Flashback: the Nokia X series or how the Android dream turned into a short snooze

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You may have heard the tragic story of the Microsoft Kin devices – a whole new mobile platform was launched and discontinued in just 48 days. Today we want to revisit one of Microsoft’s slightly more successful mobile projects. Granted, that’s one of the lowest bars for success to be cleared.

Do you remember the Nokia X line? No, not the current X-phones that are made by HMD Global. The original X-series started under Nokia and was announced by Stephen Elop at MWC 2014 in February. If that name set off alarm bells in your head, yep, this was during the transition of Nokia Devices & Services division to Microsoft.

The deal was signed in late 2013 but wouldn’t close until April 2014, after the Nokia X phones launch. The phones were a mishmash of several things, but they were the first Android-powered devices by the Finnish company, which spent years and billions of euros trying to use alternative platforms.

It started with the Nokia X and Nokia X+. They were basically the same device, but the X+ had more RAM – 768MB instead of 512MB – and came with a 4GB microSD card pre-installed. As you can already tell, these were not high-end devices.

They were interesting, though. They ran Android (4.1 Jellybean initially) but did not have access to the Google Play Store. Microsoft and Nokia wanted to build an alternative software ecosystem similar to what Amazon was doing with Fire OS.

Early in its life the Nokia X platform was known as the “Asha on Linux” project, which should tell you the target market for these devices. The Asha phones straddled the line between featurephones and smartphones – they were cheap, accessible, decently capable and were part of Nokia’s “next billion” strategy (the goal was to connect 1 billion people to the Internet for the first time).

The original Asha platform wasn’t much more powerful than Series 40 even if it ran WhatsApp, Facebook, Angry Birds and had a basic map app. The X-series was theoretically as powerful as any Android, as long as the software fit inside the limited RAM.

To be fair to Nokia and Microsoft, this wasn’t a low-effort project. They brought some of their best-known apps – HERE Maps for navigation, the Xpress browser, the MixRadio music player, also Skype and Outlook for communication.

Besides the Nokia Store, X phones could also download apps from the Yandex Store. If you didn’t know that was a thing, don’t worry – most people didn’t either. Eventually (with version 2.1 of the platform) users were allowed to install the Google Play Store and Google Play Services.

Let’s have a closer look at the specs…

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