Nokia X Preview

Nokia X Preview

This could be the shortest-lived phone lineup since Kin

As expected, Nokia this weekend announced a new, entry-level smart phone lineup called the Nokia X, which will sit logically somewhere between the firm's Windows Phone-powered Lumia phones and its Asha Series-40 devices. But it's not hard to wonder whether these phones are already doomed: Microsoft is buying Nokia's handset business, after all, and Microsoft already has a full-featured smart phone OS that runs well on low-end devices.

For a number of reasons that should be fairly obvious, I probably won't be spending too much time on this topic. Android-powered smart phones that can't run Google Play apps or services are not hugely interesting. These devices will not be sold in the US or other established markets. And why the heck wouldn't these phones replace Asha? They're ... another smart phone lineup and platform? Microsoft needs another smart phone platform like its needs another decade lost to overblown antitrust silliness.

But, as the companies took pains to point out, for now at least Microsoft and Nokia are completely separate companies that can make their own decisions. Nokia is free to do what it will.

But for a company whose products I genuinely admire so much, this was a curious decision.

From Microsoft's perspective, the Nokia X lineup "will compete with Android devices in the affordable smartphone category and introduce the Microsoft cloud to a new set of customers in growth markets," a Microsoft "making lemonade" statement notes. They will introduce Microsoft services like Skype, OneDrive and to millions of people—new customers—in "growth markets" (read: emerging markets).

The way Nokia describes it, Nokia X opens up the "fastest-growing segment of the smart phone market"—i.e. those emerging markets—to Android developers, letting them monetize and expand the reach of their apps. Since Android is the most popular smart phone platform by far—80 percent of smart phones sold in 2013 ran Android—there are likewise a lot of developers familiar with the platform. So getting them on Nokia X makes sense until you realize that getting their apps on Windows Phone would make even more sense.

Sorry, sorry. This is about what's happening, not about what should happen.

The underlying message here seems to be that this Google/Play-less Android platform, which is called the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), is both cheaper and can run on lower-end hardware than Windows Phone OS. Many, myself included, will point to the low-cost Lumia 520 (and derivatives) and wonder aloud why Microsoft's platform wouldn't work just fine. But even under recently updated requirements, Windows Phone OS apparently requires higher-end features like certain sensors than does AOSP.

For users, Nokia X devices are cute and feature familiar Lumia-like plastic enclosures in a variety of colors.

And they utilize a tile-based, Windows Phone-like user experience, which is a bit alarming.

There's a new app switching feature called Fast Lane that's reached by swiping to the right from the home screen. This screen provides a list of running apps, recent apps, and frequently-used apps.

There are three models. The entry-level Nokia X ($122) is available immediately and provides a 4-inch capacitive touch screen.

The Nokia X+ ($136) provides more memory and storage than the base model and will ship in early Q2 2014.

And the "high-end" Nokia XL provides a 5-inch screen, plus 5MP rear-facing and 2MP front-facing camera. It will cost $150 and ship in early Q2 2014, and can be had in a unique bright orange color.

For developers, Nokia claims that most Android apps can be published in its Nokia Store as-is, with no changes required. For those that do need to modify their apps, Nokia has a well-established developer infrastructure and porting tools. A number of third party apps will ship on the Nokia X lineup, including familiar names like Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Plants vs. Zombies 2, Skype, Spotify, Twitter, and even Blackberry BBM. Sounds like we're in for another understocked app store.

And ... eh. I don't know. These phones leave me cold. As a replacement for Asha, I sort of understood the point. But with this new lineup of devices sitting kind of next to Asha, or between Asha and Lumia, I just don't it. It's too much.

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