Nokia X Review
The Nokia X is the Finnish company’s first Android smartphone. That’s not a sentence I ever thought I’d say, but apparently 2014 is the year where anything can happen.
This phone has really agitated tech pundits around the globe. Why is Nokia doing this? Isnt it in completely the opposite direction of Windows Phone? What’s up with that UI?
Well, here’s what you need to know. The Nokia X does runs Android, technically, but it’s nothing like any Android UI you’ve ever seen. It also features a really eye-catching design, solid build quality, Nokia’s software, and is available at an incredibly competitive pricetag. Does that make the Nokia X more value for money than other phones in this price range? Is it better than the similarly priced Lumia 520 or Lumia 525?
Read on for our Nokia X Review.
The Video Review:-
Incase you prefer video to text, here’s my Nokia X Review Video. All 15 minutes of it:
But if text and pictures if your thing, keep reading!
The Nokia X comes with your usual set of in-box contents.
There’s the charger, the microUSB-to-USB cable, the headset, and user manuals. Here’s a quick video unboxing to give you a better idea:
More info over at our Nokia X Unboxing post.
In many ways, the Nokia X is the phone a lot of Android fans were waiting for. But not quite. It’s not a flagship phone, on the other hand it aims for the completely opposite side of the market. But as I said earlier, that UI is unlike anything you’ve ever seen on Android before.
The Nokia X is the start of what will eventually be a family of smartphones, with more variants apparently coming later this year. For now, they’re starting with the X, which is a monoblock smartphone with a 4 inch touchscreen, that costs just Rs 8599 here in India (and about €89 or about $122 unlocked everywhere else).
Nokia’s known for their beautifully constructed handsets, with the N9 and the Lumia phones being the latest in that legacy, so it’s no surprise that the Nokia X features striking design, as well. There’s a very Asha-like matte plastic all around, hugging a display with just a lone ‘back’ button below it, much like a larger Nokia Asha 501. There’s certainly elements borrowed from both the Asha and Lumia design teams.
Since this phone is aimed at the budget conscious market, it might not be as premium looking at some high end phones. That being said, the solid build feels so high quality in the hand that I honestly think the Nokia X build quality puts some flagship phones to shame. No creaks or squeaks at all, and should you inadvertently scratch the plastic, the polycarbonate body is colored all the way through, which helps hide any scuffs.
Measuring 115.5 x 63 x 10.4 mm, and weighing just 128.7 grams, the Nokia X is really easy to hold, and very comfortable thanks to the curved edges. It nestles in your hand very nicely, and the screen, though relatively small compared to most Android phones today, is the same size, diagonally, as the iPhone 5s. As a result, the Nokia X is very easy to use single handedly, and your thumb can probably reach all corners of the screen.
Available in green, white, yellow, cyan, red and the usual black and white colors, it is certainly one of the most attractive phones in this price range, that’s for sure. Incase you buy a Nokia X and then grow tired of the color, you’ll be happy to know that the matte-finish polycarbonate shells are interchangeable, so Nokia X owners will be able to mix and match their phone with their outfit for the day. Removing the Nokia X back panel is really easy as well:
Coming to the front of the Nokia X, you’ll find a large, 4 inch IPS LCD WVGA 800 x 480 pixels resolution display. That’s not a lot of pixels for a screen that large, at 233 ppi pixel density.
As a result, the screen can be a tiny bit pixelated. For most folks, this screen will be absolutely fine, to be honest, but if you’ve used a 720p or higher resolution display, you will probably notice the jagged edges on text or icons.
Apart from that, it’s an okay-ish display, with good color reproduction and decent viewing angles (for this price tag). Contrast is also strong, probably helped by the smorgasbord of colour from all the live-tile-like-UI.That being said, while the display can get quite bright, the auto-brightness setting is a bit aggressive sometimes and even at full brightness, the screen washes out in direct sunlight which makes it a bit hard to use outside. It also attracts finger grease and smudges awfully easily.
Above the display, you have a centrally located earpiece. There’s no ambient light sensor (apparently) but there’s a proximity sensor hidden somewhere here, which turns off the screen as you place it near your ear when on phone calls. So that your ear doesnt make any phone calls of it’s own.
Below the screen, there’s a lone back button, which is a completely different layout than almost entirely all Android phones out there. You use the back button to exit apps or switch between the homescreen view and the ‘fastlane’ view. There’s no multi-tasking menu and hence no key for that.
At the top, you’ll find a lone 3.5 mm audio jack, while at the bottom you’ll find a lone microUSB port. The Nokia X does not come with a microUSB-to-USB cable so you’ll need to buy one separately to use this port for connectivity.
The left side of the Nokia X is barren of any ports or buttons, but the right side of the phone has a power/lock button and volume rocker.
Unfortunately Nokia has decided not to include a dedicated camera button with the Nokia X.
Coming to the back, the Nokia X has a pretty simple rear panel, with just the 3 Megapixel fixed-focus camera, Nokia branding in the center, and a tiny speaker grille.
As I mentioned earlier, the entire rear panel can be removed, and gives you access to two SIM card slots, a microSD card slot, and a removable 1500 mAh battery.
This also means you can purchase more rear panels in different colors for the Nokia X, so that you can change the look of the phone around.
At the end of the day, the Nokia X has a simplistic design that isnt overly flashy even inspite of the bright colors. It sits nicely in the hand, and boasts great build quality which gives you that ‘classic Nokia quality’ assurance that it could probably survive a drop or two. Or three. And so forth.
The Nokia X is not a powerhouse by any means. The Finnish company’s first Android smartphone features a 1Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Play dual-core CPU with an Adreno 203, and just 512MB of RAM (While the slightly higher priced Nokia X+ features 768MB RAM). There’s 4GB of internal memory (out of which only about 1.3GB is available to use) with a microSD card slot. There’s no microSD card included with the Nokia X but we’ve been told that the Nokia X+ will come with a 4GB microSD card slot pre-loaded.
Those specs might not sound very impressive until you look at the price tag. It’s more than enough to provide a decent enough smartphone experience. Though in terms of benchmarks it’s definitely far, far away from flagship Android phones.
On this hardware, the Nokia X UI chugs along smoothly enough but it does stutter a fair bit. The best way I could put it, is that the Nokia X UI is smoother than an Asha 501, but not as smooth as something you’d see on a Nexus 5 that costs about $250 more, or the Moto G (8GB) which costs about $100 more. You do see bits of lag here and there, and an app can take one whole second (or two) to start up after you tap it’s app icon. Once you’re in an app though, everything is smooth enough. For example, Twitter works great, even Facebook works okay-ish (which is huge considering how laggy it can get on even flagship Android phones), and the pre-loaded games like Fruit Ninja and Tetris are very playable. That being said, a very small selection of Android apps might not work on phones with just 512MB of RAM, and heavy apps do take a while (between 3-4 seconds) to start up. Heavy websites tend to drive the browser a little nuts, as well.
Apart from those specs, the Nokia X features 3G, Wifi, GPS, Bluetooth v3.0 with A2DP, FM Radio, and Dual-SIM support. In terms of connectivity, that’s not too bad at all. Sure there’s no LTE, but considering the developing-markets target, it’s not really that big a concern.
The Nokia X runs Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean. Technically.
The thing is, it looks nothing like Android Jelly Bean, or any version of Android for that matter. Most manufacturers usually create a UI that look atleast somewhat like stock Android, but Nokia’s UI looks more like a mashup of Windows Phone and Asha UI. Infact, put an Asha 5xx series phone next to the Nokia X, and it would be hard for most people to realize which phone runs Android.
Officially, the Nokia X runs “Nokia X software platform 1.0.”
What does that mean? Well, the Nokia X runs a forked version of Android 4.1.2 that uses Google’s standard AOSP but doesn’t actually have access to any of Google’s suite of services. As such, there’s no Google Play Store, no Google Maps, no Gmail, none of that. Instead, Nokia has tried to focus it all on Microsoft’s Cloud services and their own apps. In select countries, the Nokia X will come with one whole month’s worth of unlimited international calls via Skype, but due to regulatory issues (with the Indian government) that offer is not available here in India. There’s also lots of OneDrive integration, Outlook, and ofcourse Nokia’s own HERE Maps, Nokia MixRadio and so forth.
Nokia’s MixRadio app on the Nokia X is a bit more basic compared to the Windows Phone version, but you can still stream music for free, and there’s support for offline mixes as well.
Nokia’s HERE maps will only offer voice guided navigation in one country on the Nokia X though, and you’ll have to choose when you first start the app up.
With Microsoft taking over Nokia anyday now, I’m not entirely certain what this means for the Nokia X line of devices, or why Microsoft allowed Nokia to go ahead with this project at all, but this would allow Microsoft to get way more users dependent on their services, which I’m guessing they are really looking forward to. The only reason Microsoft would want you to buy the Nokia X, is because you’d get so used to this UI and their services, so when it’s time to upgrade, a move to Windows Phone would seem logical.
Flipping through the UI is quick enough and generally navigation is smooth. The simplistic UI is probably the most intriguing thing about the Nokia X, and it’s pretty well organized, a lot like Windows Phone. The Nokia X launcher has a series of neatly arranged “tiles”, all on one screen. you can add folders, and even widgets, all in one single long-scrolling pane, which is a very new take on the Android app drawer menu. The animated tiles are essentially just a clever way of doing Android widgets, and it looks great. The icons even act as live tiles, telling you, for example, how many unread emails you have, or how many new SMS messages, etc.
You can also add Android widgets to this screen, but it kinda ends up looking messy if you do. Still, it’s nice that we have the option.
There’s the same notification dropdown that you’d expect from any Android phone, but it’s more like the Asha 5xx’s UI, where it doesnt really list all your notifications.
Instead your notifications are sent to another screen area called “Fastlane”. Fastlane is a kind-of “notification menu” that is a swipe away from the main menu, and lists all your notifications, and whatever apps you recently used or events you performed on your phone, or available app updates from the Nokia Store, in the chronological order that they’ve happened. For example, suppose you get an email but then use Instagram after, the Fastlane section will list the new email as an event, with Instagram being the recent app used, on top of it. You can customize what appears here and what apps you want to be notified about, even delete notifications or items you no longer want to be listed, but I’m not entirely sure it’s the best way to handle notifications. It definitely takes a bit of getting used to. Folks who’ve used the Nokia N9 or any of the Asha 500 series phones will find this familiar. There are also relevant shortcut operations such as replying to a message, returning the call of a contact, or resuming music playback, etc.
Notifications also show on the lockscreen, in a swipe-able format.
Most Android users would be a little freaked out by not having all their notifications listed in one place, in the dropdown, and might even find fastlane to be a bit maddening. But folks who have never used an Android phone, or any smartphone for that matter, might actually get along with this pretty well.
All of this and there’s just one single touch-sensitive button under the display: tap to go back a step, tap and hold to return to the homescreen. Very easy to figure out. Also worth mentioning, is that there’s even the ability to change the colour of some apps to match your theme, but you cant do this to all app icons, which means this feature is kinda useless.
Apart from the fast lane, even the onboard apps look very different from what you’d see on your average Android phone. All the core apps look more like they were inspired by the Nokia N9, than what Google intended them to look like. Fans of the N9 will immediately recognize certain elements, like the clock app.
Ofcourse there are also a few third party apps pre-installed, such as Twitter, Facebook, Opera Mobile, WeChat, Astro File Manager, BBM, and more.
There’s also a whole bunch of games such as Fruit Ninja, SimCity Deluxe, Real Football 2, Kingdoms and Lords, Bejeweled 2, Monopoly, Green Farm 3, The Game of Life, and Wonder Zoo. Although it doesn’t use the official Google Play Store, the Nokia X comes with the Nokia Store preloaded.
The Nokia Store for Nokia X features plenty of Android apps, such as Facebook Messenger, Viber and Opera Mobile, but they’re specially curated by Nokia and misses out on some high profile apps like Instagram or WhatsApp which arnt listed (yet).
According to Nokia, developers just need to slap in a few lines of code (a mere three new APIs) into the same APK that they use for standard Android builds of their apps, before submitting it to Nokia and getting certified and listed on the Nokia Store. As such, it should be easy for developers to bring their apps over, but only time will tell as to how many apps get listed, and by how many developers. The company is hoping that the fact that the Nokia Store has support for in-app purchases and carrier operator billing (which is very useful in developing countries where people dont always have credit cards), are also tempting enough for developers.
You can always install a third party app store like the Amazon App Store, or just manually find APK files and sideload or install them. All you have to do is go to settings -> Security and make sure “Allow Installation of apps from unknown sources” is checked. Nokia stated at the launch that their UX is built on top of AOSP, so technically anything within the AOSP is possible to do on the X, which means widgets, launchers, ROMS and more should be coming along soon enough.
Installing the Google Play Store is possible, if you find the APK, but it will refuse to start up on the Nokia X.
Since WhatsApp and Instagram arnt available in the Nokia App Store (at the time of this post), here’s a quick video on how to sideload and install their APK files. Just to give you an idea of the process:
Now, all this means that the Nokia X has access to almost any Android app that can run on 512MB of RAM and doesnt require Google services. But hunting for APK files can be quite tedious. Hopefully the Nokia Store for Nokia X will improve quickly.
Coming to text input, Typing is easy enough thanks to the onscreen Nokia-designed keyboard which includes swiping gestures to type (similar to Swipe or SwiftKey).
The keyboard might feel a little cramped for some folks out there, even though there’s a huge 4 inch screen here. In some regions, popular 3rd party Android keyboard SwiftKey is pre-installed. You can always download it from the Nokia Store if it is.
Nokia’s messaging app is simple and straightforward to use but setting up email is a bit tedious. I wish Nokia made the setup process a little simpler, because currently it asks you for way more information than just your email address and password, even for outlook or gmail accounts. When you try to add a new email account, it’ll ask you if you want to setup a corporate account or just “Email”. Selecting email then asks you for your username and password, but the next step after is to ask you whether it’s a POP, IMAP or Exchange account, which is most definitely going to confuse certain users. Choosing IMAP, then asks you for the IMAP server address, port number, security type, etc which is just way more complicated than setting up a basic Outlook/Hotmail account should be in this day and age.
Ironically, adding your Gmail email on the other hand, just requires your email address and password, heh. The only thing it asks you, in Gmail’s case, is how often to refresh inbox (every 5, 10, 15 or 30 minutes, every hour or never), automatically download attachments, and whether it should notify you about new email.
Speaking of which, you can sync your Gmail email over just fine, but it’s almost entirely impossible to sync over your Google Contacts or Google Calendar. Atleast I havent been able to figure out a way to, so far. There’s always the old fashioned way of exporting all your Gmail contacts in vcard (vcf) format, and then place it on an sd card, and then import them in to the Nokia X. You can pull in contacts from any corporate account, though. The Contacts app is also pretty simple, and can pull in your Facebook contacts (though I assume this is because the Facebook app is pre-installed) and probably more services going forward.
Coming to web browsing, the Nokia browser does a good enough job, and there’s support for tabs as well.
There’s also Opera Mobile pre-installed which is a way better browser, in my opinion. Unfortunately Google Chrome does not work on the Nokia X, even if you manage to find an APK file and install it. Websites look okay on that 4 inch screen, though the low resolution means you’ll have to do a lot of scrolling around.
As you can probably guess, the default search engine in the Nokia browser, is Bing.
Moving on to multimedia, the Nokia X gallery app is a slightly prettier version of what you’d see on most Android phones, listing your images by album based on type (camera roll, screenshots, etc) and in a grid of thumbnails. You can set images as wallpaper, rotate them, watch a slideshow, or even edit images to throw in a filter, or crop them. The Nokia X can playback MP4 (H.264/H.263) video but only upto 480p resolution.
The music player app and FM Radio app work just you’d expect them to. The FM radio requires a headset to be plugged in, while the Music Player UI is straightforward and simple to use. That being said, I much prefer Nokia’s MixRadio streaming service for all my music needs.
At the end of the day, while the Nokia X does run Android, it’s UI looks and behaves completely differently, in strong contrast compared to your average Android experience. Whether you like the Nokia X UI or not is probably a matter of personal taste, but you can always install a third party launcher like Nova launcher to change things up. When people thought of Nokia’s solid build quality and great qualities, paired with the flexibility and app ecosystem of Google’s Android, this was certainly not what they meant. As such, most users buying the Nokia X “because it runs Android” might be a little put off by the UI. And it’s definitely not meant for powerusers.
There’s not even any guarantee that this version of Android will be updated. It’s never easy to predict, even for standard Android phones, much less one that is forked. Nokia has been sensible with how the OS and UI are handled, and they’re two separate components, so that Nokia can individually update the interface layer of its “Nokia X Software Platform” independently from the underlying Android OS. That makes a lot of sense considering the update delays we’ve seen from some Android OEMs, who have to wait to tweak their customized UIs until Google releases a more significant OS update. The company has stated that they will update the Nokia X software, or individual services, based on “consumer need” so there should be, at the very least, security updates coming along.
But folks on a budget, who are new to smartphones or just phones in general, might actually really get along with the Nokia X, fastlane and all. And it’s that crowd that Nokia is hoping the Nokia X appeals to.
The Nokia X features a 3 megapixel fixed-focus rear camera. I’m not entirely sure why Nokia chose to go with a fixed-focus camera, but it’s possibly just price related reasons to keep it as affordable as possible. I’ve been too badly scarred by the old EDoF days when a few of Nokia’s Eseries Symbian phones like the Nokia E7 had fixed focus cameras, so I’ve never been a fan of them. And a fixed focus 3 megapixel camera in 2014, when 5 megapixel cameras on Android should be the bare minimum, it’s slightly annoying. But hey, they tried to keep costs down.
The Camera app is really basic as well, with a photo mode, panorama mode, and video mode. There’s even built-in face detection. The UI is a lot cleaner than most Android cameras, and the settings menu has a whole bunch of options to tweak, even built-in color effects. Camera shot-to-shot time is about 2-3 seconds, and there is the bit of shutter lag every so often, depending on the scenario.
As you can imagine, camera quality is just barely average. For that price range, you cant really expect much. As long as the object you’re taking a picture of isnt too close, or too far, the fixed-focus camera does an okay job. Dont even dream about getting ‘macro’ close up shots with this thing.
In bright daylight, images are okay, with good color reproduction and decent dynamic range. Since it’s a fixed focus lens, anything that’s too close or too far away wont be in focus. Otherwise the 1/5 inch sensor does an okay job for this price range. Dont expect to be taking any award winning shots with this camera, but the Nokia X camera is okay for pictures of your friends and general scenery. There’s no front facing camera though, which means no selfies or video calls for that matter.
In lowlight, images can get pretty bad. Lowlight performance wasnt a priority with this phone, and since there’s no LED flash, you’re better off just not taking pictures in lowlight scenarios.
Here’s a couple camera samples from the Nokia X to give you a better idea:
Coming to video, it’s kind-of terrible. Again, it’s fixed focus, and performance in in daylight is good, while lowlight performance is very noisy. The Nokia X video camera maxes out at 480p resolution, at upto 30 frames per second. You can record upto 30 minutes of video, though the default setting is upto 10 minutes.
Here’s a video camera sample from the Nokia X to give you a better idea:
The Call Quality:-
Call quality is never usually a problem on Nokia phones and that’s the same story here.
Calls come in clear, and the earpiece is good but could have been slightly louder, in my opinion.
There’s apparently noise cancellation onboard but I’m not entirely sure about that. Regardless, folks on the other end of our calls said we sounded loud and clear.
The Battery Life:-
The Nokia X features a 1500 mAh battery. Considering it’s powering a dual-core processor, Android, and a 4 inch IPS display, that’s an okay amount of power.
Officially, the Nokia X is rated at up to 26 hours of music playback, or up to 13 hours, 20 minutes of standby on 2G (and 10 hours, 30 minutes on 3G).
In my time with it, I got very average battery life out of the Nokia X. It’ll last for about a day’s worth of average use (on 3G), but heavy use on a proper work day means you’ll need to charge it up before you head home for the evening. My network (Airtel in India) has terrible 3G coverage in Delhi, so this might be subjective.
The Nokia X family of phones come in both Dual-SIM and Single-SIM versions but some regions might only get one variant of it. India, for example, will only get the Dual-SIM version.
The Dual-SIM functionality works just like you’d expect it to, with support for 3G on both SIM cards, and Dual Standby. You can also set a different ringtone for each sim card, set a primary sim for SMS and calls, set a SIM as offline, etc.
That being said, only SIM 1 supports 3G.
While it’s great to see Nokia explore Android as an alternative to Windows Phone and S40, the Nokia X probably wont appeal to your usual Android fan. Mostly because of the very-windows-phone-like UI and the absolute lack of Google services.
But that being said, I actually really think it might be great for first time smartphone users. Or just folks looking to get something as simple and solid as one of Nokia’s Asha or S40 phone, but with access to a lot more apps and general functionality.
The Nokia X is a really hard phone to work out. On one hand, it’s a really affordable phone with expectedly budget specs. On the other hand, it’s not much better than the Nokia Lumia 520 which sits above it in the product line but is now priced very similarly. The only advantage the Nokia X has over the 520, in my opinion, is access to a lot more apps. Almost any Android app that can run on 512MB of RAM will work on the Nokia X, but the challenge would be finding all those apps or apk files outside of the Nokia Store. For example, Instagram isnt (at the time of this post) available on the Nokia Store for the Nokia X, nor is it on the Amazon Store, so you’ll have to hunt around for the .apk installation file.
It’s also important to note that you cant really compare the Nokia X with something along the likes of the Moto G. The Finnish Android phone isnt aimed at the same crowd at all, rather the Nokia X is a phone meant more for parts of the developing world where Android phones are sold at a really low average price point, but can still perform the basic tasks that you’d expect from it. There are some other worries too. While there is a microSD card slot, the 4GB of internal memory can get filled up awfully quickly. That camera isnt too great either, and battery life is fairly average for an Android phone, but that isnt really saying much.
At the end of the day, the Nokia X is a well constructed smartphone that has an straightforward UI, a nice display and integration with Microsoft’s services, Nokia’s Maps and Music services, as well as a lot more apps than Windows Phones currently have.