If you happen to be a regular reader of my not so regular articles here then you know for a fact how I have always been yearning for an Android device made by Nokia. It finally came dressed in tiles and some other funny things. Did I like it? First impressions: no. Overall verdict: after I get to use it. Does it make sense? Yes and no. Read on as I try to convince myself and you that the Nokia X family of Android devices with a Microsoft Windows Phone touch is something you may be interested in or not.
Let us face it: the Nokia X runs Android. Period. It may not be the latest version of Android but that does not make it a lesser version of Android. For starters, how many Android devices currently run on just Android 4 alone without going into specifics? There, you have my point. It is Android like the tens of millions of Android devices in China that have never ever been logged by Google Play Store servers nor known a touch of Google apps and services of any sort. Or the very lovely Kindles that we seem not to have issues with their forked version of Android. The only reason we’re all talking about this and I understand is because you have a device fronted by the main manufacturer of a competing platform on another platform pushing that other platform’s core services and even attempts to keep the other guy’s looks. I won’t use an analogy like I’ve seen others do but I hope you get my point.
Who expected Nokia to go all out with Google’s Android when they were under new masters from Redmond? No one. In fact, to many of us, the Nokia X despite all rumours flying around in the last couple of months, was something we did not imagine would come out. Why would Microsoft allow such a thing? Won’t it dilute and eat into sales of entry level Windows Phone devices like the Lumia 520 which is currently the bestselling Windows Phone device?
Since Nokia is still Nokia until the takeover deal by Microsoft is finalized, the folks pushing Windows Phone kept an open mind as far as Nokia X is concerned. Just like the Lumia 2520 was given the greenlight to come to a market where Microsoft was already pushing its Surface tablets, the Nokia X got the go-ahead to launch targeting a segment of the market that Microsoft had already partnered with others like Nokia and Huawei to go after with budget smartphones (the 520, the W1…).
Was that a good thing? Probably. Microsoft has a single chance of pushing its apps and services to a largely untapped segment of the market. Yes Microsoft has like all its main apps including Office available to Android users but its not been rosy over there and users of those apps and services on Android or even iOS are not the sort you can convince easily to leave their Galaxy whatevers for a Lumia. Note that the Nokia X won’t make it to mature markets like the Western world. It is not targeted at those folks. Instead, the device will make its way to emerging markets. Countries in Asia-Pacific, South America and Africa are on course to getting the device. In these countries, Nokia is a strong and trusted brand and everyone can identify with a Nokia.
In India and Kenya for instance, Nokia’s brand presence is huge. While most smartphone owners in these countries may not be tooting Nokia smartphones, they know what Nokia stands for and would easily give the Nokia X a look. In Kenya and Nigeria for instance, despite the burgeoning middle class being all fruity with their iPhones or flashy with their Galaxy whatevers, budget-minded brands like Tecno have slowly found their way to the hearts of budget-conscious buyers. This, in my opinion, is the route Nokia is taking with the Nokia X. That market is hard to please and surely the likes of the Lumia 520 or any other Windows Phone device at that price point for that matter would still be a hard sell.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not about the operating system. Those buying these devices have no idea if you have a Linux kernel down there, an Apache and GNU licence or whatever it is that is associated with open source stuff. All they want is a functional and affordable phone. The sort that can take photos enough to look glamourous on Facebook, can do basic browsing, has Whatsapp and can Bluetooth. Correct me if I’m wrong but that is it. Those with more needs than those are likely to bypass this device and others in its price range and go for a mid-range device. Those who will go for the Nokia X will go for it mainly because of the brand and the pricing. Such won’t be fully catered for by the underwhelming Ashas but since they don’t have some $180 to readily spend on a new smartphone purchase; they’ve fallen prey to some no-name unbranded Chinese devices that have flooded the market in the last one year. These are the people I assume Nokia is going after with the X and with its image as a trusted brand, they have a good chance of taking the market by storm.
The competition is all Android-based. This could explain why Nokia was readying an Android device in its research labs long before that Microsoft acquisition became apparent. After all, Android devices make up over 70% of the smartphone market so this is to be expected. Android devices have in recent times dictated exclusively the direction the market is taking from wearables to the phablet craze to mini-sized tablets being the thing. This even got the likes of Apple to change its mind on a few things that were previously a no-go zone like a mini-tablet.
The Nokia X will be competing for the buyers’ hand with a slew of budget Android devices from the likes of Samsung, LG (that LG LII lineup is enticing), Alcatel, Huawei and in some markets some other OEMs like Tecno in Africa and Karbonn in India. How it fairs is something we’ll have to wait and see.
The key factor here is the pricing. All points to the device going for around Ksh 12,000 in Kenya. The competition will surely respond if they feel there’s a threat and that is when we will be able to see the Nokia X’s holding power. This is likely one of the last high profile devices that Nokia is launching before it is fully under Microsoft’s arms so it may be a key indicator of what to expect going forward or what to miss and count as the end of an era.
Will the Nokia X ever get updates? It runs a highly customized version of Android (4.1.2) and as we know, that’s not really the latest but does it matter? Nokia is using Android on the Nokia X as an engine to drive its own apps and services and those of its new master. There’s a Nokia Store for all your app needs. You can get the Play Store if you’re into rooting and stuff but I am sure most buyers of the device have no idea what rooting is and won’t even bother so save for the geeky and nosy users who are not likely to pick up this device anyway, this is out of the way. Still, it is a valid question to ask about the future of this device. The updates. Will they be there? With Nokia going to be a full Microsoft entity, who’ll maintain the Nokia X, the queer love child? It is likely that somebody will develop cold feet and ignore the device after the acquisition is finalized but hey, those are my premature thoughts. Somebody must’ve thought about it beforehand and there’s a plan to keep things going, hopefully.
One more question, will the Nokia X lineup have successors or is it just a one-off?
I’ll have more thoughts to share on this device in coming days including what many would have expected me to write about given my unashamed preference of Android in its Googley nature over anything else.