A worthwhile Nokia Android device died with Microsoft

On its face, that shouldn’t be a surprising statement. Of course a Nokia Android phone wouldn’t thrive under Microsoft; Microsoft has its own Android competitor in Windows Phone. But Android isn’t as harmful to Microsoft as you’d expect. In fact, Android is downright helpful to Microsoft as the result of licensing agreements that could see the company take in $8.8 billion through 2017. So why is Nokia’s attempt at Android so underwhelming?

When the Nokia X was revealed earlier this year, it was the culmination of a seemingly endless flirtation with the Android platform. Fans of Nokia’s unique and timeless hardware designs had long desired a device that would leverage that heritage with the power of the Android operating system.

By that point, the hope for a Nokia Android device seemed dim. In September 2013 Microsoft entered an agreement to acquire Nokia’s devices and services business.  Nevertheless, rumors persisted that Nokia had not yet given up work on a possible Android device. Finally, a full line of low-cost Android phones were revealed: the X, X+, and XL.

The three colorful phones combined Lumia-style hardware with a forked version of Android, a Windows Phone-style UI, low-cost internals, and varying screen sizes. For all of the excitement leading up to the official announcement, Nokia didn’t deliver much. Reviews stated the phone’s UI was laggy and the phone didn’t capitalize on the benefits of Android. Although the devices performed well abroad, this wasn’t the Nokia Android phone of lore. The promise of a Nokia Android phone was not met; these were low-end devices and were debuted and marketed as such.

Ultimately, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Much of the Nokia legacy is excellence in the realm of cheaper phones; Android was a means of including a modern OS without requiring top of the line specs, something that Windows Phone could not offer at the time. Still, Nokia had released an Android phone while under the Microsoft umbrella. The light was still alive, even if it was flickering.

The light was still alive, even if it was flickering.

With Google I/O upon us, Microsoft unveiled the Nokia X2 yesterday, the next-in-line of Android devices by Nokia that began with the Nokia X back in February. The phone sports a similar design to the initial iteration of Nokia X phones, with upgraded specs here and there. This should be another disappointment for those hoping for a little more from Nokia’s flirtation with Android. After all, even as a low-cost alternative, the Moto E seems to beat the device out at every facet. What’s going on here?

The Verge report on the announcement frames the Nokia X2 as Microsoft continuing its Android push. But is it an ‘Android push’ and if so what are the ends? Some have surmised that the true intention of these phones is to get users hooked on the Windows Phone style with a low-cost device. This seems likely, and would help explain why they given seemingly little attention by Microsoft. The Nokia X line was debuted not half a year ago, yet those phones will not be receiving the new software platform that ships with the Nokia X2. This is stunning short-sightedness, although not altogether unsurprising given the Windows Phone 7-Windows Phone 8 debacle. Android is not the goal here.

Over at PC Mag, Sascha Segan goes further:

But there was also anger from old-line Nokia employees that Microsoft was taking over the company. Building a set of Android devices was a bit of a statement by Nokia teams that wanted to assert their independence.

But it’s futile, and probably over. The X line’s idea is that it’s a gateway smartphone, bringing Microsoft services to lower price points.

I’m inclined to agree, and that’s highly unfortunate. Nokia makes incredible hardware, combine that with the supreme customization of the Android OS and we could have seen something special. One wonders what would have happened had Nokia chosen Android all those years ago.

Closing out this piece I reflected on the title and thought to myself, “duh.” But there was a part of me hoping that a high-end Nokia Android device was still possible, that Microsoft truly saw the value in investing in these devices, that this announcement was the start of a more concerted effort to reach that goal. Microsoft could surprise us yet, but I’m no longer holding my breath.