Here at Mobile World Congress 2014 in Barcelona, Nokia has surprised everyone by actually releasing the Android-powered Nokia X smartphone. It is available today, in Europe, for €90 (£75) off-contract. The Nokia X (codenamed Normandy) is a mid-range phone that runs the Finnish phone maker’s own flavour of Android – but, don’t worry, it runs all existing Android apps. It appears Nokia is handling it in almost exactly the same way as Amazon’s Kindle Fire (which also runs Android): Developers will be able to add their Android apps to the Nokia Store – or users can use third-party app stores or sideload apps directly.
The Nokia X is a mid-range smartphone that’s oriented towards emerging markets in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s never seen in the UK or US – nothing has been announced about UK availability yet. It is a dual-sim phone with a mediocre 4in 800 x 480 screen. There’s a 3-megapixel shooter on the back, an unspecified 1GHz Qualcomm SoC, 512MB of RAM, and 4GB of internal storage (upgradable via microSD). The phone looks a bit like a Nokia Lumia, and has roughly the same dimensions (10.4mm thick, 115mm long, 129 grams). As you can see in the images above and below, the Nokia X comes in a range of lurid colours (via removable backplates).
Most important, though, is the software. Nokia really did fork the Android Open Source Project (AOSP). The UI, which is full of tiles, definitely resembles Windows Phone – but other parts of the system feel distinctly Android or even Asha-ish (Nokia’s line of feature phones). The Nokia X comes preloaded with a ton of apps (Skype, Facebook, Here maps, Outlook, Bing, OneDrive), and apparently it is compatible with all existing Android apps – they don’t have to be modified to work with the X, says Nokia. There is a Nokia Store to download apps (and Nokia is surely working with developers to get them to add their apps), but you also have the option of sideloading the APKs.
Priced at €90 (£75) off-contract, this phone is a fairly interesting proposition, and occupies a slightly odd place in the market. It’s clear that Nokia (and perhaps Microsoft too) sees this as a basic phone for first-time smartphone owners. With the hints of Windows Phone, and strong ties to Skype, Bing, and OneDrive, you might see the Nokia X as a device that reels people into the Windows Phone/Lumia ecosystem. But then again, as was shown at Microsoft’s MWC event yesterday, Windows Phone 8.1 is also being pitched as the ideal OS for cheap, emerging-market devices. If cheap Windows Phones are coming, the Nokia X doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Yesterday, Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore went on the record and implied that Redmond would rather Nokia didn’t release the X – but as the acquisition isn’t yet complete, it really didn’t have much of a say in the matter. Of course, Belfiore might’ve just been kidding around or trying to please the crowd – it’s somewhat hard to believe, even if the acquisition hasn’t closed yet, that Microsoft couldn’t lean on Nokia to kibosh the X.
Nokia surely knew about Microsoft’s plans to pursue emerging markets with Windows Phone 8.1 – and yet it still went ahead with the X. And on that note, I’m going to go and find a Nokia exec and see if they can explain the logic to me. Stay tuned…
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