Announced at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last month, the Nokia X range is a collection of three Android smartphones blending a heavily-modified version of Google’s operating system with Microsoft cloud services and design inspired by Windows Phone.
Previously known as Project Normandy, the X range features Nokia’s trademark sturdy plastic construction, bright and bold colours, and an Android operating system that borrows heavily from the look of Windows Phone.
On first inspection you would have no idea that this is Android. Nokia has ‘forked’ - visually changed - the system almost beyond recognition to offer the same bright colours and Live Tiles home screen as Windows Phone, but in a budget smartphone aimed at emerging markets.
The Nokia X and X+ both have a 4-inch display with a resolution of 480 x 800 and a pixel density of 233 per inch. They’re both powered by a 1GHz, dual-core processor and have 4GB of storage which can be increased by up to 32GB via a microSD card slot.
Both have a three-megapixel rear camera - but no camera on the front - and both run Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean - not that you’d know, given the visual overhaul. But the changes aren’t just cosmetic; Nokia has stripped out all of Google’s cloud features (plus Gmail, Chrome and the Play Store), replacing them with Microsoft equivalents such as Bing search and OneDrive cloud storage (formerly known as SkyDrive).
X, X+ and XL - What’s the difference?
The only difference between the X and X+ is RAM (512MB on the former 768MB on the latter), and the fact that the X+ is sold with a 4GB microSD card included.
For those who prefer phablets to phones, Nokia also announced the XL, a smartphone with a 5-inch screen and the same design and Windows Phone-themed operating system as the smaller X and X+.
Despite the larger screen, the XL makes do with the same resolution as its smaller stablemates, which means 480 x 800 and just 187 pixels per inch. The XL also gets an improved five-megapixel camera, but is otherwise identical to the rest of the X range.
Although starting at just €89 (£74), the Nokia X range has the same feeling of premium design and build quality as its more expensive Lumia relatives. Replacing the Lumia’s glossy finish with a more textured matt feel helps to provide a secure grip missing by many other players in the smartphone market.
The X range is available in green, red, cyan, yellow, black and white, and to help prevent scratching each colour is injected into the plastic, not merely painted on. Both the X and X+ measure 10.4mm thick and weigh just under 130g; the XL is slightly thicker at 10.9mm and heavier, at 190g.
Google Play is Missing in Action
There is no access to the Google Play store - or any of Google’s services for that matter. Instead, Nokia has installed its own applications store which offers a selection of the most popular Android apps and games - similar to how Amazon offers Android apps on its Kindle Fire tablets. Speaking at the X’s launch in Barcelona, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop said developers can tweak their apps to work on the X in just a few hours.
A swipe to the right from the home screen reveals Nokia’s Fastlane interface. Borrowed from the company’s budget Asha phone series, Fastlane is a scrolling list of your most recently used applications, notifications, recently taken photos and favourite contacts.
But don’t forget this is still Android, and under all of Nokia’s visual changes you will find the skeleton of Google’s operating system present and (mostly) correct. Swipe down from the top of the screen to see toggle switches to adjust the Wi-Fi, Airplane Mode, screen brightness and other settings. The phone’s menu bar is also distinctly Android, and there is the system’s familiar Back button below the screen.
Although Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia’s phone-making business is due to be completed imminently, it remains business-as-usual at Nokia - and while we look forward to seeing more of the X range and how it will be received in emerging markets, we can’t help but wonder if Microsoft will be comfortable producing a device running Google software, no matter how much it has been modified.