Updated: December 8, 2021
As you may know, my Moto G6 phone has died. It's no more. On its own, this isn't a big deal, because the G6 served mostly as a secondary device, primarily used for testing and exploration and such. However, I still felt I should replace the dead phone, and went on a relatively short search for a worthy successor.
Indeed, within less than an hour of reading, I decided to go for a Nokia X10 device. It fits within the modest low-mid-range budget requirements for secondary use, it seems to have a decent spec, it has a 3.5mm audio jack, which is a must for me, and having been pleased with Nokia 5.3, I felt there shouldn't be any nasty twists in this unorthodox, quick selection process. A couple of days later, the X10 arrived, and thus this review was born.
This is a bigass phone. Large and heavy. It's a good cm taller than my Moto Zoom, and it weighs 210 grams. My specific mode came with a dual-SIM tray (both nano), for which you get a warning! If you use both SIMs, you might not have 5G connectivity. Ha. We shall put that to test, soon.
The IPS LCD screen comes with 1080x2400px resolution and 395ppi density, and it's protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 3. Not enough? Then, on top of that, you also get a very thin, 0.3mm protector film, which annoys me a lot, both on the aesthetic and haptic fronts. I don't like it, and I wonder why it's needed if the actual glass itself is supposed to be quite strong.
The Qualcomm SM4350 Snapdragon 480 chipset comes with Adreno 619 graphics and octa-core CPU, with two "fast" cores at 2 GHz and six "somewhat slower" cores clocked at 1.8 GHz. If I look at the Nokia 5.3, the specs are beefier in every aspect, including 50% more screen resolution and pixel density, as well as more powerful GPU and CPU. But how this translates into actual use, we shall yet see.
I think the most notable "everyday" difference is in the camera unit, with fancy Zeiss optics. Now, I've always really liked Nokia phone cameras, and they used to be truly awesome. However, with budget phones, or at least devices that don't cost an arm and a kidney to finance, you know that some small corners will inevitably be cut somewhere in the overall process. Where, though, is the big question. Here? Perhaps. On paper, you get a quad-sensor 48MP pack, which includes a 5MP mega-pixel unit, a 2MP macro unit, and a 2MP depth unit. The camera is also capable of HDR, panorama shots, and comes with a dedicated low light level (LLL) mode. I foresee some fun testing ahead.
On the sensors front, there's the mandatory 3.5mm audio jack, yes, because otherwise, I wouldn't even bother, Wi-Fi 802.11/a/b/g/n/ac dual-band, Bluetooth, NFC, and USB Type-C charger. The battery cannot be removed, and it comes with massive 4470 mAh of stored chemical potential. All of this costs about 300 dollars, which puts the X10 slightly above the typical budget range phone into whatever bracket comes above.
Phone setup & user account import
Now, this should be interesting. For a first time ever, I decided to import my Google account from the old device to the new one. Normally, I just create a brand new account every time, but I figured, why not try and see what gives. However, since the G6 would not boot, I had to rely on whatever Google has backed up to the big cloud.
On its own, the process went quickly and smoothly. First, there was a system update - a solid 2.2 GB worth of data. You start with Android 11, and there ought to be updates and hopefully upgrades for at least three years, the brochure says. Then, the phone asked me if and how I wanted to bring in the old data onto the new phone. The restore process started in the background, and I continued the phone configuration, as I'd normally do. So what happened?
Even though I was importing my user configuration, not all of my settings were preserved. Feels like a Windows 10 feature upgrade that randomly changes things. Yes, a lot of my privacy settings were correctly set, but like I said earlier, not all. For instance, I had to tell the phone not to use location. I had to turn Bluetooth off again (but not NFC, that one was off). The permissions for some of the applications were reset. This meant that I couldn't rely on whatever Google had done during the import, and had to go through every single setting.
Google Assistant was turned on. Annoying. I had explicitly turned it off. Don't want. And just like every single time before, the exact technical flow to turn it off is different! Every single time.
The Google application was also active - I normally have it disabled - plus it had all the permissions that I didn't give it. So I had to deny all of its permissions once again, and then turned it off. On the Nokia phones (also seen on the 5.3), this results in an annoying side effect. The search box, which is located at the bottom of the Home Screen and cannot be moved or removed, becomes inactive, so you have a block of dead, unusable pixels just sitting there. Very ugly. As if the whole thing is designed to make you want or have to use that box. Hm. Gestures. Off, of course.
The account import was incomplete. Most of the Google-specific stuff was done correctly, but not all of it. However, on the application side, the things were pretty bad. Android did reinstall my apps, but it did not import their configurations or data, so I had to start from scratch. For instance, the Firefox profile was totally empty. My CNBC watchlists were gone. VLC had no playlists or songs. WhatsApps conversations weren't there. I was logged out of Telegram. And so on.
I know what you may be thinking at this point. All these different apps have their own accounts, and if you used them (correctly), you would have all the data! I say no.
What's the point of having one supposedly centric source of information (your Google account) if it doesn't give you everything? If I need to create separate accounts and backups and profile syncs for every single of these apps, then why bother? It just means you need to keep widening your online data profile, you need to share more and more data with more and more companies. I don't blame just Google, I blame everyone. Because everyone wants data, so they build systems that are purposefully siloed, and purposefully designed not to cooperate easily with other tools. It's the exact opposite of how cloud should work. Web 3.0 whatever, right.
Now, let's compare this to the iPhone 11 setup, which I went through recently. The process there was far, far smoother. Now, I have to say that with the iPhone, I did a phone-to-phone import, so I'm not comparing the exact same things. Indeed, I do intend to go through another Android setup, and do a full device copy. But for the time being, this from-cloud import feels very rudimentary. And pointless.
Anyway, back to my merry adventure ...
Of course, it wasn't the end of it. Every single time, I find myself dumbfounded by the sheer fragmentation of the Android ecosystem. And each phone, even different models made by the exact same vendor, behaves differently. Here are a few more snags I encountered.
- I had to do extra tweaking on the privacy side. This work never ends, it seems.
- The lock screen on the X10 does not have any quick action buttons. For instance, on my One Zoom, you have the Phone and Camera buttons in the left and right bottom corner, respectively. None here.
- There is no weather application - even though the lock screen shows you your "local" weather (temperature plus a tiny icon). There is also no weather widget available, at all. Similarly, the default digital clock widget is too tiny, it cannot be removed, and it does nothing. However, unlike the weather, you can add a bigger one, which also lets you use alarms, timer, stopwatch and such. But then you end up with two clocks, like a chump from a 90s rap video clip.
- The screenshot tool is annoying - there is no way to disable its sound or the post-screenshot edit overlay. Even if you do it through the System UI notifications. Really stupid. It is also different from the other Nokias. For instance, on the 5.3 as well as 5.4 (soon), you can easily disable the screenshot notifications, silence the sounds, and skip any editing nonsense. Not so here. Why? Same company, same phone essentially.
- By default, you have the "multi-user" featured turned on, as if someone will actually be sharing their phone, but hey. I really don't understand how this can be a thing. I mean, really?
- The pinyin input tool was asking for various permissions. Eh what?
Now, the actual use
All right. So I completed the setup, went through all the security and privacy settings TWICE, and I finally felt ready to embark on the usage journey. There are two sides to this coin. The physical side, and the software side. The latter will take more time to fully analyze, but I can already complain about the former.
The phone is absolutely huge. Yes, it is my fault for buying a combat-ready brick, but then, it is very hard to buy a new, modern phone that is small, isn't total crap and does not cost a fortune. If you want a budget phone, it will be huge and heavy, and among the devices in my arsenal, this one wins by a huge margin. It's more than 1 cm taller than my not-so-small One Zoom. Worse than that, it's also quite wide. My hands aren't small, but even Andre the Giant would find the dimensions uncomfortable. Your tendons aren't going to thank you for it. Any extended usage feels awkward.
The power button is recessed, which is kind of nice. If you don't use Google Assistant, then you will find the dedicated button on the left side pointless. The screen comes with a protector film, designed to prevent damage to the glass underneath. However, I find it annoying, both aesthetically and conceptually. While it's only 0.3mm thick, you can still feel it. It doesn't look pretty, it feels like a cheap afterthought, and I prefer to have my own choice whether and how to protect the touch panel from scratches. The protector film could have been offered as part of the package, and then, if anyone wants to use it, they can. I can already see a buildup of dirt and finger snags on the edges of the film close to the front camera (which isn't covered). This feels like there will be some wear quite soon, and will make an otherwise sleek phone look cheap and used all too quickly. Meh. I need to figure out how to get the film off.
The display has vibrant colors but ... when you use the likes of Settings, the clarity and contrast aren't the best. Increasing the font size helps. Now, this would be the first time ever that I did this on a smartphone. I feel no such need on any other device, even those with higher resolutions and seemingly smaller elements drawn on the screen. Anyway.
Despite the warning that 5G connectivity may not work with two SIMs in the tray, I've not experienced any problems. 5G is there, for what it's worth. Speeds!
On the software side, so far so good. My privacy-tweaked Android does not annoy me too much. I'm not using any of the pointless default apps, and in fact, I've removed a whole bunch, including TikTok (social media has no place on me devices, any, ever). Why would this be part of the default arsenal beats me. Also, I don't understand how it aligns with the whole Android One vanilla manifesto.
Firefox with UBlock Origin is my default browser, allowing for sane Internet usage, minus all the low-IQ nonsense that is the modern Web. VLC plays songs (which I copied over the USB, as they were not preserved, nor were any of my documents). Yay. And then, there's a whole bunch of other apps that I occasionally use, not out of any real, dire, practical needs, more to stay in touch with whatever the Dystopian future holds. I want to know how complex and pointless the computer usage will be in the next decade or so, which means trying an app or three, to figure out how the illiterate masses interact with the world.
I did try the Play Store, looking for a weather app (as there is no default one). The brief dally was horrible. Flashy, crayony. You search for apps, you get a few entries of ads first, followed by apps that include ads, and then some. There is no smart search filter to remove apps with in-app purchases or ads. All in all, a pointless experience for people who value peace and quiet. Nothing to do here, really. I can barely count four or five decent apps that don't bombard me with nonsense, and actually offer a good experience.
Some decent points here, but nothing too great. The X10 comes with a fancy four-camera unit, which offers better image depth than a standalone phone lens, you have a 2x physical zoom for wunderbar moments, plus a whole bunch of other modes, including Macro, which lets you bring your phone as close as 4 cm to the object of interest. There's also Night Mode, offering decent LLL results. The camera app has quite a few other options in its settings menu. However, I didn't see any option to disable any possible AI features and stop the app from giving me stupid suggestions. Not interested.
Anyway. The camera struggles in bright light. The images look washed out. Now, having owned a whole bunch of Nokias in my life (including a superb E6, still going strong), I know that the color spectrum on Nokia phones tends to be cooler. But on the X10, the color spectrum is really off. The reds are all pink. You end up with almost desaturated photos of landscape, which isn't what you want.
Then, if you point the camera toward a strong source of light, everything looks dark, and the contrast is quite bad. The macro mode works really well, and so does the Night Mode, as I mentioned earlier. But this covers a tiny portion of a typical smartphone photo usage. Most people will either selfie or photograph their surroundings, food included. When you consider the camera's "pedigree", the results are meh.
Solid, if not as amazing as I'd hoped. If I look at the Nokia 5.3 in my possession, this one goes 10+ days on a single charge. The X10, even though it has a larger battery pack by more than 10%, 4470 mAh compared to 4000 mAh for the 5.3, does only about a week (at best) before it needs fresh juice. This is a respectable number, but I guess the slightly stronger spec plus the much bigger (and more pixilated) screen take their toll.
The USB cable supplied with the phone is crap. The connection lags for 10-15 seconds before any data is transferred, and even then, it snails. Not such issue with the other cables in my arsenal. Hint: I mentioned Nokia 5.4. Guess what. Its cable is also crap! So that's two for two for lousy cables. Really bad.
Nokia X10 is a weird device. It is not good enough to be a solid mid-range phone, and it's not cheap enough to be an awesome budget phone. I think it's market-positioned rather precariously, neither here nor there. High expectations and unrealistic goals, I could say. I mean, the phone is quite decent. It looks really nice, it works fine, network connectivity is solid, and the overall performance is all right. But then, it's too big and heavy, and the camera is rather average.
One other thing that really pisses me off is the USB cable "supplied" with the phone. It's better not to provide anything than the cheapest, lousiest thing they could find that barely works. 'Tis an insult to the end user. It's amazing how much damage two dollars worth of plastic and metal can do. Because of this, plus the annoying screen protector cover (about which we will talk yet more in the 5.4 review), I am considering not going Nokia for whatever next phone I decide to buy. Same as any vendor not supplying 3.5mm audio jack. Skimp on pennies, lose hundreds of dollars. Pure maffs.
All in all, as a secondary device, the X10 is pretty reasonable. I will have a phone that can crunch data fast, the battery will last for about a week with my typical usage patterns, and if I ever need to get out of a street fight, the sheer size and weight can double as a weapon. The Android experience is okay, if not as smooth as I'd like. And then, the rest of it, no need to repeat myself. Perhaps for the first time, I have chosen a phone that didn't quite meet my expectations come the end of the setup and early testing. In this regard, I find the 5.3 to be a better overall device. And there you go. 7/10, or some such. See you around for the 5.4 test soon.