Normandy: What we (think we) know about Nokia's Android invasion

Back in September, Nokia and Microsoft announced that they had agreed terms for the latter to purchase the former’s devices business, in a deal worth $7.2bn. It didn’t take long for the rumour mill to kick into action, with whispers that Nokia had been secretly developing an Android handset, and widespread speculation that this had effectively forced Microsoft to buy its Finnish hardware partner to protect its Windows Phone strategy.

Some suggested that this Android handset was simply created as a ‘side project’ of sorts, a technical exploration by Nokia employees destined to go no further than the company’s own development labs. But in the days, weeks and months that followed those early rumours, it has become clear that the device is much more than that.

Known by its development codename, ‘Normandy’ (as well as ‘Project N’ and ‘MView’ – a reference to Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California), and predicted to be released as the ‘Nokia X’, the handset has been extensively detailed in a series of leaks. Here, we take a look at what has been revealed about Nokia’s first – and last – Android phone. 

 

Design + display

Our first clear look at Normandy came at the end of November, when the ever-reliable and well-connected @evleaks revealed the first image of the device. Its styling was immediately familiar to anyone who has seen a Nokia Lumia handset, or one of the company’s Asha 500-series devices.

The design appears reminiscent of the Lumia 625, albeit somewhat thicker, but the sole hardware button on the front of the device – a back button – is more Asha than Windows Phone.

The range of colours, too, revealed in a further image made available by @evleaks, is identical to the Asha 500-series; in addition to white and black variants, bright yellow, cyan, red and green models have been seen in leaked renders. Given the absence of external SIM slots, it seems likely that the entire rear cover can be removed from the device, allowing users to replace their covers with alternative colours.

As with the Asha 50x, the handset includes power and volume hardware buttons along the right edge, but without the familiar camera button found on Lumia devices.

The similarities to Asha are no accident. Nokia’s venture into Android territory was not conceived as a replacement for its Windows Phones, but rather as a means to replace the low-end Asha range with a more modern and capable OS. Asha handsets run an eponymous OS which Nokia describes as “a direct descendant” of the company’s ageing Series 40 platform.

Normandy would be the largest addition to Nokia’s low-end line-up, with a 4-inch display – a good deal bigger than the 3-inch screens offered on the Asha 50x. But in keeping with the budget-minded focus of the device, you won’t find 1080p resolution here – just a much more modest resolution of 800x480px.

 

OS + interface

Despite all of the talk of the Nokia X running Android, don’t expect to see a stock Android experience out of the box. Back in December, The Verge was the first to reveal Nokia’s plan to deliver a ‘forked’ variant of Android, eschewing the suite of Google Mobile Services, which includes the likes of Gmail, Google Maps and access to the Google Play store.

Our first glimpse of the OS came in early January - courtesy of @evleaks of course - with a trio of screenshots that showed a lockscreen with a vague hint of Windows Phone about it, along with broader design themes that are much closer to the Asha OS than WP. The universal status tray – the black bar across the top of the screen – is pure Asha in its design, right down to the dual-SIM status indicators at the top-left.

Unlike Nokia’s Lumia range, which uses the standard Segoe WP font family found in Windows Phone, Normandy’s UI employs the company’s own Nokia Pure typeface.

@evleaks did it again a week later with another leak that showed off Normandy’s homescreen for the first time, which immediately drew comparisons with Windows Phone thanks to the presence of large colourful tiles, rather than Asha’s grid of ‘squircle’ icons.

While these tiles evidently include basic counter capabilities, they do not appear to offer the same flexibility as Windows Phone’s Live Tiles, which can display a much broader range of information.

Check out the generic ‘Store’ icon too, rather than a link to the Google Play store. Just as Amazon did with its Kindle Fire tablets, Nokia’s forking of the OS allows the device to run Android apps, but those apps must be downloaded either from the company's own Nokia Store, or via third party stores. Android apps such as Opera and BBM have been seen in leaked screenshots from the Nokia X.

Leaked screens, such as the one in the image above, also show what appears to be a notification centre, including a log of most recently-run apps. Quick-actions are also available to deal with notifications, such as responding to a meeting invitation or returning a missed call.

Microsoft and Nokia services appear to be pre-loaded with the OS, including apps such as MixRadio, Here Maps and Skype. Pre-loaded apps appear to be those shown with brightly coloured tiles on the homescreen, whereas third-party apps seem to be represented with standard icons on a generic grey background.

 

Specs

It was none other than @evleaks who revealed the full list of key specs for Normandy a couple of days ago, and given his impeccable track record, we have no reason to doubt his information. 

The spec sheet reflects the budget-friendly focus of this device, so if you were expecting a mighty, kick-ass flagship, you've clearly not been paying attention.  

The handset will feature a dual-core 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor with a modest 512MB of RAM. A 1500mAh battery is included, offering slightly more capacity than the one included with the Lumia 520.  

Like the 520, there’s no fancy PureView imaging hardware onboard; Normandy has a basic 5MP camera, but no flash, and none of the renders leaked so far appear to show a front-facing camera either. The Android device also has to make do with half of the storage found in the 520, with just 4GB (much of which will likely be eaten up by the OS and pre-installed apps), but a microSD slot will allow users to expand this relatively cheaply.

Affordability is the primary focus here – Normandy is intended to slot in below Nokia’s more ‘premium’ Windows Phone range, and will primarily (or perhaps exclusively) target markets where low incomes are the norm. The inclusion of dual-SIM support is a critical feature for these markets, where it is common for a single handset to be shared by families.

 

Price and availability

Despite the extraordinary number of leaks in recent weeks, there still remain many unanswered questions about the Nokia X, and the most significant of these relate to price and availability.

Many expect the device to be unveiled at the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in a few weeks’ time, but there is still much uncertainty about whether it will ever go on sale at all.

Given that Nokia can profitably sell its cheapest Windows Phone, the Lumia 520, for around $100 (ignoring the short-term $40/$50 promotional pricing that has occasionally been seen), Normandy will surely need to be considerably cheaper than this to justify its existence. After all, there is surely little point in committing substantial resources to launching an ‘affordable’ handset that will only undercut the existing Windows Phone range by a few dollars.

The specs of the device reflect its low-end focus – and remember too that the whole raison d’être of this handset is ostensibly to establish a more modern platform for the company’s cheapest Asha devices. Our best guess is that, if the handset is released, Nokia will price it aggressively to compete alongside Firefox OS devices, below $100. Priced any higher than this, it would surely overlap with the more established and better specified Lumia 52x, giving buyers little reason to choose an unproven device with an immature OS.

Market analysts IDC stated recently that the most significant driving factors behind the massive growth in the smartphone market – which saw global shipments exceed a billion in one year for the first time ever in 2013 – are increased demand for larger screens and lower-cost devices. With the X, Nokia could well position itself to satisfy demand on both fronts.

But will Microsoft allow Nokia to actually launch the device? Some, like The Verge’s Tom Warren, say they can’t imagine that Microsoft would want to let Nokia do so. Others, including distinguished and highly knowledgeable journalists like Mary Jo Foley, think that it might. To the believers, the fact that the underlying OS is Android is almost irrelevant – just as with Amazon’s Kindle fork of the OS, Normandy users would see an OS with a focus on Nokia branding and Microsoft services, with the whole Android aspect effectively taking a back seat.  

The only thing that seems certain, though, is that - if the X does ever see the light of day - it won’t just be Nokia’s first Android phone; it will also be its last, and perhaps the last device the Finnish giant ever launches, before it hands off to Microsoft.

For a company that has never been afraid of doing things a bit differently, it would be one hell of a way to bow out.

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41 Comments

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MS won't let it out the door, period. Personally as an Android fan it looks hideous, it's trying too hard to be a Windows Phone.

thartist said,
ROM devs, start your KitKat engines ASAP please!

Otherwise, i don't give a single F about this freak

The leaks screenshots show that it has android 4.4.1 already so we just need the sourcecode and we can have a cyanogenmod 11 rom pretty easily.

its a forked version of android, not the same crap you see on Samsung or HTC phones.
and again this is not an android device, it is an asha device.

andy said,
... giving buyers little reason to choose an unproven device with an immature OS.

It is for humour like this that I read Neowin. So the multi-rebooted windows phone platform that simply won't sell is established, while the Android with > 80% global marketshare is now immature is it?

recursive said,

It is for humour like this that I read Neowin. So the multi-rebooted windows phone platform that simply won't sell is established, while the Android with > 80% global marketshare is now immature is it?

I agree, the generalization is a bit over the top or crude.

A technical argument could be made that Android is indeed an immature OS; however, that would be a discussion of the architecture and design model.

I agree that WP8 is a 'rebooted' vision; however, 'technically' the OS itself is older than Linux, and even the App framework is a CLR design that is older than the Android JVM.

Be careful not to confuse marketshare with the refinement or quality of a product. McDonalds sells more hamburgers than anyone else, but I don't think many people would argue they make the 'best' hamburgers, or even close to the best.


This continues to be news, because everyone thought Nokia was working on Android to be used inplace/instead of WP.

However, it was always about the Asha devices, as many of us tried to explain from the first rumor.

yes this really has nothing much to do with android, other than its using a forked version of android that is replacing s40 on the asha line of devices. it will not be marketed as an android device, it will be sold as an asha phone.

So, its essentially more than a feature phone, less than a full smartphone? For the right price, hey not a bad idea. Be fine for my mom, for instance, my nieces, a few of my coworkers, etc.

If Microsoft distributed GPLed code, they would be sanctioning the license and would license any proprietary code that MS may have previously argued existed there (their alleged "235 Linux patent violations" claim?), such as if there is exFAT kernel support or whatever. I don't think MS would risk losing such leverage. Certainly they could not pull a bait and switch by releasing such code and then suing people for using it, entrapment.

I want to clarify by saying that distributing code under GPLv2 it would not automatically grant anyone who uses the GPLv2 code a license to that patent, but MS would either have to issue and abide by a covenant not to sue, or be prevented from distributing the GPLv2 product altogether. If they turned around and started suing others for using the code they distributed, MS would not lose their freedom to sue over these patents, only the freedom to distribute the code. From GPLv2:

Finally, any free program is threatened constantly by software patents. We wish to avoid the danger that redistributors of a free program will individually obtain patent licenses, in effect making the program proprietary. To prevent this, we have made it clear that any patent must be licensed for everyone's free use or not licensed at all.

...

7. If, as a consequence of a court judgment or allegation of patent infringement or for any other reason (not limited to patent issues), conditions are imposed on you (whether by court order, agreement or otherwise) that contradict the conditions of this License, they do not excuse you from the conditions of this License. If you cannot distribute so as to satisfy simultaneously your obligations under this License and any other pertinent obligations, then as a consequence you may not distribute the Program at all. For example, if a patent license would not permit royalty-free redistribution of the Program by all those who receive copies directly or indirectly through you, then the only way you could satisfy both it and this License would be to refrain entirely from distribution of the Program.

Having Android on a Nokia/Microsoft phone doesn't make any sense. All the blogs are saying it's got Android. What are they going to do when it doesn't? Point out they were "just posting what everyone else was posting" defense? I sure hope it has Android, because if it doesn't, many of the tech blogs will loose even more credibility than they already have.

What's more is that it is roughly the same specs as the 520/521. This just feels like some people over at Nokia are feeling kind of sour about how things went and wanted to drop something in MS' lap that would leave them making some bad marketing move right off the bat when they took over. Everything I've seen is that this phone won't actually be much cheaper than the 520 if cheaper at all. It only really makes sense as a pure business decision if you come at it from the standpoint that WinPhone was specifically the flaw in the low end smartphone business on Nokia's end. I hope it gets released quick and sales are lukewarm.

after thinking about this for a long time, my opinion has changed.the longer we still hear about this, the more it starts to seem its actually real, and its actually a Microsoft creation. perhaps they want to use android to destroy android. make high quality low cost devices to make android OEMs uncomfortable in that segment,who are already uncomfortable in the razor thin margin game, and perhaps get them to pull out,in turn damaging android market share. At the same time, Microsoft would have full control of all these users,and have already replaced google services with their own, in turn locking these users to Microsoft. The rumor is also that this is a forked version of android, perhaps modified to use even less resources, so making it even more difficult on other manufacturers .

It really does sound like some crazy masterful plan on Microsofts part. I mean, the tiles, the native Skype app(note,native apps are colored), this project seeming to still be going on even though Microsoft is about to take over the division, its starting to make sense.

Or... in a few weeks, we'll never hear about this thing ever again

the phones will self destruct by themselves once the person upgrades to a familiar looking device with familiar services, windows phone.

This phone would probably just eat up the feature phone market and not the smartphone market. If anything, it would help stragglers get out of the dark ages and entice them to upgrade to a better smart phone, whether it be an Android, iOS, or WP8 device. It would probably have a decent place in the market.

Enron said,
How about an OS update that deletes the Android and installs WP over it?
Why even bother releasing it as an Android device and just do that in the first place?

this wont be an android device, it will be marketed as an asha device. nobody really cares if it runs a forked version of android or s40, it will still be an asha device.

korupt_one said,
this wont be an android device, it will be marketed as an asha device. nobody really cares if it runs a forked version of android or s40, it will still be an asha device.

but look at the screenshots. the apps is the key. super cheap asha device that can run these smartphone apps = making smartphone manufacturers feel the heat.

Skwerl said,
I can't seem to figure out why anyone really cares about this. The device will never see the light of day.

Tell me about it. Spoiler... it isn't the best Android phone in the world, has nothing exciting about it, and it won't ever be made Another dozen articles with the same pictures won't change anything.

Talys said,

Tell me about it. Spoiler... it isn't the best Android phone in the world, has nothing exciting about it, and it won't ever be made Another dozen articles with the same pictures won't change anything.

It's not an android phone at all in the same sense that and Android phone is not a Linux phone. This runs a forked version of Android and has no acces to the playstore and so far we do not even know whether it may even be able to run 'normal'Android apps which it well may not. That all said provided the phone will actually be released.

@paulheu

Yes, I agree, Normandy is as much Android as Kindle is Android. But... all these are are screenshots, not an actual, you know, working product