There’s been a lot of mixed reviews about Nokia’s announcement of their Nokia X lineup, a series of budget friendly devices all running Android. Like a lot of those writers, I, too, have some mixed feelings about it. Regardless of how I feel about it, I think there is some confusion about it all and feel there’s some explanations in order here. Check out the video and weigh in on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and in the comments below (I’d seriously love to hear what others think of this move; good and bad).
What Nokia’s Android Really Is
First, we need to talk about what Android really means when we say these devices are running Android. Android is an open source operating system, this means that any manufacturer can put it on their devices and they don’t owe anything to do so. That may seem confusing with how well-integrated Google is with Android, but let me explain. Google may have helped to create Android, but their actual apps are not included in the OS itself. Google Maps, Gmail, Hangouts, the Play Store and more are all part of what we collectively refer to as GApps (or Google Apps) and, unlike the Android Operating system itself, these are not free. Google actually charges manufacturers that want to put Android on their devices an undisclosed fee to put their Google apps on that device. They consider themselves an app developer just like anyone else writing code for Android.
So, even though we hear all the time that Android is open source, etc. keep in mind that some integral parts, like the Play Store, are not.
With that being said, Nokia’s version of Android is the open source version (and a few iterations old for whatever reason). No Play Store, no Maps, etc. For Nokia, that’s not a huge problem (and is probably more of a benefit really) because of their affiliation with Microsoft and their own software; Bing, Here Maps, their own app store all fill the gaps left by Google.
On top of that, Nokia, just like most manufacturers, have created their own user interface to go on top of Android that changes the way it looks and operates.
Keep this all in mind when you consider a Nokia X device, it’s not going to be the same experience other Android users are used to.
Adding Apps (Including Google Apps)
Now that you know what Android on Nokia is going to really be, it’s not how it HAS to be. As soon as I saw the Nokia X, the first thing to come to my mind was, “what a perfect phone to root”. Rooting, if you aren’t aware, is the act of gaining administrative rights on a device. After we do that, we can access the entire filesystem and make changes as we see fit (similar to jailbreaking for iPhones). The reason rooting jumped to my mind for the Nokia devices is that it would easily allow you to put Google’s apps on the device (disclaimer: while rooting is completely legal, putting Google’s software on a device is technically stealing their property and they could take legal action). You could flash the Play Store, Gmail, and the entire gambit to the device’s system folder and have them work out like normal. Meaning you could easily avoid Microsoft’s/Nokia’s software experience if you were so inclined.
Besides that, Android allows for sideloading apps in APK format as part of it’s normal function (this doesn’t work for the Google apps, which do have APK files, as they need to be installed to the system folder and be better integrated with the system). So a quick Google search for the name of the app you want and the words “apk download” behind it will give you the apk you can then download, tap, and have it install on your Nokia X device.
Refreshing? Maybe. The issue with all of this though is one of outdated components (software and hardware). Most of the most popular Android apps (and even the Google ones) are meant to be used on the current hardware and Android software versions that we see on newer devices. Nokia chose to go with an older version of Android a full three cycles behind the current version so there’s a lot missing (most importantly in performance improvements) and hardware that is on the lower end. Couple these together and you can pretty much guarantee that even though you have the same apps installed, the experience will be quite different. Jerry Hildenbrand from AndroidCentral even goes so far as to call the Nokia X for Nokia the same as the Pinto was for Ford (in this article he explains everything he thinks is wrong with this concept, and, while I disagree with how bad he thinks it is, he does have some good points worth taking a look at).
Now that we’ve cleared all of that up, the truth is that this could be a smart move for Nokia. It gives them a demographic that they have long since lost (one that they used to be the undisputed kings of); the budget, overseas market. These devices are really cheap. The Nokia X costs just approximately $120 without any contract and the XL, the most expensive of the line, costs just around $150. Also, in addition to this super-low price (and a feature most people seem to forget to mention), they are all dual-SIM. If you aren’t familiar with dual-SIM, I’m not surprised. This concept doesn’t really exist here in the States since we don’t need it, but is pretty popular in other parts of the world. It allows you to use two carriers at once, making it really easy, to say, cross countries borders without having to buy a new phone or swap your SIMs out and be able to receive calls from both phone numbers attached to them (super-handy if, say, you are traveling throughout Europe for business and want to avoid huge roaming costs).
With these two major points coupled with the fact that Nokia hasn’t announced a UK or US release date (I’m wondering if they ever will), it’s pretty safe to say they aren’t thinking of your average US user. A user who has to have the latest and greatest, doesn’t care about phone costs since our carriers subsidize the cost with contracts, and doesn’t leave our own country that often. I don’t think they’re concerned with stepping on their Windows Phone counterparts toes, because frankly even a budget Windows Phone without contract overseas like the Nokia Lumia 510 starts at around $175 (and that’s their cheapest Windows Phone device). Saving $55 (which might not sound like a lot to US ears, is a huge gap in some countries) and gaining dual SIM to an audience who’s other Nokia option is a Lumia 510 (and that device’s less than average performance)? Might not be a bad idea for Nokia.