Nokia X review: Sub-par performer with faux Android

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Nokia launched its first ‘Android’ phone, Nokia X, in India to lure buyers with the prospect of Android app support. The smartphone maker believes it will act as a ‘feeder’ for its Lumia phone range and make the first time smartphone users feel at home before they graduate to high-end alternatives.

But does Nokia X live up to the hype surrounding it, or is it a case of too little, too late from the fabled Finnish firm? We find out in our review.

Build & design
Nokia X takes design cues from both Nokia Lumia 520/525 and Asha 503. It sports the same rectangular design and a colourful polycarbonate shell, which is a bit chunky. As soon as you notice the Asha-like capacitive button with the arrow label at the front, just below the screen, you realize it is not a Windows Phone device. Also, unlike the Lumia 525/520, the edges of the phone are sharp and not rounded. The edges at the front feel rough and lack refinement.

The red colour variant that we used had a neon shade and matte finish.

The front of the phone sports a 4-inch display.

The right edge of the phone features the volume rocker and Power/ Screen lock keys that also sport the same colour as the phone and offer decent tactile feedback. The micro-USB port is placed at the bottom edge, while the 3.5mm headset jack sits at the top.

The back of the phone sports a 3MP camera lens and a speaker outlet.

The body shell is removable and hides a battery compartment that houses a removable battery, two slots for sim cards (micro-sim) and a microSD card slot.

Overall, Nokia X exudes a feeling of durability due to the use of good quality plastic materials. Having said that, it sports the same staid design that we’ve seen in the Asha phones and Nokia has obviously played safe than variate with the looks in the brand new series.

Display
Nokia X sports a 4-inch WVGA LCD display (480 X 800p, 233ppi), which looks better than the displays of Asha phones. One of the reasons you don’t notice the low resolution of the display is the phone’s user interface which majorly consists of tiles similar to Windows Phone. It offers good viewing angles, but is highly reflective and prone to smudges, reducing outdoor legibility.

Software
Nokia X runs a custom operating system based on AOSP (Android Open Source Project). What this means is that Nokia has taken the free, open source bits from Android (which doesn’t include Google’s apps and services) and added its own (and Microsoft’s) services and apps. Nokia has heavily customised the user interface, adding elements from Windows Phone, Asha OS and Meego Harmattan. The result is a mishmash combining elements from all these platforms and the UI doesn’t look anywhere close to stock Android interfaces. The silver lining here is that the phone can run a number of Android apps even as it looks like a.Windows Phone device.

The Nokia X user interface is mainly divided into two homescreens – Fastlane and app launcher. The app launcher borrows its look from the Windows Phone Start screen and features tiles for launching apps. The same screen supports Android widgets as well, but adding widgets makes it messy and inconsistent. Unlike Windows Phone, the tiles are not live tiles, but select native apps such as the Calendar and Gallery app offer more than just static icons.

 

The tiles can be customised to a limited extent. You can select between two sizes for native app tiles, and can also choose between six colours for third party app tiles. You can also move and reposition tiles as per your preference.

As you install more apps, the number of tiles also increase and you’ll need to swipe down to browse them unless you choose to make folders and group them.

Swipe to the left or right and you get the Fastlane screen. We had first seen Fastlane in the Nokia Asha. This feature was borrowed from the Nokia N9’s Notifications interface, part of the Meego Harmattan OS.

The Fastlane not only displays notifications for alerts, messages, missed calls and events, it also logs how you use the phone. The long vertical list records all call logs, emails, webpages, app installs, pictures taken and music played.

Thankfully, the screen is customizable and the phone lets you choose if you don’t want to log events of a certain type, or from a certain app. You can even choose not to display any notification or notifications from certain apps.

However, the Fastlane is also the multi-tasking interface of the phone. Unfortunately, it is the only multi-tasking interface of the phone. This means if you open multiple apps in the background and choose to switch between them, the only way to do so is Fastlane. Unlike conventional Android interfaces or even Windows Phone or iOS, there’s no button or gesture that brings all open apps to the front.

The Asha UI also follows the same philosophy, but then those Java apps don’t support real time multitasking unlike Android apps.

Since Nokia X features a single capacitive button – the back key and navigation is also problematic. Pressing the back key takes you a step back and to go to the home screen, you need to long press it. This is unintuitive and will confuse people who have used Android or Windows Phone interfaces before.

The phone also lets you enable a ‘swipe to right’ gesture to go directly to the home screen, but it is available only for select native apps like the Phone, Messaging and People apps. The transition is jerky and there is a considerable lag.

The lock screen also displays notifications for apps. Swiping to the right opens the respective app, while swiping to the left dismisses it.

A slight pull on the app launcher screen brings up universal search just like iOS 7. Swiping down from the top on the same screen brings up a Settings tray that offers toggles for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, mobile data and silent mode and a button to go directly to settings. The same tray is usually used for notifications on Android and iOS. We would have preferred the same on Nokia X as it makes accessing notifications easier.

Nokia has included the double tap to wake up and glance screen features of its Lumia Windows Phone on Nokia X. While the glance screen displays time when the phone is locked without drawing more power, the double tap to unlock doesn’t work well on the phone. In fact, 9 out of 10 times the phone fails to register a normal tap. You need to tap really hard, or rather hit the screen, for it to work properly.

Coming to apps, Nokia offers some preloaded ones and others via its own app store, Nokia Store. You can also download third party app stores such as the 1Mobile Market, Yandex or Amazon Appstore to install paid apps.

It is worth pointing out that apps which use some kind of Google service, for instance Google Wallet for in-app payments or Maps for location, won’t work on the phone unless it is ported to Nokia’s store by the developer.

You also have the choice to search for APKs on the web and side load them after enabling installation of apps from unknown sources from the phone’s settings. However, we don’t recommend this as this could give way to malware-infested apps.

Having said that, Nokia X doesn’t come with Google’s Play Store and even if you get hold of installation files or APKs of the Play Store and other Google apps (such as YouTube, Maps, Gmail), the phone would not be able to support these.

Nokia pre-loads apps like Twitter, Facebook, WeChat, BBM, Astro File Manager, Opera and a number of demo games, in addition to Here Maps and Nokia MixRadio. You can download offline maps and use them for turn by turn voice-guided navigation.

MixRadio on Nokia X allows you to stream music free and download up to 4 offline mixes (a mix is a playlist based on tracks from similar artists). Unlike the Windows Phone version of the app, you can’t search for individual tracks and download them (that requires a Nokia Music subscription though).

If you largely use Google services, you’ll be disappointed with this phone. The phone’s email client will allow you to access Gmail but won’t sync your Google contacts and calendars. It offers this functionality for Microsoft’s Outlook though.

The phone’s minimalist browser is based on Chromium and is functional at best. You can’t install Chrome and since there’s no integration with a Google account, your browsing history and bookmarks don’t sync.

The default keyboard on the phone doesn’t offer a good experience and is not very usable even if you have small fingers.

Of course, there are a number of third party launchers and keyboards available that will bring the phone’s UI closer to what most Android phones in the market offer. There are also ways to install Google apps, but you may end up losing your phone’s warranty with those. We feel that most users, especially first time smartphone users would not be comfortable rooting their phones, or installing third party launchers.

Camera
Nokia X sports a 3MP fixed focus rear camera and doesn’t include an LED flash. The camera is one of the weakest points of this phone. We expected a phone in Nokia X’s price range to support auto focus. It is ironic how Nokia has added an app that includes controls for granular settings like ISO, anti-banding, saturation, white balance, contrast and sharpness in a phone with an apology of a camera. It even offers a Panorama mode!

The camera is functional at best and takes very average quality pictures in daylight and grainy, noise-infested pictures in low light conditions and indoors. The lack of an LED flash makes it almost impossible to shoot pictures in dimly lit conditions.

The video camera is capable of shooting up to FWVGA or 480p resolution videos and records average quality videos.
 
In the selfie era, Nokia X misses out on a front-facing camera. This also means you won’t be able to use Skype for video calls.

Performance
Nokia X comes with modest hardware under the hood. It is powered by a 1GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and 512MB RAM. It comes with 4GB internal storage that can be expanded up to 32GB via microSD card.

The phone offers sub-par performance and you’ll notice some lag while scrolling up and down the phone’s app launcher screen. The phone struggles to multitask efficiently and you’ll encounter a black screen with a ‘Please wait’ message when you want to jump to the home screen from a resource intensive app.

Browsing graphics-heavy websites also takes a toll on the phone’s performance and you’ll notice stutters and lags.

In synthetic benchmarks, the phone scored 7,422 in Antutu, 2,844 in Quadrant and 27.2 in Nenamark 2 tests.

Nokia X offers Bluetooth, WiFi and A-GPS connectivity options. A-GPS relies on the network for getting location-related information.

Nokia X offers good call quality and signal reception and we did not encounter issues while making calls even in areas where cell signal is relatively weaker. The phone offers dual sim with support for 3G data on the first sim. You’ll only be able to use one sim at a time for voice calls.

The external speaker on the phone offers loud sound output but the sound gets muffled when the phone lies on its back, which is an issue.

We were able to play popular video and audio file formats barring full-HD MOV video files, but using a third party video player can fix the issue.

10 reasons not to buy Nokia X Android phones

1 of 11
Nokia’s much hyped Android phone, Nokia X has been launched in India with the company deciding to price it at Rs 8,599. Nokia has said the new phone will act as a ‘feeder’ for its Lumia phones.

It has priced the phone above the Asha feature phones and just below the Lumia smartphones (the Lumia 520 is available at a cheaper price ranging between Rs 7,500 – 8,000 unofficially via e-commerce retailers). The company will also introduce the Nokia X+ and XL Android phones in the next two months which are not very different from the Nokia X.

But do the X series phones from the house of Nokia offer a true Android experience?

Here are 10 reasons why buyers should steer clear of Nokia X phones.

The phone is backed by a 1,500 mAh battery and will last you just half a day (about 7-8 hours) with moderate to heavy use if you put the screen brightness at the highest level and use 3G data all the time. You’ll be able to make about 1-2 hours of phone calls, play some casual games and browse the web in this time period. The phone can play video continuously for 4 to 5 hours. We were quite disappointed with the battery backup offered by the phone.

Overall, Nokia X offers underwhelming performance.

Gaming
While playing popular games like Temple Run 2 and Subway Surfers, we noticed considerable lag and frame drops. The games take about 20 seconds to start-up. Games like Tetris, Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds still perform better than the others. But, gaming is clearly not one of the phone’s strong points either.

Verdict
At Rs 8,499, we don’t recommend buying the phone. It is an entry-level phone that doesn’t offer any USP except for compatibility with Android apps (not all of them though). It should have been priced in the Rs 6,000 to Rs 7,000 bracket replacing high-end Asha phones.

In the same price range, you can get phones like the Xolo Q800, Zen Ultrafone 701 HD or Micromax Canvas 2, all of which offer better performance. These phones come with quad-core processors, bigger screen and 1GB RAM. They offer a full-fledged Android experience and have access to the Google Play Store.

Nokia’s own Lumia 520 is a great Windows Phone handset in the same price range.The Lumia 520 is available at a cheaper price ranging between Rs 7,500 – 8,000 unofficially via e-commerce retailers.

It is also worth pointing out that Microsoft has inked a deal to acquire the devices business of Nokia and the deal is expected to close in a few weeks. It’s hard to predict if the Redmond giant will continue to offer the phone after taking over.

We don’t understand why Nokia needed the X series, especially when the Lumia 520, its entry-level Windows Phone handset, is doing well and Microsoft has managed to populate its app marketplace with apps from Indian and global developers.

Perhaps, the Nokia X is just part of an experiment in the company’s R&D lab, and we would, therefore, recommend staying away from it.

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