Nokia has been flirting with the idea of releasing an Android smartphone for quite some time, and now at MWC 2014 it has finally taken the plunge with the Nokia X and Nokia XL. The results are interesting to say the lease - we spent some time at the Nokia stand at the Barcelona trade show, here’s our Nokia XL hands-on review. See all budget smartphones.
The first thing that we are duty bound to tell you about the Nokia XL - available in March - is that it’s an Android smartphone, but not as you know it. Nokia has actually butchered the open sourced platform to serve its own purposes. The result is an initially terrifying home screen that looks like a cheap rip off of the Windows Phone 8 OS. That said, finding the app/feature you want on the smartphone isn't too tricky, it just not the best presentation.
Nokia do not finish tinkering with the open source Android platform with merely the aesthetical elements of the OS, it has also done away with the Google Play store. This is something that should irk its customers as it’s made the incredibly straightforward task of downloading Android apps from the native Google (Android) Play store a lot more confusing and long winded. You can still download all the standard Android .APK apps on the Nokia XL - which is great news - but you have to go through one of the several app stores provided on the smartphone.
At the MWC trade show we were given a brief explanation of how to do this, but when we tried to do this on our own later on, we failed miserably. In the end we found that the best way to download normal Android .APK apps on the XL, was to do a Google search for them and then when you try to click on the Google Play Store link, you will be redirected to a choice of one of the several app stores that the Nokia XL has onboard. It's all very confusing.
Once you get past the weird home screen and annoying way to download Android apps, you will notice that the hardware you’re getting for the €109 price tag is actually a pretty good deal. The 5-inch 480 x 800 (197ppi) screen is bright and nicely sized; the 4GB storage and expandable microSD storage is not bad; 5MP rear-facing camera complete with flash & 2MP front-facing camera is acceptable; and the Qualcomm Snapdragon™ S4 processor combined with the 768MB of RAM are all above average for a budget smartphone.
The dimensions and physical aspects of the Nokia XL aren’t too shabby either. Measuring in at 141.4 x 77.7 x 10.9 mm the device is not the skinniest device on the market, but it’s certainly comfortable in your hand – at 190g it’s no fatty either.
Performance-wise the Nokia XL is certainly not going to worry any of the big dogs. Swiping around the home screen was an unremarkable experience with the occasional moment of lag noticeable here and there. Apps took several seconds to fully open and display content too, but this is all to be expected in a budget smartphone.
Nokia has equipped the XL with a couple of its own apps and features too, preinstalled on the device are the HERE Maps and HERE Drive apps, as well as the Nokia MixRadio app which Nokia says will bring new music to your smartphones that is tailored to your tastes with no advertising, no subscription and no signup required. The Here Maps/Drive feature looks like a good deal too, allowing you store maps offline for free and also provide turn-by-turn directions for when you’re driving – providing you have a data connection. Nokia has also brought its Fastlane feature to the Android line-up too, which lets your swipe left from the home screen and access all of your recently used apps.
Nokia's first attempt at an Android smartphone is a confusing one thanks to the heavy customisation that has been forced onto the open source OS. In terms of the hardware you get for the price, the Nokia XL is a good deal, but the weird nature of the OS and software should make you think twice about this smartphone.