This year's Mobile World Congress (MWC) is a big one for Nokia, with the firm taking the wraps off its debut Android smartphones - the Nokia X, the Nokia X1 and the highest specified of the three, the Nokia XL.
The Nokia XL isn't an average Android smartphone, however. The 5in device runs a forked version of Google's mobile operating system, with Nokia heavily customising it to look more like Microsoft's Windows Phone and to promote both its own and Microsoft's apps and services.
It's a risky strategy for Nokia, however, so we took a hands-on look at the Nokia XL to see if the gamble is likely to pay off.
The Nokia XL is the biggest of Nokia's three X branded Android devices, featuring a large 5in display and measuring 141x78x10.9mm. That said, it doesn't feel overly big in the hand, with Nokia designing the phone with a thin bezel to avoid unnecessary bulk.
The build quality of the Nokia XL is one of the handset's most impressive aspects. The handset features a unibody polycarbonate plastic design, which feels both sturdy and comfortable to hold, although its angular casing can make the device tricky to operate with one hand.
Much like Nokia's Lumia device line, which Stephen Elop said remains the firm's "primary smartphone strategy" earlier at MWC, the Nokia XL will be available in a range of different colours - green, yellow, orange, black and white. We got our hands on the bright orange model, which could attract punters looking for an Android smartphone that's going to turn heads.
With the Nokia XL set to retail for just €109, Nokia has had to cut corners. Unfortunately, one of those cutbacks is in the display, with the 5in screen featuring lowly 480x800 resolution.
From the outset it's obvious that the Nokia XL has a low resolution screen, with the edges of Nokia's custom Tiled user interface appearing fuzzy, while text was not as sharp as that on the Nokia Lumia 1320, for example.
However, brightness levels and viewing angles almost match those of Nokia's higher-end Lumia devices, so if you can look past the slightly lower quality of the display, it's unlikely to prove much of a problem.
Software and performance
Of course, the Nokia XL's real talking point is the fact that it runs Google's Android mobile operating system. However, it's not your normal Android phone, with Nokia having heavily customised Android to look like Micrsoft's Windows Phone and loading the smartphone full of its own and Microsoft's apps and services.
This also means that the Nokia XL, much like Amazon's Kindle line, doesn't have access to the Google Play store, with Nokia instead offering its own Nokia Store and a number of pre-loaded apps. It's likely that this apps selection will grow, too, with Nokia claiming that Android developers can port their apps to the phone in "less than three hours".
Upon firing up the device, we were impressed by how many apps already filled the handset's Windows Phone-esque homescreen, with the selection including Skype, BBM, Vine and Facebook, along with a dozen preloaded games such as Fruit Ninja and Bejeweled.
In terms of usability, we found ourselves quickly warming to Nokia's forked version of Android. It's very easy to get the hang of it, and navigation felt slick and smooth, with apps opening quickly and scrolling without lag. This is likely thanks to the dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor that's under the bonnet, as we noticed no performance lag during our time with the Nokia XL. Nokia claims this processor should make for decent battery life, too, quoting 13 hours of talk time and 37 hours on standby.
Unlike Windows Phone, a swipe on the homescreen brought up a Recent screen displaying notifications, something that's sorely missing from Microsoft's mobile operating system.
As the highest specified of Nokia's trio of X Android devices, the Nokia XL is the most impressive in the camera department, featuring a 5MP rear-facing sensor and a 2MP camera on the front.
The rear-facing camera seemed to handle the show floor lights well, and snapped images of reasonable quality, although by no means on a par with Nokia's Pureview camera equipped Lumia devices. However, despite the Nokia XL being a budget device, Nokia has configured it with some built-in camera settings, which though not advanced are nice additions to a €109 handset.
Nokia's Android stategy is a gamble, but if our first impressions are anything to go by, we think it's one that is likely to pay off. The user interface is intuitive and looks great, while Nokia has ensured that despite lacking Google Play store access, the device has a decent selection of apps.
10 Mar 2014