Nokia X runs Android -- but not as you know it (hands-on)

BARCELONA, Spain -- Take a moment to mentally collect all your visions of firing up a Nokia device to scan Google Now, launch Google Maps directions with your voice, and rent Google Play content. Now throw them all away.

The new Nokia X, X+, and XL smartphones that Nokia unveiled here at Mobile World Congress 2014 technically do run on Android, just as the leaks and rumors promised -- and that means, you'll be able to load up Android apps with ease. However, this X and family don't turn in the full 'Droid experience that you think. In fact, the software doesn't look a thing like Android at all.

Instead, Nokia created a hybrid mobile platform that runs on Google's Android Open Source Project and put it on the first of a family of crossover smartphones. It's an intriguing move for sure, but are the Nokia X and X+ what Android fans had hoped for? Not even close.

Nokia X platform a three-way mashup

Nokia X doesn't just refer to the name of the phones; it's also the name by which Nokia calls its new Android-based OS.

Nokia X Software Platform uses Android's open source code as its base, which makes it possible to run the Android apps that a lot of phone-fiends crave. (However, there is a catch, which I'll address in a moment.)
On top of this Android 4.1 backbone, Nokia has painted an interface that pulls from both Asha and the Windows Phone OS. The home screen riffs off Windows Phone's live tiles with flat squares that you can reorder and resize. Not all tiles are dynamic, and the visual effect isn't as clean.

The second screen is essentially the Asha Fastlane, which gives you a stream of apps and activities, like status updates and notifications.

Nokia fleshes out the somewhat jumbled experience with a mixture of Microsoft services and its own apps. Nokia's Here maps takes care of directions, and its Mix Radio handles Pandora-like tunes. But as with Lumia phones, Microsoft's OneDrive, Outlook, and Skype join the party. To sweeten the deal, Microsoft is giving Nokia X customers one free month of Skype Out calls to land lines, for over 60 markets.

I can hear you asking: With Android so buried under a joint Nokia and Microsoft veneer, why bother using Android at all? The main benefit to bringing in Google's OS in any capacity lays in the apps. Nokia claims that Android apps will work seamlessly from the get-go, with no emulators (like BlackBerry once tried) or other hoops.
The X comes in Nokia's trademark beautiful colors.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
 
That's nice and all, but because of the custom interface and platform, there's a bit of a hitch: no Google Play store for apps, videos, or other content. That may not be a problem for those who live in countries that prohibit Google Play services, or for those who don't mind going through Nokia's vetted, curated app store that the company will populate with top titles.

Nokia also says that it'll preload the Nokia X phone with popular local app stores, like Yandex in Russia and 1Mobile in China. Sideloaders can also get apps however they want; whatever you can do with Android 4.1 you should be able to do here. In other words, Nokia says it isn't restricting your movements.
For an even deeper dive into the Nokia X platform, check out my first impressions here.

Phone design and innards

The Nokia X and X+ are almost identical, except that the Nokia X+ has more storage and an SD card. The XL has a 5-inch WVGA display and a 5-megapixel camera with autofocus, LED flash. There's also a 2-megapixel front-facing camera. For simplicity's sake, I'll just talk about the Nokia X, which I saw ahead of MWC.

Taking a look at the Nokia X handset, you'll see a lot of familiar design motifs cross over from other Nokia phones. First, there's the loud color, bright green in the unit I saw (it also comes in cyan, red, yellow, white, and black.) Then, there are the 90-degree corners and straight sides, which means that the phone can balance upright without any human intervention, like the Lumia Icon for Verizon and the Asha 503.

Similar to previous Nokia phones like the Lumia 620, you can swap back covers to mix up the color theme.

Specs on the dual-SIM Nokia X are modest. It has a 4-inch screen with an 800x480-pixel resolution, a 1GZH dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, and Assisted GPS. Beneath the display, you navigate the screen with the Home button that doubles as a Back button. The phone measures 10 millimeters thick (0.39 inch) around the middle, which is pretty typical, if not a bit thicker than a lot of premium phones (but hey, it stands upright!)

The X gives you something to grab onto, weighing in at 4.5 ounces (128.66 grams) and measuring 0.4-inch thick.

The X, left, with its big brother the XL.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
 
While there is a 3-megapixel camera, it uses fixed focus and the phone doesn't include a flash. That's normal for ultra-affordable Nokia phones like this -- after all, at 89 euros something has to give -- but it would still be nice to have. Nokia gives the X a rated battery life of 10.3 hours talk time over 3G on a 1,500mAh battery. Storage space is short at just 4GB, but you can expand storage with a microSD card slot up to 32GB.

Perhaps the Nokia X felt like a cobbled-together approach in the brief period of time I had to play with because I'm familiar with the separate parts. But since I am familiar with Asha and Windows Phone navigation, it was pretty easy to locate apps and customize the home screen. The menus don't run deep enough to get lost, but there are still settings and customization options to dive into -- and intrepid Android followers can also sideload apps to customize the phone, in theory.
 
Who's it for, anyway, and can it compete?
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About Doru Somcutean

Hello, my name is Somcutean Doru and I'm from Romania.

I really like to read reviews and see what's new about technology, on D-BLOG I share with you articles/reviews that I find interesting. I also write some reviews in romanian...

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