Nokia Banks Rebound On Latest Lumia Phones

Nokia-Lumia-920-A2Nokia on Wednesday made its latest bid to get back in the smartphone race with the launch of the Windows 8-powered Lumia 920 at a splashy event in New York. Much is riding on the device that is among the first to run the updated version of Microsoft's smartphone platform and will serve as Nokia's flagship handset.

Despite the rollout of a series of phones featuring Nokia hardware and Microsoft software in the last year, the two companies' much-vaunted alliance has not come close to threatening the Apple-Android duopoly in the smartphone arena. Nokia continues to lose share globally and suffer financial losses, while only a small fraction of smartphones run on the Windows Phone OS.

Whether the latest Lumia 920 and the mid-range Lumia 820, also unveiled today, can lead a turnaround is far from clear in a market where the two top players claim about 85% of the market. Nonetheless, the Nokia flagship phone offers new features aimed at luring Android and iPhone users.

Among the chief attractions is an 8.7 mega-pixel camera that includes Nokia's PureView technology, using advanced imaging and optics to deliver better pictures, especially in low light or at night. PureView lets in five times more light than competing smartphones with using a flash and uses a floating lens to take photos on par with that of an SLR camera, according to Nokia.

The Lumia 920's other touted feature is wireless charging that works with a Fatboy wireless charging pad so users don't have to plug into a wall outlet. The phone also sports a 4.5-inch HD display, a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor, 32 GB of storage and 1GB of RAM. Nokia says its PureMotion HD+ is sharper than standard HD and the screen adjusts to sunlight to ensure its readable.

Both the Lumia 920 and 820 will be released later this year, with details on pricing, carrier partners and country-specific rollout dates to be announced in the coming weeks.

Initial response to the new Nokia phones was mostly positive. “In terms of specs, the Lumia 920 is compatible with Android's flagship,” said Avi Greengart, research director for consumer devices at Current Analysis, referring to the Samsung's Galaxy S III smartphone.

In a post today, Engadget called the Lumia 820 “an absolute pleasure to use,” thanks mainly to the optimized Windows 8 OS offering features like customizable home screen and background multitasking. Earlier Lumia models, including the heavily marketed Lumia 900 launched his spring, have also been well-received. But they haven't delivered the kind of break through Nokia or Microsoft is looking for, especially in the U.S. market where the Finnish phone giant has long been an also-ran.

Will the Lumia 920 be the one to change that? Greengart is skeptical despite the device's strengths. He suggests Microsoft needs to make a bigger push to get Windows into the discussion when people are considering buying a new smartphone. “They need a better message. Microsoft's message thus far has not resonated,” he said.

Ramon Llamas, a senior research analyst covering mobile at IDC, agreed. He said new features in the phone like the PureView camera and augmented reality tools require “education and evangelization” to persuade consumers to shift away from Android and the iPhone.

A continuing hurdle is the relative lack of apps offered via Microsoft's app storefront compared to Google Play and Apple's App Store. Microsoft now offers about 100,000 for Windows devices but that total pales in comparison to the half million or more available from its rivals. “Microsoft needs to get its own exclusive apps and its own features people want badly enough to say 'this is an OS I'm going to invest in,'” said Greengart.

One step in that direction was the free music-streaming service that Nokia announced Tuesday for U.S. customers. Unlike competing services such as Pandora or Spotify, the new offering is completely ad-free and requires no registration or subscription. Still, Nokia doesn't have much of a window to gain mindshare with competitors introducing their own new gadgets this month.

Foremost among them is Apple, which is widely expected to unveil the latest version of the iPhone at an event scheduled for Sept. 12. On Thursday, Amazon is expected to announce upgrades to the Kindle Fire and Kindle e-readers. HTC has set its own event for later this month, and Motorola and Verizon will take the wraps off new Droid Razr smartphones later today.

For its part, it hardly appeared that Nokia can make a big comeback based on its latest devices. The company's stock was trading down more than 11% to about $2.50 this afternoon following its announcement of new Windows 8 phones.

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