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Hands-on with Nokia's Android X and XL devices

At Mobile World Congress, ZDNet got a quick look at Nokia's new Android device range. How does it measure up to the competition?
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By Liam Tung, Contributor on
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If Android is the gateway to a Windows Phone, Nokia has made sure to keep the Android experience on its new X devices one that makes Windows Phone shine.

Announced today, Nokia's new line of Android-based handsets — the Nokia X, X+ and XL — are destined for the sub-$200 smartphone market, and at that price consumers can't be too dissatisfied with the low-end specs they come with: don't expect a top end camera or loads of memory, but there's a Qualcomm's Snapdragon processor under the hood.

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The larger of the three X devices, the single or dual-SIM XL, will be available for €109 and ships with miniscule storage capacity of 4GB in the form of an SD card, which leaves little room for apps, let alone media. However, it can be replaced with cards up to 32GB.

The model above was on display at Nokia's stand at the MWC event, where the X line was launched today, has just 768MB RAM. 

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According to one of the Nokia booth attendants who was promoting the and X+ and XL as part of Nokia's business device range, the version of Android that Nokia's platform was built on is 4.1 — the first version of Jelly Bean Google announced back in June 2012. Nokia's forked version of the OS, however, goes by the name of the "Nokia X software platform" and it's currently at version 1.0.

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While the UI is inspired by Windows Phone, the tiles are more like rows of apps that lack anything to visually separate each one. And, while they're not live like the tiles in Windows Phone, Nokia X gets around the problem using Android's widgets to mimic the live tile concept — as shown above on the X.

These can be initiated by long-pressing an icon, which brings an icon at the bottom of the screen that leads to a list of apps available as widgets — for example, contacts, email, and Facebook. This part feels very Android.

Touching the icons or other actions like using the backwards arrow is a bit of a hit and miss experience.

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Nokia has also added its own gesture modifications for its keyboard and provides a set of instructions explaining how to quick copy, cut and paste, add punctuation, or change the case of letters.

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Common to other Android devices, a downward swipe connectivity icons in the top right hand corner of the screen provides shortcuts to wi-fi, Bluetooth, a SIM card switcher and sound.

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Although users won't be able to download apps from Google's Play store, they can use rival Android app stores such as Yandex's.

And while Nokia and its soon-to-be new owner Microsoft will be hoping developers port their Android apps to the Nokia platform, there are already a few old favourites installed on the device.

One app that was installed on all X devices on display was BBM, which has yet to make it to any of Nokia's Lumia devices. BlackBerry separately announced BBM would be available on Windows Phone devices this summer.

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Users can also encrypt files on the device.

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The settings page bears more than a passing resemblance to Windows Phone's...

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...while the inclusion of Fastlane is reminiscent of Nokia's Asha OS.

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Nokia's first Android phones don't offer a premium experience at all, but at the prices they're being offered at this shouldn't be too disappointing. On the other hand, the Nokia XL's specs seem closer to Samsung's 2012 dual-SIM Galaxy Core, which offers a little more power for pretty much exactly the same price.

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