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Nokia X review: This isn't the Nokia Android phone you were looking for

Nokia's first Android-powered smartphone is solidly built but let down by its sluggish performance.

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Aloysius Low
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Aloysius Low

Senior Editor

Aloysius Low is a Senior Editor at CNET covering mobile and Asia. Based in Singapore, he loves playing Dota 2 when he can spare the time and is also the owner-minion of two adorable cats.

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5 min read

Rumors of Nokia making an Android smartphone had been churning for a long time. Finally, at Mobile World Congress in March, the Finnish company unveiled a new range of phones, the X, X+ and XL , aimed at those who can't afford hundreds of dollars or pounds on a new mobile.

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6.3

Nokia X

The Good

The Nokia X is as well built as you'd expect from this company, and its battery easily lasts for a day and a half. The dual-SIM feature can be useful.

The Bad

This low-end phone is sluggish and at times, responds very slowly to your touch. The ugly UI doesn't help much with the user experience either. You'll need to do some work importing your contacts if they're stored in the cloud, and the Nokia Store lacks some apps (you'll have to install a third-party store).

The Bottom Line

Bogged down by sluggish performance and a lacklustre UI, the Nokia X only disappoints.

Running on a forked version of Android , the X range of devices lack Google Play services, which Nokia has ignored, choosing to feature Microsoft's products instead. While this seems like a good idea on paper, Android doesn't really stand up too well without the Google foundations -- but more on that later.

Furthermore, as these are cheap smartphones meant for emerging markets (taking over from the previous Asha range of phones), Nokia has chosen to go with low-end specs, which impacts the performance and user experience.

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The Nokia X is cheap but colorful. Aloysius Low/CNET

Design

Nokia is best known for the build quality of its smartphones, and the Nokia X isn't any different. Despite a low retail price of around $140 (€89 in Europe and around £100 in the UK), the phone feels solid and well-made. The 128g device sits quite comfortably in one's palm.

The phone sports a 4-inch display with a resolution of 800x480 pixels, and instead of the three menu buttons found on most Android devices, the Nokia X only has one, which lets you go back. To get back to the home screen, you press and hold it.

The rear cover is removable, swappable for different colors, and sports a matte finish. You'll need to open up the back to access the dual-SIM card slots which is located next to the 1,500mAh battery.

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The rear cover is removable. Aloysius Low/CNET

Features

As a low-cost smartphone, the Nokia X doesn't come with the bells and whistles you'll find on more expensive phones. What you get are the basics: Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity.

The X comes with just 4GB of onboard storage, but don't let that stop you -- Nokia has chosen to include a microSD card slot. This gives you an additional 32GB of storage, should you need it.

Software

Powered by the Nokia X platform, the operating system is what's known as a "forked" version of Android. It's based on Google's code, but the interface is all Nokia -- and it doesn't come with any Google apps. (You can install them if you "root" the device, but that will void the warranty.) Instead, what you get is a mix and match of Nokia apps as well as some tweaks to allow Microsoft's Bing search engine into the picture.

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It looks similar to Windows Phone, but it isn't nearly as slick. Screenshot by Aloysius Low/CNET

While this may sound like a fine idea in theory, Google has made its services a very large part of the Android ecosystem, and because of that, the Nokia X feels lacking. For a start, if you've already made purchases on the Google Play store on your old phone, these aren't transferrable.

This is point is moot if you're a new smartphone user, but you're still missing out on the sheer number of available apps in the Google Play store. Popular messaging app WhatsApp wasn't available on the Nokia Store, for example, so I had to download a third-party app store called 1MobileMarket and install it from there instead.

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You'll need to venture outside of the Nokia Store if you want apps such as WhatsApp. Screenshot by Aloysius Low/CNET

The lack of Google support also means you won't readily be importing your contacts from your Gmail account. In my case I manually downloaded my address book as a vCard. The Nokia X didn't recognise the country codes in front of the phone numbers, however, so incoming calls and messages won't show contact details.

As for the UI, it's still the same Windows Phone lookalike from when it was announced at Mobile World Congress, and unlike the more usable Microsoft mobile operating system, the Nokia X is confusing.

You can make tiles bigger or smaller, but that doesn't change the information being displayed, unlike the Live Tiles of Windows Phone. Furthermore, there doesn't seem to be an easily understandable rule on how the tiles get grouped or when they're separated by a thin space. After trying to figure it out I gave up because it just didn't make any sense.

Swiping to the left or right will bring up a notification page, which shows you a list of what's been going on with your phone. Swiping from the top of the phone will bring a drop-down menu with toggles to turn features such as Wi-Fi on and off.

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The notification page and the pull-down quick settings feature. Screenshot by Aloysius Low/CNET

Camera

The X has a barebones 3-megapixel camera, and I found the shutter to be really slow. Even in the bright outdoors, the camera struggles, and noise is readily apparent in those shots. You might expect a high-quality camera based on Nokia's pedigree with its PureView smartphones, but there's only so much the company's engineers can do, given the low-cost components used in the X.

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Indoor test shot (click to enlarge) Aloysius Low/CNET

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Note the lack of detail on the fur in this outdoor test shot (click to enlarge). Aloysius Low/CNET

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Outdoor test shot (click to enlarge). Aloysius Low/CNET

Performance

Powered by a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 1GHz processor, the X runs on last-generation chips. They weren't that impressive back then, and that hasn't changed at all for the Nokia X.

The phone's responsiveness leaves much to be desired, and it is that little moment of waiting for apps to run that ruins the experience. This is even more apparent when you're typing a message, there's a noticeable pause before words start showing up on screen. Most of this could be due to the fact that the phone only has 512MB of RAM, which is really on the low side in 2014.

Call quality

If there's just one thing you can trust Nokia to get right, it's the call quality of the phone. The X doesn't let you down here. Calls were crisp and clear and, as sad as this sounds, it was really the highlight of using this phone.

Battery life

Equipped with a 1,500mAh battery, the Nokia X easily lasted a day and a half of moderate use. This is mostly due to the smaller screen and slow processor sipping less power compared to one that has a faster clock.

Conclusion

As exciting as the idea of having Nokia make an Android phone sounds, the poor operating system pales in comparison to the Windows Phone software you see in its high-end devices.

Sure, the Nokia X line of phones may be for emerging markets, but there are plenty of low-cost Android phones that can potentially offer a better experience with Google Play services installed.

Nokia's reputation as a phone maker known for making solid and reliable phones will help it out somewhat, but then there's the challenge from Chinese manufacturers such as Xiaomi. The Redmi , which retails at around $130 (it's around £130 in the UK), is about the same price as the Nokia phone, and performs much better.

The first generation of Nokia X smartphones are, to put it simply, unconvincing. Nokia has its work cut out to convince the world its Android lineup offers a viable alternative to what's already available in an unforgiving market.

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The Nokia X is an unconvincing Android smartphone from Nokia. Hopefully, upcoming mobile phones may fare better. Aloysius Low/CNET

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6.3

Nokia X

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 6Performance 5
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