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Nokia X review: A Windows Phone-Android hybrid that punches above its weight

The first ever Nokia-Android handset is aimed at emerging markets, but pleasing design and a low price could make it attractive for Western markets

While the Samsung S5 remains under wraps for a few more hours, the real headline-grabber at the Mobile World Congress is a cheap-as-chips phone that may prove a real game-changer. And it is the work of a company recently described as on the ropes: Nokia.

The new Nokia X is fast, smooth, gorgeously designed and will sell for €89 (£74). And it runs on (gasp) Android software.

Over the last few years, Google’s free mobile phone software has become dominant, featured on handsets by Samsung, HTC, LG, Sony, Motorola and just about anyone, but Nokia pinned its flag to Microsoft’s rival Windows Phone system.

This was something which some of the Finnish company’s shareholders weren’t mad about. One told CEO Stephen Elop that the path to Hell was paved with good intentions, and would he please take another road.

After all, Nokia, with its exceptional and strikingly different industrial design could surely make a superior Android phone, couldn’t it? But the Android market is a difficult place to stand out.

Nokia’s solution is to make something unique: the Nokia X range uses a heavily customised version of Android designed to look almost like Windows Phone.

It features Nokia specialities such as free downloadable maps and a music compilation app, though only limited camera functions (one model has a 3MP camera, another 5MP).

The idea is to provide an affordable phone loaded with Microsoft and Nokia goodies so when it’s time to upgrade, the move to a Nokia Lumia smartphone will seem logical and look familiar.

The downside, some will feel, is that you don’t have access to the comprehensive Google Play Store with its million apps.

Instead, you’re guided to a Nokia app store, curated so you know that every app’s been approved to work.

Other app stores are available, geared to growing markets in Russia and Asia, for instance, which is the Nokia’s prime focus for the X, though the range will be available in the UK.

The resulting phone is a potential winner. It feels great and much classier than its price suggests, even if the display is no match for high-resolution rivals. The customised software is easy to use and intuitive. And the apps that are there look just as they do on other Android phones.

If you’re missing some favourites, and you’re techy enough, you can load almost any Android app to the X by cable, but Nokia stresses that the phone is designed to work with Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud services and Nokia’s Here Maps, rather than Google’s services. The X series is certainly a gamble, but nobody can accuse Nokia of taking the easy road. However it’s paved.