Nokia XL Review
Interface and Functionality
The Android-based Nokia X platform feels crippled - it lacks the most basic applications and the Windows Phone-inspired looks lack the dynamics and good iconography work.
The Nokia XL comes with Android Nokia X 1.0 UI, a platform we called Frankenstein of a software when we first saw it in the Nokia X, and we can only confirm this observation with the XL. To build its own fork of Android, Nokia went the way of Amazon - it used the open part of Android, the AOSP, and built on top of it, making a Windows Phone-inspired Tile-based interface immersed in the Microsoft ecosystem.
The Nokia Android X platform is in fact built from the ground up to be a window to the world of Microsoft services, and a wall to the world of Google. None of Google’s traditional apps are here: instead of Google Maps, you get Nokia’s map app; rather than having Gmail, you have a different client that feels more limited; then the YouTube stock app is simply missing; and finally, the massive Google Play Store is replaced with the sketchy Nokia solution. While we have our reservations for Nokia’s Android X looks, it is the horrific app situation that truly could be the real deal-breaker here. Yes, you can sideload apps, and yes, you can also sideload the Amazon Appstore and get apps from there, but with no Google Play Store on board, the Nokia XL is crippled. Having to look for a way to sideload the most basic of apps like Spotify and Netflix is not our understanding of a good user experience. Trying to sweeten the sour taste from those missing apps, Nokia offers 1 month of free international Skype calls, and 10 gigs of free OneDrive cloud storage. While we have no particular problem with windows and walls on their own, the big issue with the XL is that its particular window is both limited and not a pretty one.
Unlike the dynamic Live Tiles that give Windows Phone its character, the tiles in the Nokia Android X platform home screen are static, the icons are too simplistic and don’t look good. In the end, it all looks like a mash-up of colors and pixelated icons drawn by a kid in MS Paint. The notification dropdown is also different than on Android, with just four quick toggles, and no options to customize its appearance.
Swipe to the left of the home screen, and you arrive in Nokia’s Fastlane, a view of all your recent apps and actions. Fastlane replaces Android’s multitasking, but it differs in that it registers actions separately, so instead of seeing a list of the most-recent apps, you rather see a list with your most recent activities (this way you can see two images from the gallery in the list, while in Android's standard multitasking, you'd have just one entry from the gallery). You can even manage which apps to appear in your Fastlane and push notifications to it. Overall, while different in functionality than stock Android, Fastlane gets the job done differently and does not look like a huge downgrade.
It’s also worth mentioning Nokia’s in-house features - Glance screen and Double tap to wake up. Double tap is something we've seen on other devices (most notably, from LG), but the other one - Glance Screen – is fairly unique, allowing you to see the time without even unlocking your phone, and it’s neat.
One thing that’s missing on the Nokia X platform is a dedicated home key. Having only the ‘back’ button below the display, it takes a bit to learn that you have to actually hold it to go straight to your home screen (it certainly took us a few tries to figure it out).
We usually don’t pay too much attention to system sounds, but in the case of the Nokia XL we should, just to say that we wish there were none at all. From the annoying click-clack of the screen unlock, to the terror-inducing camera shutter, we were flabbergasted with the poor taste in sound in the XL. Luckily, you can disable most of those sounds in Settings -> Sounds and vibration (and inside the camera app for the shutter sound).
Processor and Memory
Nokia has optimized the interface well, so that even the ancient chip inside the XL can run it fairly smoothly. For more intense apps and games, though, it goes out of breath.
In terms of speed, the Nokia XL rarely lags, and generally feels very zippy nearly all throughout. It’s powered by a fairly quaint chip - the dual-core 1GHz Snapdragon S4 MSM8225 (part of Qualcomm’s S4 entry-level Play series). It’s a piece of silicon based on the Cortex A5 core and manufactured on the 45nm process, definitely out of the league of even most other Android low-end phones. At least the amount of RAM on the XL stands at the fairly decent 768MB, an amount that helps with fairly smooth multitasking. The large screen might lure in some gamers on a budget, but fact is that the quaint processor is just not a good fit for the mobile gamer.
Another downside of the Nokia XL is that it only comes with 4GB of internal storage, of which only around 1.2GB are available to the end user. Luckily, you can expand on that limited allowance via microSD cards of up to 32GB.
Internet and Connectivity
There is only 3G at fairly low speeds, and the stock browser is slow to load and render pages.
Since everything Google-made is missing, you should not be surprised that the Android-based Nokia XL does not have the Chrome browser on board. Instead, it uses a Nokia-built browser that uses Bing as the default option for searches.
The dated processor, however, seems to be a bottleneck when it comes to browsing as pages load slower than we’d like, and rendering different parts of them, as well as just scrolling around is definitely on the slow side.
The Nokia XL lacks 4G LTE connectivity, but that’s expected for such an affordable phone. It has 3G that is not too fast, though, reaching speeds of up to 7.2Mbps on the downlink. Other connectivity options include single-channel Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0, GPS, and there is no NFC on board.