Review

Nokia X review

Nokia was rumored to launch an Android based smartphone for over a year, but was later reported to have scrapped the project once Microsoft decided to purchase their Devices and Services division. Now, here we are nearly six months later and there is a Nokia X running a customized version of Android Open Source Project (AOSP) which was launched at the Mobile World Congress 2014 in Barcelona. With the Nokia X, the company aims to provide first-time smartphone buyers access to the Microsoft-Nokia ecosystem through apps such as OneDrive, Skype, Nokia MixRadio and HERE Maps.

Full Specifications

  Nokia X Dual SIM
GSM Bands  850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 (Both SIMs)
3G  900 / 2100 (SIM 1 Only)
Display

4 inch IPS LCD display 
480 x 800 pixels
~233 ppi density
Multitouch capable

Processor  Qualcomm MSM8225 Snapdragon S4 Play Dual Core @ 1 GHz
Graphics  Adreno 203
RAM  512 MB
Storage  4 GB internal, MicroSD expandable upto 32 GB
Connectivity

Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
Bluetooth v3.0 with A2DP, HS
HSDPA, 7.2 Mbps; HSUPA, 5.76 Mbps
GPS with A-GPS support

Camera

3.15 MP, 2048x1536 pixels, fixed focus
Video recording, 480p @ 30fps
‚ÄčNo secondary camera

Ports  MicroUSB 2.0
Sensors Accelerometer
Proximity sensor
Battery  1500 mAh Li-Ion
Launch OS  Nokia X software platform 1.0
Launch Date  February 2014
Size & Weight 115.5 x 63 x 10.4 mm (4.55 x 2.48 x 0.41 in)
Price $140 off-contract

From L-R: Lumia 1020, 925, 720, 800, Nokia X, Asha 503.

Design

The Nokia X is based on the Lumia and Asha design languages and features a clean and minimalist look with amazing build quality. At first sight, the Nokia X looks to have a unibody construction, however, it does have a removable back cover which encloses the sides completely leaving no gaps or cracks in the phone. The Nokia X is available in Black, White, Red, Green and Cyan and has a soft-touch matte finish for each of them, unlike that on certain Lumia smartphones such as the 520. The front of the Nokia X is dominated by the 4.0" IPS LCD screen while the rear features a 3 megapixel camera and a speaker grille. The right side of the phone has the volume rocker and the power/lock key while the left side is completely free from buttons and has a clean look. The top of the smartphone houses the 3.5mm headphone jack while the microUSB port for charging and data transfer lies at the bottom. 

SIM slots, MicroSD slot and removable battery.

Display

The 4.0 inch IPS LCD display is quite good for indoor and outdoor viewing, but tends to look dull at high brightness in direct sunlight. The display quality is maintained at various viewing angles, and the colour reproduction is also good while the high amount of contrast and deep blacks is a welcome surprise. The 233 pixels per inch density may not seem much in today's world but for a phone at this price, it is still a decent specification. Although it does not feature a Nokia ClearBlack display, the screen on the Nokia X does not disappoint. It should be noted that the screen does not come with protective glass and can attract scratches over time.

Software

The operating system powering the Nokia X is forked from the Android Open Source Project and does not include the Google Applications and Services. Nokia calls the OS, the Nokia X software platform which is currently at version 1.0 in this smartphone. It has been revealed that the customized operating system is based on Jelly Bean 4.1.2 which is quite old, as Google has already launched KitKat 4.4 targeting low end devices with less RAM.

Out of the box, the Nokia X comes pre-loaded with a number of popular applications and games which include BBM, WeChat, Facebook, Twitter, Opera Browser, Fruit Ninja, Tetris, Bejeweled 2 and Real Football 2014. These applications, however, may be market-dependent. Users can uninstall these applications to free up some space, but that does not remove them completely as they are restored after a "factory reset." Nokia has bundled its own app store with the Nokia X which already has numerous popular apps. In addition to this users can install the 1mobile Market or the Yandex App Store to get apps. One of the key factors in Nokia's implementation of the app store is that it does not require a login. A user can start using the device out of the box without the need of setting up an account and start downloading apps right away.

The OS lacks smoothness, but cannot be called slow as it managed to run all day-to-day apps within seconds and did not get bogged down by the number of apps running simultaneously. Lack of a home button can sometimes be bothersome for users who have used a regular Android or Windows Phone device, as some apps do not support Nokia's swipe gestures and need to be exited by repeated taps of the back button. A long press of the back button, however, brings the user back to the homescreen keeping the app alive in the background. Installing a custom launcher with a native Android look and feel tends to speed up things compared to the Nokia launcher. Nokia still needs to work on optimizing their launcher a bit more and provide updates in order to address the issue.

Lack of Google services can cause headaches for some who depend on applications that make use of Google technology. For Android users who have their data synced with Gmail and Google+, the absence of Google sync is a major disadvantage. One can setup Gmail using POP3/IMAP on the Nokia X but there are no options for contacts and calendar sync, making this device a strict no for users tied to the Google ecosystem.

User Interface

Nokia has tried to bring the familiar Live Tiles to their Nokia X platform in order to introduce the design language in entry-level smartphones. However, only the "Gallery" application seems to be dynamically updated whereas the phone, SMS and email applications simply show the respective number of unattended events. Newly installed applications are listed at the bottom of the home screen which can be reorganized just as one would do on a Windows Phone. On first boot, the Nokia X stuttered while loading the Tiles based interface but became smoother eventually, though, it cannot be said to be as smooth as Windows Phone on the Lumia 520 which features similar hardware specifications.

Nokia has implemented the swipe based gestures which were first introduced in the Nokia N9, in the Nokia X, to some extent. Swiping to the left or right brings up the "Fastlane" which is used to organize notifications as they happen. "Fastlane" can be customized to show notifications from only the applications of the user's choice. In applications which require the use of a context menu, user can swipe from the bottom to get additional options. Swiping from the top shows various toggles such as the ones for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth but it does not maintain notifications as on regular Android devices. Notifications are initially sent as toasts at the top, but cannot be tapped to access the application. Instead, the user has to navigate to the application or through the "Fastlane" to address the update.

Notifications on the lockscreen can be swiped away to the left and dismissed, or can be swiped to the right to access the respective application. Certain applications such as Nokia MixRadio have lockscreen controls and can change the background using Album Art of the current track. Nokia has also enabled the "Glance screen" and "Tap to wake" features on the Nokia X which are present in its Symbian, Meego and Windows Phone devices as well.

Although Nokia announced that the X would act as a stepping stone for first time smartphone buyers into the Microsoft and Windows Phone ecosystem, there is a lack of Microsoft apps other than Skype and Bing search in the default browser. A first time buyer without the knowledge of Nokia's announcement may not even notice that Nokia is trying to push Microsoft services other than the similarity with the Live Tiles.

Fastlane and lockscreen notifications

Nokia has put its own spin on almost every application which comes with AOSP, and has managed to create a unique look and feel to the operating system. Nokia uses its own font throughout the operating system and has stuck to the standard Nokia colour scheme evolved from Nokia's Symbian and S40 based phones. The dialer on the Nokia X is very similar to the one found on its Asha series of phones and unfortunately has the same disadvantages as well. It lacks smart dialing as well as a search from the same screen; one more annoyance of the contacts app is that it does not show phone numbers in list view. The messaging, email and calendar applications on the other hand are quite good and definitely a welcome change from the Android design language.

Maps

The Nokia X includes HERE Maps for location and navigation. It supports offline turn-by-turn navigation for which the user must download the map data for their desired location. It is recommended that the users download the maps over Wi-Fi well before using, as the map sizes tend to be rather large for states and provinces. The phone manages to get a GPS lock rather fast even without a data connection, and is a big advantage compared to other Android phones in this category.

Camera

The 3.15 megapixel fixed focus camera on the Nokia X is very disappointing. The images captured in sufficient light appear soft on zooming and are bearable at best. In low-light you would not want to depend on a Nokia X for capturing photos as it lacks flash and does not have a BSI sensor. However, the similarly priced Lumia 520 has a relatively better 5 megapixel auto focus camera and also supports 720p recording which the Nokia X does not. The camera is not at all a selling point for this phone, and if social photo sharing is your thing, this phone is definitely not for you. Check out the images and gallery below for samples in various lighting conditions.

Photos taken in daytime and at night (click images for larger).

Battery

Nokia has rated the 1500 mAh Li-Ion battery with a standby of up to 408h, 2G talktime up to 13h 20m and 3G talktime up to 10h 30m. In real life usage, the Nokia X managed to get through most of the day with an hour of music, surfing, calls and WhatsApp usage. However, on a busier day the phone may struggle to keep you connected by evening. If you're planning to use the Nokia X as a secondary phone, it should not be much of a concern. Games do tend to take up more battery and the phone gets noticeably hot within minutes of playing, as well as while charging.

Conclusion

The Nokia X comes out as a decent inexpensive Android phone for users who have been waiting for such an offering from one of the trusted brands rather than from local OEMs; dual-SIM support is a big bonus in some of the markets where it will be available. The operating system is snappy enough to launch applications even with Nokia's customizations. Certain applications such as Foursquare and the latest version of Candy Crush Saga (new in-app payment system) from the Google Play Store, which uses Google services, are still incompatible with the Nokia X.

The UI is simple enough for beginners to understand, and gestures are implemented moderately leading to easy navigation. Some aspects of the operating system require a small learning curve if coming from another smartphone OS. Battery life and camera could have been better since competitors are already pushing better specifications in the same price range. As with all Nokia phones, the call quality and network reception is excellent and the loudspeaker gives great output as well.

If you are willing to shell out $30 more, the Moto G is available for $179 (additional taxes depending on launch market), and offers better value for money compared to the Nokia X. If Nokia manages to drop the price of the X, it would be hard to not recommend the smartphone but It will also be interesting to see how the Nokia X+ and XL fare when they are released.

The Nokia X is currently available in India and Malaysia and will launch in more markets in Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and South America over the coming month. There's no word on whether the smartphone will launch in North America.

Reviewer's note: Device used to review is a retail unit purchased from an authorized store and not a review unit.

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