It is not often in these spec-riddled times that one sees a relatively low end device overshadow its more heftily hardware laden contemporaries. But that is exactly what happened when Nokia announced its X series of Android devices. No, the specs were not exactly path-breaking, but it was the ‘A’ word that mattered most – after years of doggedly steering clear of Google’s mobile OS, Nokia had finally embraced it.
The reactions to this move have ranged from the ‘too little, too late‘ variety to the the ‘now Nokia is back‘ kinds. The truth, I suspect, lies somewhere between those two extremes. Unlike some pundits, I am not too sure that Nokia desperately needed to go the Android way. If anything, indications were that the lower priced Lumias were holding their own against the low-priced Android crowd – Elop himself declared that the Lumia 520 was the highest selling smartphone in its price segment. No, the problems for Nokia actually lay at the price point below that of the Lumia 520, where the magic of the Asha series has been waning, and above it, where a succession of devices from the Lumia 900 to the 1020 to the 1520 have caught the reviewers’ imaginations but not those of users.
Judging from the little I have seen so far, the new range of Android devices are unlikely to resolve either problem. Not only are they likely to go up against some very serious competition from well-entrenched local brands in many territories that have made an art out of cutting costs, there is also a decent chance that the Nokia X series of devices could hit the share of the Lumia 520 and its successor, the Lumia 525. Optimists will say that there is also the chance that they could further chip away at the other Androids, but no matter which way I look at it, the X series will to a certain extent hurt the most successful Windows Phone of them all, the Lumia 520. Of course, that is if the devices perform well – a lot of my friends at MWC have said that the X series delivered a laggy experience (some blamed it on Nokia opting for Android 4.1 rather than 4.4 as the foundation of its flavour of Android), but I am withholding judgement until I use a device myself. Mind you, the 512 MB/ 768 MB RAM figure on the X Series devices could hint at performance issues when it comes to high-definition territory. It also has the potential of busting the “install any Android app on it” bubble that many Android fan boys are blowing at the moment.
That said, what cannot be denied that the X series is a big step forward for Android as it marks its entry into the stables of one of the largest phone manufacturers in the world. And unlike the Android purist crowd, I am actually pleased that Nokia decided to go its own way with Android instead of just parking a skin on regular Android, like others. For one, it gives Nokia the choice to evolve it independently of Google. For another, it gives users a fresh perspective of what is actually one of the most versatile and open operating systems in mobile territory, free of Google trappings. Amazon has done a decent job in this regard with its Kindle Fire range of tablets – a good example for Nokia to follow, especially when it comes to keeping crapware out of its app stores. Finally, Android users will finally have access to some of Nokia’s best software in the music and navigation fields. Incidentally, mark my words, Nokia’s maps, navigation and music apps will make their way to Google Play sooner rather than later – and that can only be very good news indeed.
All of which brings us back to the core question: is Nokia’s venture into Android a good or a bad thing? Speaking from a consumer standpoint, one cannot help but be pleased. New Android devices with fresh interfaces at affordable prices with some great apps and services thrown in? Super! But where will it lead Nokia? Now, THAT’s a question I wish I could answer with certainty. A year and a half ago, when Windows Phone was still considered an OS found on expensive devices, I would have hailed Nokia’s move. Today, I just find it odd that the company has parked its Android offerings in the same lot as that of its most successful smartphone of recent times.
A Lumia 1520 X or a Lumia 1020 X? That would have really put the cat among the pigeons, that would have. For in my very humble opinion, that is where Nokia needs to take the battle.
Right to the top.