t worry, they can be uninstalled, and yes, the internal space can be reused.
As said before, the spec sheet is an A-list of hardware components if you’re going for the Underachievement Award. But Moto X proved that specs isn’t everything, so why not Nokia? Well, they’ve succeeded in some aspects, but failed in others. They didn’t quite get things right. Android Jellybean can survive being in a 512MB smartphone, that’s been confirmed already. But the low processor just kills it. It’s the reason for most of the lags that you’ll encounter on this phone. It’s not as frustrating as it sounds, mind you, but you’ll notice it right away. Nokia just reminded me that having access to a lot of apps and running them (or most of them) at the same time are two mutually exclusive things. Thankfully, the way I use this phone (secondary phone, mostly for calls and texts) means I seldom get to encounter this situation. If you know what this phone is for and what it can do, then you’re good to go. If you ask too much from it, then you’ll run into problems. Just saying.
Thankfully, this phone has stellar battery life, with the 1500 mAh running that modest specs. I was able to take almost a couple of day’s worth of heavy use out of the phone (a little before 7AM, and it begged for a charge the next day at around 10:30PM), consisting of my standard always-on WiFi, moderate web surfing and YouTube watching, occasional gaming, and offline reading, heavy texting and calls, and even heavy downloads (app updates, and a couple of downloads from the Nokia Store). It did ran afoul when I used GPS, but that’s to be expected. I didn’t encounter any problems connecting my device via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.
I mentioned a while ago, while it does come pre-loaded with games, most of which I’m sure you’ll try at most once, if at all, you’re able to uninstall them. This makes them quite different from most bloatware from other manufacturers. The reason why brought this up is because of the 4GB internal storage space, only a little over 1GB is available for the user.
With that, you can see why I’m happy that I’m able to at least get some of those precious storage space back. During the press event, Nokia told us that we’ll be unable to install apps to the memory card, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
I mentioned a while ago that the Nokia X may be comparable to Moto X, the first phone (or at least the most popular) to break the hardware spec war, and put optimized software at the forefront at a very competitive price. Let me let the bad news out: this is no Moto X (not even a Moto G), but to diss it outright is also a very big mistake.
The whole phone is run by Nokia’s forked version of Android, Nokia X 1.0. It’s based on Android 4.1.2 Jellybean, which tells you that this has been on the drawing board for quite a while now, perhaps even as far back as the last stages of Android ICS’s life.
Like the hardware, the UI is a successful blend or WP8 and Asha UI on top of one of the best Android versions. Simplicity is the order of the day. You only have two home screens. The main one is the familiar Tile interface of WP8. All your apps (yes ALL) gets its own tile, which you can resize and rearrange. Removing a tile means uninstalling the app itself, because you don’t have an app drawer of any sort.
This means that this screen tends to get long when you keep installing apps. But it does make things uber simple. Swiping left or right from this home screen brings us to the Fastlane screen. This is what the phone got from the Asha line (aside from the solitary Back button), and is IMHO one of the best features of the phone. Think of it as the home screen version of notifications and is consequently much, much more versatile. It’s sort of like an interactive log, a list of previous activities of the phone. From there, you’re given some options on what you can do (similar to some options available for us in our notifications.
You got a text message? You can reply from the Fastlane screen. Missed a call? You have the option to reply or make a return call from the screen as well. But what makes this more flexible is that because it’s a list, you can backtrack your notifications. You can also customize what you want to see in the Fastlane via the Settings. You’ll be able to choose which apps record their history on your Fastlane, choose a social network shortcut for your preferred service, etc.
As a forked version of Android, there are a lot of things that most users of the platform take for granted that are no longer available. Chief among them are all of Google’s apps and services. Wherever possible, they’re replaced by Microsoft’s offerings. Google Drive is replaced by OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive), for example. On the extreme end, we don’t have any app that comes close to being a replacement for YouTube (I use TubeMate, which is technically a video downloader for YouTube, but you can watch videos and log in to your account from there). Another significant casualty is Google Play, which is replaced by Nokia’s own Nokia Store.
Nokia also made sure that no apps in the Nokia Store make use of Google’s APIs, which means that not all Android apps are 100% compatible with Nokia X. One very unfortunate side effect on this is that I’m unable sync my Google contacts with this phone. This is because, unlike WP8, you are only able to sync contacts from one email source (excluding social networking contacts, you can still sync those) because that is treated as a Corporate account (and yeah, for some reason, I can’t make my Gmail account as the corporate account). The only workaround I came up with was to sync my Gmail contacts to my Microsoft Live account (via my Lumia 620 – curiously, you can sync contacts from multiple email accounts in WP8, including Gmail), and then register my Live account as the Corporate account in my Nokia X. The downside is that from hereon, it’s either I religiously update both contacts accounts, use a syncing app (yup, there are apps for that), or to live with having separate contacts. Neither of these are optimal options as simply giving us the ability to sync contacts with multiple emails.
Nokia X has the tag line as being the “Fastlane to Android Apps”. IMHO, this is the closest we can have to Nokia acknowledging that the dearth of quality applications in the WP environment is one of the main reasons why the platform isn’t growing as fast as they hope. Unfortunately, as of the moment, Nokia’s Android App Store (or whatever they call it) is much more a boondocks than WP’s Marketplace is. This makes it amusingly ironic. Granted, Nokia is meticulous in what goes into the App Store since they have an extra requirement of disallowing use of any Google API. But why premiere apps like Instagram, feedly, Foursquare, Helium, Drippler, etc. aren’t there. While it’s true that you can simply sideload those apps, it would’ve been nice if the user doesn’t resort to it in the first place. But Nokia may not be the one (or only one) to blame. I would think that the developers are taking their sweet time to upload a Nokia-optimized version onto the app store.
Thankfully, you will find some real gems here. I’m recommending two apps for you to install upon getting the phone, both are free: GoSMS Pro and SwiftKey. Yes, you read that right: the BEST Keyboard app in Android is FREE in Nokia (it’s even part of the prestigious Nokia Collection)! I’ve installed it ASAP and I’m happy. Having GoSMS Pro is just icing on the cake. However, it seems that the Nokia versions of these apps are slightly different from their full Android counterpart. Mostly, you just lose applying themes, whether it be having fewer themes (like in SwiftKey) or not having the option to change themes whatsoever (like in GoSMS Pro). Other than that, everything’s there. You can even use SwiftKey’s Cloud feature to sync dictionaries and texting patterns with your other Android devices!
But still, the King of Apps here is STILL the Nokia Here app! At first I was skeptical that we’ll be getting a gimped version of the WP8 app, but I’m happy to say that such is not the case! It’s fully working, feature-packed, and absolutely wonderful!
As a phone, Nokia X does very well. Audio clarity is great, provided you have good reception. Microphone also does well. I’ve also hadn’t encountered any difficulty sending text messages. I dabbled in the default keyboard (called the Nokia Keyboard) for a while, and it’s what you’d expect from a default app. With SwiftKey being free here, there’s no reason for you not to install it.
As an entertainment device, it’s so-so. I doubt that you’d want to watch videos here, but YouTube videos is serviceable.
With the relatively low specs, you won’t consider this as your main gaming device unless you’re a masochist. 3D games are out of the question, and some games that try to go beyond casual gaming makes you yawn (Gameloft’s Real Football 2014 is a FIFA wannabe that doesn’t have any defining characteristic to make it remotely noteworthy).
What did surprise me is the camera’s performance. No, it won’t make you go WOW, but it performed better than expected. To be honest, I was ready to diss this portion. I mean look at what we have: a 3.1-megapixel snapper with no LED flash, no focus (manual or auto), relying on face recognition instead, and no defining image processing technology to make if stand out. In ample light, I was able to take some decent snaps.
Low light performance is a different story. Having no way to choose focal points hurts, and color reproduction suffers as well.
As a GPS device, the lack of GLONASS support makes it perform less efficiently than my Lumia 620. It takes longer to get a lock, and loses it faster under certain conditions. I verified this by using this phone and my Z Ultra (which has GLONASS – I no longer have my 620 with me). Interestingly, there’s no situation where the Z Ultra was able to get a lock while the Nokia X didn’t. It just took the Nokia X a little longer to get that lock.
However, one major caveat I have with the phone is the slow response you get when clicking or swiping on something, mostly the former than the latter (rare, and mostly when switching from lock screen to home screen). Opening apps is sluggish, and sometimes you’d even wonder whether it responded at all. The pause is very noticeable. The Back button can be used to close the app, or long-pressing it from an app sends you to the home screen (effectively replacing two soft buttons in Android). It’s ingenious, really. But what irks me is that the lag rears its ugly head when using any of these. The long press is the worst, sometimes you get a “Please Wait” message on a black screen. It doesn’t happen very often, but enough for you to take notice.
I am almost embarrassed to show how it fared in AnTuTu Benchmark, but here it is:
Overall, I have to say that using the phone was a mixed bag at the least. I’m very happy that I’m able to use SwiftKey, GoSMS Pro, and Nokia HERE+ in the same device. In concept, the Nokia X UI has some nifty tricks up its sleeves that I’m sure you’ll notice and wish they’re implemented in either the stock launcher, or in some other launchers/skins. It’s just too bad that the chosen internals can’t deliver as intended. It could be that its Android version has been pushed to its limits. Given the internals, this would’ve been a perfect candidate for Android 4.4 KitKat. I truly hope Nokia skips 4.2 and 4.3 and jump to 4.4 in its eventual update. That may solve much of the lag.
However, at PHP 5,990.00, I think a lot of people would pause, especially since most of its contemporaries go for much less. While I can’t really say that it’s worth the price, I can definitely say that it’s worth a look, and should you buy it, you won’t be disappointed (I’ll take this phone over Samsung’s Galaxy S Duos any day). Personally, it’s good enough for my needs that I sold my aging Lumia 620. Unfortunately, that made me realize that I no longer have a Windows Phone device to play around with, so I might get a very cheap one eventually. But if that comes to pass, this stays as my secondary phone. That’s how much the phone grew on me.
However, I can’t shake the feeling that this product never left its experimental stage, something akin to Nokia throwing the product out into the wild and see how it goes or evolves. I have no problem with that, and I’m actually eager to espouse this line, not because of how well the phone performs, but what it represents (at least for me). Microsoft thinks of using this phone as a Trojan Horse, their beachhead in the Smartphone War, and judging by the phone’s performance, it shows. It’s like Nokia bought a Ferrari, gimped its internals by installing a limiter just so that it won’t overshadow its own car.
As an intermediate device, its main reason of existence is to capture the low cost market and entice users to upgrade to the Lumia line by giving them a taste of the WP8 interface (or, in the opinion of some more pessimistic reviewers, users won’t appreciate the lag-fest and opt for the relatively slick WP8 instead). Personally, that’s not what this line is. In my opinion, they were able to make the UI well enough (or Android-y enough) that once the users try the WP platform, they’ll miss a lot of things, like installing to the SD card, installing 3rd party keyboard apps, etc. In that scenario, Nokia still wins, and they’ll opt to refine this line further. After that, who knows? we might eventually see a higher end Nokia X with internals that would be worthy of its software’s strengths. This might evolve the same way Amazon’s Kindle did and leave the Lumia line’s shadow.