Nokia XL review: Nokia's best Android phone, but not good enough

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CNET Editors' Rating

3 stars Good
  • Overall: 6.3
  • Performance: 5.0
  • Design: 8.0
  • Features: 6.0
Review Date:

The Good The Nokia XL has a solid build quality, a powerful battery that lasts a full day on a single charge, and two SIM cards.

The Bad The XL's processor is slow, and its touchscreen is occasionally unresponsive. The poor screen resolution and unattractive UI severely hinder the user experience. You can't access the Google Play store and Nokia's app selection is very limited.

The Bottom Line Despite having the best specs of Nokia's Android phones, the XL's poor performance and confusing OS denies users Android's full potential and a true Windows Phone experience.

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It's not an exaggeration to say that the Nokia XL truly belongs in a class by itself, but I don't mean that in a good way.

Part Windows Phone, part Android handset, but really neither, the Nokia XL uses the same "forked" version of Android that we saw on the Nokia X. So, if you can imagine it, that means it runs on Google's code, but with a Windows Phone-like interface. What's more, Nokia has removed access to the Google Play features -- a vital part of the Android experience -- and replaced them with Microsoft and Nokia services.

The result is a confusing mess that doesn't really know what it is. Though you get Nokia's superior build quality, its features, performance, and disjointed interface make it not worth the trouble of figuring it out. Yes, it comes at a low price, but the real cost is a very different user experience.

Availability and the Nokia X family

The XL is available unlocked in select countries around the world, though primarily in emerging markets in Asia. In the US, it sells for as low as $149, a price that fits its middling features and performance. In the UK, the average price is around £150. Availability and pricing for Australia are yet to be announced, but it directly converts to AU$160.

Compared with Nokia's other X series that the company announced at this year's Mobile World Congress, the Nokia XL is the flagship model with the biggest screen and the best specs. It has more RAM than the Nokia X, for example, a bigger display than the new X2, and a better camera than both the X and the Nokia X+.

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Man, is that a bright shade of green. Josh Miller/CNET

Design and display

The Nokia XL's 5-inch screen makes it the biggest phone of the X series. Unfortunately, though, Nokia didn't give it the resolution to match. The WVGA display supports just 800x480 pixels and 187 pixels-per-inch. That gives it the same resolution as the X's 4-inch screen but clearly not the same pixel density (233ppi).

That also doesn't compare to the Moto G ($179/£115/AU$245), which has a pixel density of 329ppi, and theMoto E ($129/£90/AU$179) with its 256ppi resolution. So, what does that all mean? In short, it means that the XL's resolution and color accuracy are disappointing. What's more, the viewing angles are poor, and because the screen is not bright enough, it's difficult to read outdoors.

With such a big display, the XL borders on phablet-like dimensions measuring 141.4mm (5.5 inches) high by 7.77cm (3.06 inches) wide by 10.9mm (0.43-inch) deep. Though I could hold the XL comfortably, at 190g (6.7-oz) it's definitely one of the heaviest devices of its size. In comparison, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 weighs 168g (5.93-oz) with a bigger screen size of 5.7 inches, and the 5-inch Nokia Lumia 930 weighs 167g (5.89 oz).

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The XL's volume rocker and power control are on its right spine. Josh Miller/CNET

Instead of the three menu buttons on most Android devices, the XL has only one, which lets you go back or return to the home screen if you press and hold. One difference between the XL and the X and X+ is that it has a front-facing camera (2 megapixels) just above the display.

I was glad to see that the XL has the build quality that I've come to expect from Nokia phones. No, it's not quite as luxurious as the company's most high-end Lumia devices, but its construction felt solid in my hand.

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The XL's unique -- and sometimes frustrating -- user interface. Screenshot by Juan Garzon/CNET

Similar to what Nokia offers in some Lumia devices, you can choose between different colorful covers, such as the bright green (almost blinding) version that was my review unit. Under the back cover you'll find the 2,000mAh battery, as well as the microSD and dual SIM-card slots.

The Nokia XL main camera lens in the back (similar to the camera on the Moto G and Moto E), a flash LED and a speaker grill. Besides having the highest-resolution shooter of the X family, the XL is the only handset with an LED flash. The right edge of the device sports the power button and the volume bar, while the top edge houses its 3.5mm headphone jack and the bottom edge the micro-USB connector.

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The Nokia XL is big, but it doesn't have the display resolution to match. Josh Miller/CNET

Software and apps

The XL runs on Nokia X software, which is an Android-based OS. It tries to simulate the Windows Phone experience, and it lacks Google Play store access as well as the Google services that you find on most Android phones, such as Google Maps and Gmail. Instead, Nokia and Microsoft use their own apps like Bing search and Here Maps. If you're able to find the APKs for the Google apps, you can install them. However, you'll need to root the device to do so, and if you do that, remember that you'll void your warranty.

In the end, this distinct interface drastically impacts the user experience that you'd expect from an Android phone. For instance, your contacts, calendar, or music will not sync automatically, nor will you download the Google Play purchases that you've made in the past (music, movies, TV series, apps, books, and so forth). Of course, you can transfer your contacts manually one by one (and watch paint dry while you wait), or use the pre-installed Bluetooth app by pairing your old and new phones. Depending on the number of contacts you have, this could take a while.

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The Nokia XL has two SIM card slots. Juan Garzon/CNET

Along those lines, don't get your hopes up about having access to the Google Play store. As mentioned, Nokia replaces it with its own version of an app store that falls short of Google's array of choices. Fortunately, though, you can download a third-party app store like 1MobileMarket to install some of your favorite apps that are nonexistent in the Nokia Store.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Technology WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM
  • Service Provider not specified
  • Weight 6.70 oz
  • Diagonal Size 5.0 in
  • Sensor Resolution 5 pixels
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