It’s not an exaggeration to say that the Nokia XL truly belongs in a class by itself, but I don’t mean that in a good way.
Part Windows Phone, part Android handset, but really neither, the Nokia XL uses the same that we saw on the Nokia X . So, if you can imagine it, that means it runs on Google’s code, but with a Windows Phone-like interface. What’s more, Nokia has removed access to the Google Play features — a vital part of the Android experience — and replaced them with Microsoft and Nokia services.
The result is a confusing mess that doesn’t really know what it is. Though you get Nokia’s superior build quality, its features, performance, and disjointed interface make it not worth the trouble of figuring it out. Yes, it comes at a low price, but the real cost is a very different user experience.
5-inch Nokia XL blends Android, Asha, Windows Phone (pictures)
Availability and the Nokia X family
The XL is available unlocked in select countries around the world, though primarily in emerging markets in Asia. In the US, it sells for as low as $149, a price that fits its middling features and performance. In the UK, the average price is around £150. Availability and pricing for Australia are yet to be announced, but it directly converts to AU$160.
Compared with Nokia’s other X series that the company announced at this year’s Mobile World Congress, the Nokia XL is the flagship model with the biggest screen and the best specs. It has more RAM than the Nokia X, for example, a bigger display than the new X2 , and a better camera than both the X and the Nokia X+.
Design and display
The Nokia XL’s 5-inch screen makes it the biggest phone of the X series. Unfortunately, though, Nokia didn’t give it the resolution to match. The WVGA display supports just 800×480 pixels and 187 pixels-per-inch. That gives it the same resolution as the X’s 4-inch screen but clearly not the same pixel density (233ppi).
That also doesn’t compare to the Moto G ($179/£115/AU$245), which has a pixel density of 329ppi, and the Moto E ($129/£90/AU$179) with its 256ppi resolution. So, what does that all mean? In short, it means that the XL’s resolution and color accuracy are disappointing. What’s more, the viewing angles are poor, and because the screen is not bright enough, it’s difficult to read outdoors.
With such a big display, the XL borders on phablet-like dimensions measuring 141.4mm (5.5 inches) high by 7.77cm (3.06 inches) wide by 10.9mm (0.43-inch) deep. Though I could hold the XL comfortably, at 190g (6.7-oz) it’s definitely one of the heaviest devices of its size. In comparison, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 weighs 168g (5.93-oz) with a bigger screen size of 5.7 inches, and the 5-inch Nokia Lumia 930 weighs 167g (5.89 oz).
Instead of the three menu buttons on most Android devices, the XL has only one, which lets you go back or return to the home screen if you press and hold. One difference between the XL and the X and X+ is that it has a front-facing camera (2 megapixels) just above the display.
I was glad to see that the XL has the build quality that I’ve come to expect from Nokia phones. No, it’s not quite as luxurious as the company’s most high-end Lumia devices, but its construction felt solid in my hand.
Similar to what Nokia offers in some Lumia devices, you can choose between different colorful covers, such as the bright green (almost blinding) version that was my review unit. Under the back cover you’ll find the 2,000mAh battery, as well as the microSD and dual SIM-card slots.
The Nokia XL main camera lens in the back (similar to the camera on the Moto G and Moto E ), a flash LED and a speaker grill. Besides having the highest-resolution shooter of the X family, the XL is the only handset with an LED flash. The right edge of the device sports the power button and the volume bar, while the top edge houses its 3.5mm headphone jack and the bottom edge the micro-USB connector.
Software and apps
The XL runs on Nokia X software, which is an Android-based OS. It tries to simulate the Windows Phone experience, and it lacks Google Play store access as well as the Google services that you find on most Android phones, such as Google Maps and Gmail. Instead, Nokia and Microsoft use their own apps like Bing search and Here Maps. If you’re able to find the APKs for the Google apps, you can install them. However, you’ll need to root the device to do so, and if you do that, remember that you’ll void your warranty.
In the end, this distinct interface drastically impacts the user experience that you’d expect from an Android phone. For instance, your contacts, calendar, or music will not sync automatically, nor will you download the Google Play purchases that you’ve made in the past (music, movies, TV series, apps, books, and so forth). Of course, you can transfer your contacts manually one by one (and watch paint dry while you wait), or use the pre-installed Bluetooth app by pairing your old and new phones. Depending on the number of contacts you have, this could take a while.
Along those lines, don’t get your hopes up about having access to the Google Play store. As mentioned, Nokia replaces it with its own version of an app store that falls short of Google’s array of choices. Fortunately, though, you can download a third-party app store like 1MobileMarket to install some of your favorite apps that are nonexistent in the Nokia Store.
As for the interface, Nokia cleverly tries to pitch an experience similar to that of the Lumia line, but it ultimately stumbles by delivering a confusing mix of Android and Windows Phone characteristics. For instance, similar to Windows Phone, you can make tiles bigger and change the color of each tile (when it is not a standard app from Nokia or Microsoft). And as with Android, you can create folders and add widgets.
Nevertheless, there doesn’t seem to be a rule on how the tiles are grouped or when a black division will appear between them. After trying with different types of apps, I wasn’t able to find a discernible behavior between the apps that get grouped and the ones that don’t.
Swiping to the right or left from the home screen will bring you the notifications and recent activities page, which Nokia calls Fastlane. Swiping from the top of the phone will bring you a menu with toggles to turn Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other settings on and off. Also, this menu allows you to switch between the two SIM cards to make calls.
Last but not least, the lock screen shows you the latest notifications. You can dismiss each notification by swiping it to the left, dismiss all by swiping from the bottom of the phone, or swiping it right to open the app.
The Nokia XL’s 5-megapixel camera is far from impressive, offering very standard modes such as photo, video, and panorama, as well as autofocus, ISO, contrast, and other simple configurations.
During my testing, I was able to take some pretty decent photos, with good color reproduction and detail, especially in the bright outdoors. When those conditions changed, the noise became more visible and the picture quality dramatically decreased. Either way, most of the shots should be fine to share with family and friends through Facebook, Twitter or email.
Unlike the Nokia X and X+, the XL has a 2-megapixel front-facing camera so that you can video-chat or take selfies. In this price range, however, don’t expect too much from the camera as its picture quality is mediocre.
Inside you’ll find a 1GHz dual-core processor, so expect some lag when opening apps or doing other activities on the phone. It wasn’t a surprise at all to find out that the Nokia XL’s Quadrant score was pretty low (2,982), especially when we compared it to the Moto G’s score (8,568).
Sure, not everything can be based on a benchmark score, but you will experience delays swiping through the home screen, Fastlane page, and settings menu. More frequently than not, I needed to wait a few seconds for each app to fully load, and on some occasions I even experienced delays while typing.
Additionally, the Nokia XL has 768MB of RAM (the Nokia X has 512MB while the Moto G has 1GB), an Adreno 203 GPU, 4GB of internal storage with support for up to a 32GB microSD card, and a 2,000mAh battery.
During my testing, the call quality of the Nokia XL was good, but on several occasions I experienced a lack of clarity. My audio-testing partner said that she had the same experience on her end.
The speakerphone performed no differently. Sometimes the volume wasn’t as loud as I’d like, and it was hard to understand the person I was speaking with, even when there was a just a small amount of background noise.
The Nokia XL supports up to two SIM cards. The first one supports 2G and 3G networks, while the second one is compatible only with 2G networks.
Nokia claims that the XL’s 2,000mAh battery lasts for 13 hours of talk time over 3G and 5.5 hours of Web browsing. During my initial testing, the Nokia XL easily lasted a day and a half of moderate use on a single charge. That’s pretty good so far, but I’ll update this review with results from our battery test.
The idea of a Nokia Phone with Android is an intriguing idea, and one that many have dreamed of for a while. Unfortunately, this implementation isn’t what you want. Though it has Nokia’s superior craftsmanship, the XL runs a weird hybrid OS that delivers a poor user experience, which means it falls short of offering either Android’s full potential or a true Windows Phone experience.
Moreover, the Nokia X interface makes the XL look like it’s from another decade. Sure, the Nokia XL’s main focus may be to appeal to emerging markets with a big screen and solid build quality at a low price, but the lack of Google Play services means it lags far behind the competition. So, while it’s the best Nokia phone on the X platform, that’s not good enough.
That’s why if you need an affordable Android phone, you’re better off with rival devices. The Motorola Moto G, for example, costs only slightly more but has better performance, a higher screen resolution, and the full functionality of Android while maintaining good build quality. Alternatively, the Moto E is cheaper while still offering many of the same features as the Moto G, but with a better user experience.