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Posted at: Mar 18, 2017, 2:29 AM; last updated: Mar 18, 2017, 2:29 AM (IST)

Nokia’s Android promise

Amid the hype over Nokia 3310, the brand released three new mid-range phones, worth checking out

Vaibhav Sharma

In June 2009, Nokia released a very aggressive marketing campaign surrounding Nokia N97, proclaiming to the world that it had been around for years, that it might have been late to the capacitive touchscreen game, but it was once again ready to tower over the competition. Rapper LL Cool J’s ‘Don’t call it a comeback’ track really hit all the right emotions. It proclaimed that the N Series was stronger than ever and the faithful could once again hold their head high. The N97 would have a camera superior to the iPhone, it would have multitasking, widgets and all the bells and whistles you could imagine. It even had a slide out full QWERTY keyboard. We all know how that story ended. You can’t blame the marketing department for that debacle; it was just a case of the Promised Land being better than the actual product.

In 2011, Nokia’s then CEO Stephen Elop penned the infamous burning platform memo, arguing that Symbian was simply too old, and Nokia needed to switch to a more modern operating system to survive. Apple doesn’t licence iOS, so the only options were Android and Windows Phone. The argument was that there was already a lot of competition, and a lot of Nokia’s strengths such as mapping (it owned HERE Maps back then) and music would compete against Google’s. Microsoft, on the hand, would support Nokia at every step and they would together carve a market share for themselves. Nokia soon abandoned the aging Symbian platform and wholeheartedly embraced Windows Phone. The first Lumias were once again billed as the company’s big comeback, but doom followed yet again.

The return

By now you’re all aware that Nokia is back, only it isn’t. The Nokia brand name has been licenced by a Finnish company called HMD Global, which is using a Foxconn subsidiary to manufacture the actual devices. That said, because HMD Global is a corporation based in Nokia’s home country, Finland they are striving to remain true to a lot of the fundamentals that made Nokia, Nokia. But what are they doing to attract customers to their Android lineup, especially when Chinese players have flooded the market with aggressively priced offerings? Is Android a good fit for the company?

The answer to the second question is much easier than the first. Android is currently the only option for Nokia, Windows Phone stands obliterated and some of the other operating systems like Sailfish have little broad spectrum appeal. It also helps that the company needs Google’s services — it no longer has a Maps offering of its own, and even its music initiative Mix Radio was sold. The second question is what the folks at HMD Global must have spent sleepless nights over, but they have ably identified one major area that not many OEMs are paying attention to. While there are a number of Android powered budget offerings that deliver good specifications, most companies try to differentiate their products by skinning Android, and including their own set of applications and ‘value additions’. This might have been the need of the hour when Android was still maturing, but today Google itself likes to put the cherry on the cake. The latest version of Android, Nougat even includes split-screen multitasking. Something Apple continuously mocks Android over its poor record in delivering timely software updates, and this happens because OEMs need time to customise the software after Google releases it before it is passed onto the consumers; the process often takes months.

Not just glossy

The promise with the new Nokias is simple — the company will deliver pure Android to its users, and all its security updates seamlessly and promptly, something not many manufacturers undertake. To this end, the company has introduced three offerings that cover the mid-range. The Nokia 6 is the biggest of the three and is manufactured from a block of aluminium with diamond cut edges. It has a nice matte metallic feel that feels premium, but if you’d prefer something glossy, there is also the glossy Arte Black limited edition that also carries slightly better specs. After being a China exclusive, the 6 will head to the rest of the world in Arte Black, Matte Black, Tempered Blue, Silver and Copper.

Arguably the most impressive release was, in fact, its sibling, the Nokia 5 that keeps the same metal construction, but features a curved edge that helps the display bleed into the body for a much smoother finish. While slightly lower spec’d than its older sibling, it relies on its 13-megapixel rear camera and a wide-angle 8-megapixel front-facing camera to entice users. It will be made available in blue, silver, matte black, and copper.

The cheapest, but by no means a slouch, is the Nokia 3 which steps down to a 5-inch display from the 5.5” and 5.2” displays on the Nokia 6 and 5 respectively. The Nokia 3 carries a metal frame, but features a polycarbonate back, a design reminiscent of the Lumia lineup. It will ship in blue, silver, matte black, and copper.

All devices are expected to be released in the April — June quarter, and India is very much a focus for the company. Everyone wondered what would have been Nokia’s fate had it embraced Android in 2011 itself, to some extent we are about to find out now.

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