A closer look at Nokia’s Android smartphone, and its resemblance to Windows Phone

New photos of Nokia’s upcoming Android handset, codenamed Normandy, have leaked – and rather oddly, it appears the standard Android UI has been stripped out and replaced with something that looks a bit like Windows Phone. In a separate leak, it would appear that the Normandy hardware design, which looks almost identical to a Nokia Lumia handset, is near-final. It would seem that, despite the imminent finalisation of Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia, this rather odd device is still on schedule to be released this year.

For the last few years, and despite the Microsoft acquisition, there has been a persistent rumour that Nokia is working on an Android phone. We always assumed that this was an internal test – a prototypical “what if?” and nothing more. It is not unusual for hardware companies to try out different architectures internally – it simply isn’t sensible to have all of your eggs in one (Windows Phone) basket, after all.

In short, we always thought that Normandy was a backup in case Symbian, Asha, or Windows Phone didn’t work out. Now that we have photos of near-final hardware, though, it’s pretty clear that Normandy isn’t just an internal prototype.

We won’t say much about Normandy’s hardware design, because it’s basically the same as Nokia’s Lumia line of phones but with a single Back button at the bottom. Instead, we’re going to talk about the software. As you can see in the image below, Normandy is running a version of Android that has been tailored to look a lot like Windows Phone – or, perhaps, a more colourful and grid-like variant of Symbian. Not only do some of the icons look very similar to their Windows 8/Windows Phone counterparts, but there’s also the interesting inclusion of Skype and Here Maps (which are presumably installed by default). The right side of the image seems to show a notification tray – but it might also be an app launcher, or some mix of the two.

Perhaps the biggest giveaway, though, are the two sim card icons at the top of the image, indicating that Normandy is a dual-sim phone. As you may already know, dual-sim phones are all the rage in Asia and other developing markets – but much less common elsewhere. Odds are, if Normandy is a dual-sim device, it will not be coming to the US or Europe – rather, it will be a low-end or mid-range phone sold in markets that Nokia is currently targeting with its Asha dumbphones. We don’t yet know what hardware’s inside Normandy, but if it’s a cheap phone you can expect it to have a low-end Qualcomm S4 SoC paired with a low-res screen and a pitiful amount of RAM and NAND flash storage.

From this point of view, Normandy starts to make a lot more sense. Rather than cannibalistically competing directly against Windows Phone, Normandy will instead target new markets that are currently flocking towards very cheap Android handsets. Given the similarities to the Windows Phone UI, maybe Nokia already has Microsoft’s blessing? Maybe the companies see this as some kind of “on-ramp” – getting people used to the Metro UI, without having to give away (expensive) Windows Phone licenses for free. It will be very interesting to see if Normandy ships with Google Play, Gmail, and other Google bits that are reserved for officially sanctioned Android devices. Probably not.

It’s still possible that Microsoft will put the kibosh on Normandy before release (it was almost certainly designed months or years before Microsoft took over), but it seems unlikely at this late stage. We’ll probably find out for certain, one way or the other, at MWC 2014 in February.

Image Credits: Evleaks