x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Nokia XL review: Cheap offering marred by sluggish interface

Nokia's new XL handset is available for just Dh589. But while its price is low, it still falls short in the budget smartphone segment.

The Nokia XL smartphone. Simon Dawson / Bloomberg
The Nokia XL smartphone. Simon Dawson / Bloomberg

Despite a decent range of handsets such as the Lumia 1520, Nokia has yet to break the stranglehold of Samsung and Apple in the high end smartphone market.

Now, the manufacturer is doubling down on the fast growing budget smartphone segment, with the launch of its new XL handset, following the launch of the X handset in the UAE in March.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the word that comes to mind when reviewing the XL is “cheap”, for better and for worse.

For just Dh589, you get a dual SIM Android handset with a larger than average screen, a 5MP flash camera that takes very acceptable pictures, and a decent enough battery life. Build quality will never match that of the 1520, but it feels comfortable and solidly crafted in the hand and is available in six colours. Built-in internal memory is only 4GB, but this can be expanded via memory card to up to 36GB.

The X and the XL are the first Nokia handsets to embrace Android, giving users a greater range of apps than Windows Mobile, hitherto the manufacturer’s platform of choice. It’s worth noting however that the Android on offer here is Nokia’s own ‘forked’ version, which doesn’t allow full access to the Google Play store.

Inevitably for a smartphone costing Dh589 there are several trade offs. The XL’s five-inch screen is larger than most handsets in its price bracket, however, its miserly 480 by 800 pixels mean that images and video look flat and muted.

More importantly, the XL’s user interface is deeply underwhelming. The touch-screen experience feels sluggish even in comparison with other budget smartphones, with a small but noticeable lag, especially irritating when taking photos.

The XL sports Nokia’s first stab at an Android interface, and it shows. After spending a while perfecting the tile based layout as seen on its Windows Mobile handsets, the XL’s Android interface feels basic and blocky, more akin to a child’s toy than a smartphone.

These criticisms would be harsh if the XL was blazing a trail for budget smartphones. Instead, it enters a highly competitive field, where small things matter. There’s much to like about the XL, especially its large screen, but if it wants to be a winner it needs to drastically improve its overall user interface.


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