Sunday, 14 October 2018

Nokia 1

I’ve been threatening to take a look at this for a while now and think it’s probably the longest-lasting phone-in-a-box unpacked since delivery ever for me! Must a be a reflection of my interest in the device, but what I am interested in is AndroidGo. It’s almost not worth listing the specs of this tiny phone, except that we can see it in context - the target market, price, intended functionality and for whom.

Get GO-ing
AndroidGo is another attempt by Google to get everybody on the planet online, using their services and thereby exposed to their partners’ advertising. In order to do so, they need to include people with small amounts of cash available and families who might be sharing a phone, often needing multiple SIM Cards (though actually this unit sourced from Argos in the UK is a single-SIM version) and cellular-only connectivity. AndroidGo is a cut-down version of Android, designed to run on devices with limited capacity and cheaper components, so that companies like Nokia can make inexpensive phones to push out in their millions, like they used to with feature phones.

Slippery Trough
Take a cheap plastic body, put 8GB of storage in it, load AndroidGo (which will only use 3GB of that storage for itself OOTB), 1GB RAM (though AndroidGo will run with less), a small and cheap LCD screen with low resolution, a basic but functional camera from 10 years ago, cheap chipset and push it out for somewhere north of £60. Everyone online, no excuses, world domination and exposure! Physically, as I say, it’s a plastic ‘trough’ which reminds me of the Lumia 620. The Xpress-on compatible back pulls off and underneath is a place for the removable battery, SIM Card and microSD Card. It’s cheap plastic and the back is very slippery. The NOKIA name is emblazoned across the middle of the back and above it is the pill-shaped camera cluster comprising lens and LED flash. Down at the bottom and off to one side is a hole with a loudspeaker behind. There’s a 3.5mm earphone socket up top, the charging port at the bottom and volume rocker/power button on the right side, which are surprisingly firm in use. Noticeably missing is any kind of fingerprint scanner. The front is made of glass with sizeable bezels all round, an earpiece speaker and selfie camera up the top and a 4.5” 16:9 480 x 854 IPS LCD screen. The unit is just over 5” tall, 2 and a half inches wide and a third of an inch fat.

Data Frugal
Google has developed a suite of their usual apps for data-frugal use under this platform, pre-installed many of them and stuck a ‘Go’ after their proper name. Unlike various feature-phones in the same price bracket running some other proprietary OS, this strategy sticks with mainstream apps and services enabling users to access their data as used across other devices and computers - or if not yet done by the user, will future-proof the data for when they do. Just imagine the advertiser negotiations based on now and future exposure of humongous numbers of people.

Full Fat
Other developers are rolling out Go apps too, and looking through the specially allocated section in the Play Store there are plenty of options apart from the already-ported Google apps for those who want to connect to social media, WhatsApp, Facebook, Facebook Messaging, Skype, Telegram, Line, Instagram and so on - and where the Go app is not yet developed, the full-fat version can be installed easily enough (at the expense of storage space and RAM for running etc.) To be honest, it’s hard to find the features sometimes of the apps which are supposed to be Go-ready over their ordinary versions - and don’t forget that many have developed a Lite version of their app already anyway.

Pie Coming
The system is only as good as the UX though and the ongoing commitment Google have to AndroidGo, keeping it up to date and, as I say, evolving the ‘Go’ apps alongside the mainstream ones by Google. It also depends on the uptake by third parties as they consider whether or not it’s worth tweaking and developing their apps for this demographic. The device ships with Android 8.1 and May 2018 Security which updated itself step-by-step to July, so far, reporting mid-September. The Go website speaks very boldly of Android Pie as if it’s here, so maybe this will be as quickly done as the Nokia AndroidOne based phones.

Patience
In the box, you get a charger brick, USB-A to microUSB cable (no USB-C here, which is fair enough for the target market where the former will still be much more prevalent), a basic pair of outer (hurrah!) earphones, 2150mAh battery - and that’s about it! Charging is very slow, even with the supplied kit, compared to better spec’d smartphones these days, so be prepared for a 3 hour wait!

Adopt a Card
The 3GB of storage used by the system leaves 5GB for other stuff. Firstly, against the apparent Google trend, the microSD card slot allows for Adoptable Storage so that 8GB can be virtually extended - or for those for whom 8GB is enough, as portable. I made a 128GB microSD Card Adoptable and all seems well. During setup, some of the core apps are optional and not pre-installed, which is sensible as not everyone will want everything. Google Drive, Keep, Google Play Music, Google Play Books, Google Plus, Hangouts, and Google Play Games are noticeable for this initial exclusion. But head across to the Play Store and anything you fancy is then installable at full size.

Smart Google
Google Go and Assistant Go work incredibly well and quickly compared to other apps here. They are stripped down and rely on core connectivity which, even over cellular is lightning fast. Smart Google making these very visible and up-front apps and services work very well and allow people to talk to their phones and search quickly with blazingly fast results.

Slow and Laggy
The Mediatek MT6737M, also used in the Moto C amongst others, is slow and sluggish. The whole UX is laggy (apart from the above-mentioned) and waits of 3-4 seconds for apps to open is usual as it is for switching between them if more than about 3 are loaded (1GB RAM) and even refreshing the homescreen when returned to takes 2 seconds - which is very odd. I guess that the target market will be tolerant of this, at this price-point, but it would drive all of us here nuts!

Lifeless
You probably know by now that my approach to cameras in phones is pretty dismissive (until they can really challenge a stand-alone camera) for all but social media posting. But it seems that even I have limits! This has a 5MP camera on the back, so still OK for social media posting I guess, when people are only going to look at photos on a tiny screen, but the 2MP selfie really does challenge the limits! This really feels like having gone back (even more than) 10 years in mobile phone progression! The images are lifeless and washed out - fit only for viewing on phones. The Camera interface, however, is the same as the one which was shipped with Nokia AndroidOne devices (not with the recent update) sans Bokeh Mode or anything fancy like that - but it’s surprising how many options there are to try and get the most out of the limited hardware.

HTC Desire
I can remember when I got my HTC Desire in 2010 with a 800 x 480 screen and was wow’d at the sharpness and clarity! How things change. But the point is that even though we have super-high resolution screens routinely now, we often say at PSC Towers that our eyes can’t appreciate the difference, proportionately for size. I was comparing this screen against the 1440p screen of my Razer Phone and yes, the Razer is clearly far more sharp and lines more defined, but actually, shrink that down to a 4.5” screen and I can see how people can quite happily live with the resolution that the Nokia 1 delivers. It’s perfectly usable, though be prepared to use it on manual maximum brightness all the time and really struggle to see anything on it outside in anything but a dull day.

Compact
What we might not be able to cope with here is the physical size of the screen at that 4.5”. It’ll be OK for the ‘compact’ crowd - those happy with the smaller Xperias, iPhone SE, children etc. but for me, I think we’re beyond this - and although this might make a great back-up option for glove-box or pub-phone for most people reading this, it’s just too small.

Slow Power
The battery is one of the benefactors of all the above of course, and with my kind of usual use, it would certainly last 2-3 days. The battery is slow-charged by microUSB which slots in the hole at the bottom relatively easily. I remember that one of the biggest complaints that we used to have about this connectivity solution was that we didn’t know which way round it went and kept getting it wrong. This, however, is very clear and I’ve not got it wrong once. Maybe it’s a redesign of the hole or shaping of plastic around it that has made a difference. Don’t know. But it’s no longer frustrating. On the plus side, the battery is removable - so replaceable for those who want (or need) to be away from power for extended periods.

Wireless
As you might expect, this unit certainly has an FM Radio. I’ve tested this in various locations in North Wales and it returns a good signal, good sound through earphones, can be switched to speaker as long as the earphones remain plugged in acting as an aerial, but it doesn’t record.

Muffled and Tinny
Speaking of sound, the speaker is woeful compared to modern devices all around it. It’s tinny at best and has no depth or body. You can make the best of it by making sure the speaker on the back is not blocked by a hand or table, at the cost of volume. I found the best place to use it was on the edge of a table with the bottom half of the phone (and speaker) pointing at the floor. Move it fully onto the table and it’s immediately muffled and tinny. I guess it’s to be expected at this price-point. The volume is not as bad as the quality, however, so 70% setting returns more favourable results. You can play with the equaliser in Google Play Music and VLC to make things less tinny, so some mileage can be gained. Rest assured that this is no Marshall! But it does have a 3.5mm earphone socket and although I’m far from an audiophile, it sounds terrific through my AKG reference headphones with flat equalisation, for both volume and quality.

Get Connected
We wouldn’t usually cover connectivity options in reviews these days, but with a handset like this, I guess we should! Firstly, it has 4G connectivity and appears to hold a signal well, transferring data and voice remarkably well with no glitches or breakup. It has 802.11 b/g/n Wifi and can be used as a hotspot which, again, it seems to do beautifully. There’s Bluetooth 4.2 with A2DP which presents no problems pairing up and sounding great through headphones and my home hifi. There’s A-GPS and Maps Go works very quickly locking onto position working every bit as well as its big brother on better spec’d devices. What’s not here is a fingerprint scanner or NFC so no way to use Android Pay. A deal breaker for most of us in 2018 but, again, not for target market.

Don’t Nit-Pick
This is one of those occasions where I have to include the term ‘for the price’ to almost every observation here in assessing this unit - and maybe ‘for the target market’ as well. If you take those two caveats into account, what you get here for £60 is a terrifically capable smartphone which has super connectivity quality and options. It’s built of plastic but feels like it’ll last. Start nit-picking the components and you’ll chuck it in the bin. But this is not designed for most people reading this - it’s for people in developing economies and people with low income who Google want to get into their system and who want to be able to communicate with the world with little or or no resources.

Go Lite
I’m actually surprised that it has been released in the UK but I also think that it would be a great backup phone for the car, bag or certainly for a child’s first phone. With well thought out access to apps, either Go, Lite or normal, this will get people connected and using the internet as well as providing for voice services. We will be instantly annoyed by the horrible lag everywhere and not take it seriously, but others will just be happy to be connected and not notice. Go is something that we should not ignore and if it were to make its way into devices with a bit more size and spec’s (as components get even cheaper) it might even become acceptable to many more.

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