That Nokia was working on an Android-powered smartphone wasn’t a surprise. Codenamed Normany, the phone had been rumored for months before it was finally unveiled this morning. Under the branding Nokia X, the company also unveiled the X+, with a little extra memory, and the XL, which features a bigger screen (of the same resolution).
Geared exclusively at the lower end of the market, the new phones are going to be bittersweet reminders for many technology fans. When it was first announced that the company would be discarding its attempt to create its own mobile operating system in conjunction with Intel (MeeGo), Nokia enthusiasts were horrified that Nokia chose to partner with Microsoft and Windows Phone.
A few individuals called Elop a sleeper agent, designed to take Nokia down and make them ripe for a Microsoft acquisition. I don’t think that’s actually a farseeing prediction – it was really just a lucky guess.
But a Microsoft acquisition is where we are today, which makes it all the more curious that Nokia’s Android phone went on to launch.
The Nokia X, X+, and XL all share the same basic guts. There’s a dual-core Snapdragon S4 (note, a top of the line processor from just a couple-three years ago) 512MB or 768MB of RAM, 4GB or a little more flash storage, and 4- or 5-inch screens with an 800×480 resolution.
Nothing earth shattering (aside from the general ‘Android on Nokia’ announcement, that is), but a perfectly serviceable phone.
The Android running inside of these phones is a pretty stark departure from the Android you’ll find on something like Google’s Nexus devices. The user interface has been completely redesigned, with bands and tiles replacing the app drawer and rows of icons you’ll find on a standard Android phone.
It looks a lot like the interface found on Asha phones, the round-ish icons a callback to the MeeGo and Symbian phones from days of yore. It also features Nokia’s ‘Fastlane’ interface from Asha, which lets you swipe to see everything on the phone at a glance.
The typical Google services like Google Play, Google Search, and Maps have been replaced with Microsoft equivalents – likely the only reason that Microsoft gave Nokia their blessing to continue on with the X’s development. OneDrive, HERE Maps, and Bing are the rulers of this roost, but if you’re feeling too frustrated, you’ll probably be able to install what you like.
That’s because Nokia is leaving the phone largely unrestricted when it comes to running other applications. You’ll be able to install third-party APKs, but like with the Kindle tablets, you’ll inevitably run into a few problems when software takes advantage of the increasingly complex Google Play Services framework.
Nokia has delivered its own version, of course, but some applications will have to be redesigned with that specific software stack in mind.
In terms of build quality, the X/X+/XL are basic Nokia – in other words, they’re completely phenomenal. Despite being a little thick compared to today’s hottest phones, the new lineup is pleasant to hold, feature fun, vibrant colors, and promise to withstand drops to the floor with little more than a few scratches (no promises about damage to your floors, though).
The real draw of these phones, of course, won’t be Android. It’ll be the low cost. Starting at just around $120, the phones are extremely good buys – especially outside of the U.S., where the Verizon Moto G can be acquired for just $99. Despite that, Nokia execs were bullish when asked whether there are any concerns that the Android phones will eat into the low-cost Lumia 520s, a cornerstone of Windows Phone’s recent growth.
Microsoft, for their part, are being very careful when asked about the phones. Saying only that the Android-powered (with Microsoft cloud functionality) phones will allow them to reach consumers they’ve “never reached before.” Does that mean the new line will be sticking around? I sort of doubt it, but right now it’s hard to say. A new CEO means a new Microsoft, and this one might be more willing to make peace with Google in order to further the company’s struggling mobile growth.