When Nokia is rumoured to be working on an Android smartphone, everyone was surprised why Nokia has made this decision despite already being bought by Microsoft, some even speculate that it is a product that may never see daylight or face the same fate as the ill-fated Meego based Nokia N9. Fortunately, the rumours are positive and Nokia has used the smartphone to create a whole new category – the X family, in which the Nokia X is the first model to be announced in MWC2014 and go on sale globally.

Outside Asha, Inside Android

The Nokia X may look like an Asha smartphone in terms of hardware and software, but in fact Android is powering every inch of the features in the phone.

The build quality of the phone is excellent for an entry-level smartphone, it feels solid and reliable, the back cover can be swapped easily to any range of the Nokia X colour offerings.

Nokia X Specifications

Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Play MSM8225 1.0GHz, Dual Core
RAM: 512MB RAM
Display: 4-inch IPS WVGA (800×480) resolution
Storage: 4GB Internal, expandable via microSD up to 32GB
Camera: 3MP Fixed Focus
Connectivity: WiFi B/G/N, Bluetooth, Dual SIM (SIM1: HSPA, SIM2: GSM)
Battery: 1500mAh
Operating System: Nokia X Platform (AOSP Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean)

The User Experience

The phone feels right in hand, thanks to its compact slim design and 4-inch display, using the phone one handed is made possible. Furthermore, the display showed great colours despite having a low WVGA resolution, and the IPS technology further enhances the viewing angles and visibility under strong sunlight.
Unfortunately, the touch panel isn’t really sensitive and performs sluggishly to our touches and interactions, which affects our keyboard typing experience a lot.
If you are someone who judges a smartphone by its front page, then you’ll simply love the simplicity of the Nokia X. The phone’s user interface combines elements from Nokia’s Fastlane and Windows Phone’s tile base interface, which can be operated by swiping to the left or right.
Fastlane serves as your notifications bar and shows you a history of your recently accessed items or actions performed. We don’t really like how Nokia has placed app notifications onto it because clearing them away requires an effort. And seriously, why can’t they just put them back in the sliding notifications bar just like how Android does it.
The phone doesn’t have a dedicated app drawer like your usual Android smartphone, instead all of your apps and widgets can be placed at the tile based home screen, app tiles can be resized and managing them can be a great challenge if you have installed a lot of apps; moving tiles and widgets can also be quite cumbersome with the insensitive touch panel.
If you’re an experienced smartphone user and realised that the Nokia X is running on Android, you’ll start to wonder why Nokia has only done this little to the phone’s user experience.
Nokia Malaysia did mention to us during the launch that the X family is intended to transition users to use Nokia and Microsoft services, unfortunately we don’t really find them being promoted on the Nokia X’s ecosystem. Besides having Nokia MixRadio and Here Maps, Microsoft’s services such as Skype and OneDrive are basically apps that is already available on the Google Play Store. The list can also go on, such as the lack of contacts and e-mail integration with Outlook.com (though we are able to use Exchange as a solution) and a built-in messenger app.
The Nokia X experience is apparently half baked and we simply perceive it as an unfinished software platform that wants to gain attention of customers.

Apps and Usability

Again, we have to mention the Nokia X is running on a forked version of Android, it makes perfect sense for Nokia to remove Google’s instances off since they wanted to introduce their own experience on the phone, which is similar to Amazon’s Kindle and Nook Reader. Nokia does provide an app store of its own on the Nokia X, which offers many common apps such as WhatsApp, BBM, Asphalt 8 etc.

If you can’t find apps in the Nokia store, it will recommend you to 3rd party app stores such as 1Mobile market and Aptoide, which you’ll be required to install them and download apps from those 3rd party marketplace. Fortunately, most apps that we downloaded work without any compatibility issues.
The Nokia X has been a reliable daily driver for us, as we aren’t missing any apps out of Google’s platform despite having no access to the Google Play Store. We simply wished that the phone had more storage and allow us to install apps without worrying about it.

Camera

We don’t really expect much from the Nokia X’s camera, being a 3-Megapixel fixed focus camera is nothing to shout at, but it does a pretty good job in taking pictures in good lighting conditions. The camera app also surprisingly has features such as panaroma and noise reduction, which is pretty rare for an entry-level smartphone. Check out the sample images down below.

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Benchmarks and Performance

The Nokia X uses the most entry level processor in Qualcomm’s S4 portfolio and is paired with a meagre 512MB of RAM, it is simply underwhelming enough to see such kind of specifications today and especially the device isn’t built on the base of Android 4.4 KitKat which is made for devices with low RAM. Benchmarking performance is what you’d expect in everyday usage, the phone scores 2400 points and 7300 points in Antutu and Quadrant respectively. In real world conditions, we’d have to say that the phone doesn’t even perform like a dual core device and probably on par with single core devices.

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The phone may be slow in overall performance, but it performs well in apps, which is most important to us, though the home launcher will tend to restart everytime we quit apps, which we have to bear with it and understand that this isn’t a phone meant for multitasking. Web browsing performance via WiFi and HSPA connection is surprisingly good with fast loading speeds, however scrolling and pinch to zoom in webpages is sluggish, some heavy webpages can also crash the browser at times, which is expected and disappointing.

Call Quality and Battery Life

The Nokia X rocks in call quality, never before we’ve hear an entry level smartphone perform that well in producing crisp and clear call volumes when listening over its speakerphone, the loudspeaker also does a good job in producing loud and undistorted call volumes so that we can listen to our callers at ease; our callers have no issues with background noise over our side and are very satisfied with it.
Battery life on the Nokia X is what we’ve come to expect, a 1500mAh battery is considerably low for today’s standards, we initially thought it will do fine for an entry level processor and 4-inch display, but we were so wrong to think about that. The phone lasts around 15 hours with very minimal usage with auto sync and mobile data always on, receiving less than 10 IMs per day and synchronising email accounts. Expect the phone’s battery to die in the middle of the day if you’re making lots of phone calls, IMs, and music listening. Even worse, the phone charges really slow even when we pair it to a 2A charger, which we believe the charging port has been limited to the stock charger’s output at 0.8A.

Verdict

As we always say, if we limit someone’s potential and asking them to only perform responsibilities that they are hired for, they tend to move on slowly in a job and can quit in another few months. This is how we perceive on the Nokia X, the company has limited the phone’s software experience so much and paired it with really entry level hardware that will not last for a year, entry level smartphones don’t need to be that slow. We love the Nokia X’s build quality, it definitely sets a standard for smartphone makers on building entry-level smartphones, but the phone is sadly limited by its internals and Microsoft’s control over it. We recommend the Nokia X to anyone who wants to look for an entry-level smartphone with Nokia services and runs your usual Android apps. Here’s a summary of the good and bad.
The Good
+ Decent build quality
+ Good display quality
+ Great call experience
+ Nice loudspeakers
+ Nokia Here Maps and MixRadio
+ Dual SIM with HSPA support
+ Acceptable camera performance
The Bad:
– Launcher keeps restarting when quitting apps
– Limited amount of RAM and device memory
– Sluggish overall performance
– Native Android features killed by Nokia
– Fastlane is annoying with notifications
– Arranging tiles on home screen is a pain
– Insensitive touch screen
– Microsoft and Nokia experience half baked
– Uses Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean AOSP base
– Poor battery life and slow charging
We rate the Nokia X at 2.5 out of 5 stars.