Nokia X User Review

*This device is a loaned review unit from Nokia Malaysia*

A month ago, alongside other bloggers, I attended the launch of Nokia X in Malaysia. The Nokia X, in case you missed the news, is Nokia’s first ever Android based smartphone.

Surprising? Yes. However, Nokia actually didn’t create just another Android smartphone to compete with the Samsung, HTC or LG dominant players. They took the the source codes of Android (namely Android Open Source Project, AOSP) and created their own User Interface with Nokia flavoured themes and navigation on top. Coupled with integrated services from Microsoft, Nokia’s loyal partner and future owner.

Nokia X
Nokia X

That whole “rojak” blend, created this Nokia X. Which is a device that Nokia intends to market as “your starter smartphone”, for those who are upgrading from a feature phone like their Nokia Asha series. The Asha series supposedly sells like hot cakes in developing countries.

See Also : Android based Nokia X Launched in Malaysia

Thanks to the nice folks from Nokia Malaysia, I have spent some  time reviewing the Nokia X recently. Happy to report back to those interested to read my personal opinion and review of the entry-level smartphone.

 

Unboxing the Nokia X

Nokia X - Unboxing

I believe the unit I have is a pre-production version of the Nokia X. The review unit comes in a non-descript (Nokia) blue coloured box without any markings, logos, brandings or specs. Just a simple Serial Number and ID sticker on one side.

Nokia X - Unboxing
Unboxing the Nokia X

Inside the box is the Nokia X device itself, along with a 3-pin power adapter with connecting microUSB charging cable, generic earbuds headphones and user manual. Simple.

 

Hardware and Build Quality

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_pdTuFWbcNI

We’ll start with a refresher; quick hardware and technical specs overview of the Nokia X:-

  • 4″ WVGA display, capacitive 2 point touch screen (800 x 480) (233 ppi)
  • 1 GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor
  • 4 GB internal storage (expandable up to 32 GB  microSD) + 512 MB RAM
  • Powered by Nokia X software platform (based on Android Open Source Project OS)
  • 3 megapixel fixed focus rear camera (no flash), no front facing camera
  • 10.44 mm thin, weighing only 128.7 grams
  • 1,500 mAh removable battery (up to 10.5 3G talktime)
  • Connectivity : Dual microSIM 3G HSPA+ / 2G GPRS, WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS
  • Available in 5 colours in Malaysia : Black, White, Yellow, Red and (new hero colour) Green

For  more information, check out the Nokia X Malaysian product page at http://www.nokia.com/my-en/phones/phone/nokia-x/

While I’ve already covered my hands-on impression during the Nokia X Malaysian launch (read the blogpost here), I managed to get a closer (and longer) look at the hardware and build quality of the Nokia X with this review unit.

Nokia X - Front & Back
Front and Back of the Nokia X

On the front, we have the 4″ WVGA 2-point touchscreen display at only 800 X 480 resolution, which is seriously low-res and rather disappointing for me. While I understand that this is supposed to be an entry level smartphone, I believe Nokia could’ve done better with a better display.

Minimalistic here, at the front, with a Nokia  logo at the top by the earpiece and a singular capacitive “Back” button at the bottom. Unlike the traditional Android smartphones that usually comes with a 3 button combo for “Home”,”Back” and “Search” or “Multi-task”.

At the back of this gorgeous, bright, candy theme, green coloured review unit, is the 3 megapixel, fixed focus rear camera with no flash. Another disappointing omission of an LED flash here. And fixed focus lens? Tsk. Tsk. Tsk.

Nokia X - Hardware Overview
Hardware, ports and buttons around the Nokia X

Looking around the sides of the Nokia X, you’ll see all the ports and buttons that are rather standard.

At the top if the 3.5mm headphone jack. The Power On/Off button is placed on the right side of the device in the middle for easy single hand access. Nicely done. Right above that is the volume rocker. At the bottom, the single micro USB charging and syncing port.

Overall, a clean design, built with Nokia’s now signature matte polycarbonate plastic material. The matte material gives a rubbery feel in your hands, providing you with a good grip of the phone, without the need of an extra casing. To be honest, this material makes more  sense in their other Nokia Lumia series with bigger screens (and bigger device) to avoid slipping in your hands. In the case of this small 4″ screen Nokia X, it’s not needed for this reason. But is a good signature of Nokia phones nonetheless.

Nokia X - Removable battery
Removable backplate & battery

The back cover of the Nokia X is removable, as well as the 1,500 mAh battery. Removing it can be quite tough, but was demonstrated at the launch. You press one finger on the lens (yeah, don’t seem too smart) and use another finger to pry the joint (no indentation for easier access) and peel the back cover off.

After multiple attempts, I still don’t feel comfortable with this. It’s seriously not easy to remove the backplate.

Nokia also allows you to change the colour of the back cover, to  suit your personality and mood, as you can see from the 5 colour choices provided. The different back covers are not included as a standard, unfortunately.

Nokia X - Dual SIM
SIM 1 and SIM 2 slots for micro SIM

Nokia got with the times and included micro SIM support on the Nokia X. You can see the dual SIM slots at the back, separated by the micro SD card slot. More on the Dual SIM functionality later.

Nokia X in hand

Perhaps I got used to Android smartphones ranging from 4.7″ in screen size, with other phablets like Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (read my review here) growing bigger every year. Holding this 4-incher Nokia X in my hands makes the phone seems so small and dainty.

As you can see from the picture, it is not that “dainty” in my hand, really. In fact, after getting used to it after a day of usage, the size is truly perfect for single hand usage. Handy to type with one hand, navigate and swipe with one thumb.

 

Software and Features

As mentioned, the Nokia X runs on essentially Nokia’s own UI (User Interface) based on a version of Android OS. From a theme and navigation perspective, if you’re used to Android navigation, you’ll be a little lost here. If you’re upgrading from a Nokia feature phone (like a Series 40 phone, or Nokia Asha series), you might be more familiar but might still need some adjustments. If you’ve been using Windows Phone’s tile based menu, you might be a little more at home.

Nokia X - Home,  Navigation

The Nokia X runs on a UI that’s tile based, similar to their Nokia Lumia series of Windows Phone 8 devices. There are a few difference here.

  • There are no “App Drawer” or list per se. Every app installed on the phone is a tile on the Homescreen
  • Nokia Fastlane, from the Nokia Asha series, is a Notification Centre / Recently opened app multi-tasking view, in one interface

You swipe left to unlock the device from the Lock Screen. You’ll see the Homescreen which includes tiles of all apps installed on the phone. You can rearrange and resize the tiles as you wish, just like with Windows Phone 8.

Swipe right, and you’ll come to Nokia Fastlane – which shows the latest alerts and notifications, as well as the recently opened apps. Just like with the new Android OS, some apps will allow you to do one-click actions like Reply to messages, delete items, etc.

In app, to access the menu and settings, you’ll see three vertical lines at the bottom, middle of  the screen. Where you can swipe up to view the settings and menu options available.

Nokia X - Keyboard & Gestures

Personally for me, I have accustomed to the habit of two-thumb typing. Although the keyboard is not too shabby, it got rather challenging for my speed typing with this keyboard.

The interesting thing to note, is that Nokia has included a “Swype” like gesture based keyboard typing as well. They took that a step further and developed “Gestures” which includes some other shortcut swipe for easy access to symbols,  numbers and other functions. Not too bad.

Nokia X - Phone, Message (Dual SIM)
Dual SIM functions on Phone Dialer and Message

As with most Dual SIM phones, the Nokia X Dual SIM functions that can be seen from the Phone Dialer and Messages. It’s indicated by small “1” and “2” icons, as seen in the image above.

Dual SIM phones are always handy. Nokia executives mentioned to me that their lower end / starter Nokia Asha series phones have always been popular with traveling business executives in Malaysia. It was surprising news for me, really. But it seems many likes an inexpensive, simple, dual SIM feature/smartphone to use as a spare phone.

I can understand that.

Nokia X - People, Calendar
People and Calendar are synced from Microsoft accounts or Outlook

Since Nokia wanted the Nokia X to be as much a Microsoft device as possible, everything is integrated closer to Microsoft than Google’s services. Means, the “People” and “Calendar” apps are synced to Microsoft services like your Hotmail, or Calendar with “Outlook.com” instead.

Unfortunately for me, most of my data is tied to my Google account. I was hoping that since the Nokia X is built on an underlying Google’s Android OS, I would be able to find a way to sync my contacts and calendar entries across. Boy – was I wrong. As you can see above, the “People” app only syncs contacts extracted from my connected Facebook, Skype and WhatsApp account.

Nokia locked Google out with the Nokia X.

There was no “Over-The-Air”, cloud syncing way to transfer these data to the Nokia X from Google’s storage. Bummer!

There are a few workarounds to this –

  • Copy contacts to your SIM and import from SIM (limited to like, 200 contacts only)
  • Export from Google to a .csv file and import to the Nokia X using the cable / micro SD card
  • Download the “Contacts Transfer” app from Nokia Store and transfer your contacts via Bluetooth

Either way, you lose the sync function to your Google account. Damn. Damn. Damn. No likey. *sad face*

This was one of the biggest disappointment and negative point for me. Nokia needs to be able to make it easy for people to transfer their contacts and calendar and allow the sync functions to work across multiple platform. Ease of data transfer is way too important, if they really want to be competitive and gain market share.

 

Apps Selection – Nokia Store & 3rd Party App Store

Moving on to the App selection. As with most new OS and platform, people have grown reliant on some of their favourite apps that they’ve downloaded or purchased in one OS and don’t want to lose in the event they move to another OS.

Nokia included a number of apps in their Nokia Store specifically for Nokia X (and the family of Nokia X phones to be released soon)  – which includes your usual Facebook, Twitter and more.

Nokia X - Pre-installed Games
There are almost a dozen pre-installed games included
Nokia X - MixRadio
Nokia MixRadio is a cloud based, FREE music streaming service
Nokia X - HERE Maps
Nokia HERE Maps supports offline maps and turn-by-turn navigation

As with their other Nokia phones, there are  certainly a number of pre-installed apps and Nokia exclusives that you’ll get with the Nokia X. Which includes MixRadio, their FREE cloud based music streaming service (you can download for offline listening or buy the music, too) and HERE Maps (supports offline maps and turn-by turn navigation).

With the Nokia X running on a forked / modified version of Android OS, does this mean that it would support Android apps?

Nokia X - Store
Nokia Store

YES. The Nokia Store is the default App Store that includes all the apps of Android apps, compatible with Nokia X. It also includes some featured apps a part of the “Nokia Collection” like Skype, WeChat, Line and more.

Nokia X - Collections

In case that’s not enough for you, or your favourite Android app is still not listed in the Nokia Store, you can choose to download the Android app of your choice from other 3rd party App Store like 1Mobile (download from Nokia Store) or sideload (a little technical work of downloading .apk files and using a cable / SD card to copy to your phone).

Nokia X - 1Mobile App Store
1Mobile App Store for Nokia X

I downloaded the 1Mobile App Store and surprising it had a good selection of the top Android apps that I use but isn’t listed on Nokia Store.

Nokia X - Android apps
Android apps from 1Mobile

Thankfully, I found my essential apps like Instagram, Google Chrome browser, WhatsApp and Dropbox from the 1Mobile App Store. Surprisingly, even Flappy Birds was available on 1Mobile  App Store!

Because Nokia X is still built on top of Android OS and software, the apps are supported and works just like the pure Google Android version.

Except Nokia’s blocking of Gmail app. I downloaded the app from 1Mobile App Store but for the life of me, can’t launch the app. It just  crashes every single time. Ok, Nokia, you win. Uninstalled.

 

Camera

The Nokia X only has a weak 3 megapixel fixed focus lens, without any built in flash. This is truly disappointing. However, with Nokia’s reputation of building great camera phones, I kept my hopes up that maybe, Nokia did some magic here with the Nokia X. Maybe the Nokia X can take stunning images, even in low light condition, that wouldn’t require a dedicated flash?

See Also : Nokia Lumia 1020 User Review

Unfortunately, I was a little too optimistic. That wasn’t the case at all. Images in bright lighting condition, outdoor, in broad daylight looks… acceptable. Not great, as I expected. But those are perfect lighting conditions? In low light? Well, sad to say, the Nokia X camera performed worst.

Fixed focus, no Carl Zeiss lens and Nokia superb technology, no flash. All adds up to a disaster of a picture in somewhat dim, indoor photography.

See the sample pictures below to see what I mean, with low light pictures, macro pictures. All rather poor, in my opinion. Images are not resized, or edited in any way, so click to view enlarged copy:-

Surprisingly as well, I wasn’t able to take any screenshots while in the “Camera” mode. I couldn’t show you the screenshots of the Camera settings.  But I can report that there are toggles available for ISO, White Balance, Exposure, Effects, Face Detection as well as toggle between Camera, Video and Panorama mode.

Another disappointing note, there is no front facing camera for your selfies or video calling. 🙁

 

Battery Life

Nokia X Battery Life

In my test (apologies for the lack of screenshots), using this supposed low-end starter smartphone as my primary phone for the day, it performed surprisingly well.  There were several phone calls, occasional emails, social media postings and checks, light browsing.

The 1,500 mAh battery lasted me a good 14 – 15 hours daily, at light to moderate usage, before it dropped to <10% and I had to plug it in for a charge.

Not bad and rather decent, to be honest.

 

Pricing and Availability

Nokia X Review

Nokia X will be available on sale in Malaysia since mid March 2014, at a Recommended Retail Price (RRP) of RM 399.

At this affordable price point, it’s no surprise that there are no telco plans for a discounted purchase of the Nokia X.

 

Conclusion

At the global launch of Nokia X, I was really excited to get my hands on the phone, and test the forked UI personally. At the Malaysian launch, I was happy to finally get my hands on the much hyped Nokia Android phone. I was truly impressed with Nokia’s effort on this starter smartphone.

Now that I have spent time reviewing the Nokia X, as my primary phone, going through the paces of using it as my primary phone, I came out somewhat unimpressed.

Perhaps, I’m not the best judge of the phone. I am, after all, what you call a “Power User” and “Android fangirl”. This forked Android phone felt a little uneasy for me to navigate. The fact that Nokia blocked Google’s services out was a little baffling for me. If their Windows Phone allows that sync to happen (contacts and calendar), why can’t they do the same for Nokia X?

I don’t hate the Nokia X, don’t get me wrong. I just acknowledge that I am definitely not the target audience for this phone. Nokia is spending their Marketing dollar promoting this at college campuses nationwide, alongside Line as the messaging app partner.

OK – urban college students today are rich and savvy with their iPhones and Samsungs. But there’s another large population of college students in other towns in the country that might only now be looking at getting their first, starter smartphones. Just starting to use messenger apps like WhatsApp or Line or WeChat. And save money with VOIP calls via Viber. Starting to be active on social media, but uses mostly Facebook, Twitter and Instagram only.

Because you’re essentially still a student, with limited funds, yet still want a decent smartphone without breaking the bank… at RM 399 for this Android based Nokia X, it’s almost too easy to make a decision.

I enjoyed the time reviewing the Nokia X for sure. If I had a younger sibling or (ahem) college aged children, I would likely get this Nokia X for them. Perfect, no?

As usual, I conclude my review with my Top 3 likes and dislikes of the Nokia X:-

Things I Like

  •  Dual  SIM – handy for traveling or as a spare phone
  • Decent battery life – as a spare phone or just one for business calls and minor app usage
  • Inexpensive at RM 399 – it’s a steal

Things I Dislike

  • Google lockout – Can’t copy / sync Contacts and Calendar from Google accounts
  • Poor camera – rear camera without flash and no front facing camera
  • Low resolution screen – images look noisy and graphics looks pixelated

 

Although I did receive some messages, comments and notes from some readers waiting for this review. I really want to know why you’re looking at getting this phone, and if my review helped?

 

 

For more information, check out the Nokia X Malaysian product page at http://www.nokia.com/my-en/phones/phone/nokia-x/

 

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