BERLIN -- Microsoft is proclaiming high-end performance with a new midrange phone push, announcing three new Nokia Lumia models and coming software improvements to its camera app and Cortana voice-control technology.
The Nokia Lumia 830 is "the first affordable flagship," said Chris Weber, Microsoft's corporate vice president of mobile devices sales, at a press conference during the IFA electronics show here Thursday.
Weber made bold claims comparing the phone to Samsung's Galaxy S5 and iPhone 5S. Judged by hardware specifications, "it's on par with its flagship equivalents from Samsung and Apple," Weber said. "Our goal is to call out Apple and Samsung in terms of the premium they're charging."
Microsoft also announced the Lumia 730, a lower-end model with 3G networking and support for dual SIM cards, and the Lumia 735, which supports faster 4G LTE networking. While Microsoft put the Lumia 830 emphasis on its PureView-grade main camera, it positioned the 730 and 735 as selfie cameras with a high-quality 5-megapixel front-facing camera. All models will begin shipping in September.
Midrange phones don't carry as much of the glamor or garner as much of the attention as the flagship models, but they're important because companies ship so many more of them. That's especially true outside the relatively saturated wealthier markets where smartphones are now commonplace.
The Lumia 830 has a 5-inch, 1,280x720-pixel screen, a 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor, and costs €330, the company said. The Lumia 730 and 735 also have 1,280x720-pixel screens and 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 chips, but their screens are smaller at 4.7 inches. Their starting prices are €199 and €219, respectively. Pricing outside Europe wasn't immediately available, but those prices translate to $434 / £264 / AU$465 for the 830, $288 / £175 / AU$303 for the 735, and $262 / £159 / AU$280 for the 730.
"I think Microsoft is stretching the definition of flagship," said Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart. Instead, "Microsoft is pushing further into the midtier, trying to find the happy medium between consumers who are not already tied to a mobile ecosystem -- and are willing to try Windows Phone -- and profitability."
Although the Lumia phones are under new management at Microsoft, so far the company hasn't changed its approach. "It's the same team following roughly the same strategy with the same results: solid growth in certain markets, but off of a very small base," Greengart said.
Microsoft has become a hardware company with its acquisition of Nokia's mobile-phone business, but software is critical to its mobile efforts. To that end, it announced two improvements coming in the fourth quarter. First, the new Denim release of the Windows Phone operating system will make the Cortana voice service easier to use with a "Hey, Cortana" voice activation that works even when the phone is idle. Second, Microsoft will release a new camera app that's faster and that offers higher image quality, the company said. It supports 4K video at 24 frames per second, launches faster when a person holds down a hardware button, and can shoot more frames per second in a burst-shooting mode.
Other Lumia 830 details include an 8.5mm-thick metal and plastic body, the Windows Phone 8.1 operating system, Microsoft Office, a 2,200mAh battery, 1GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, 802.11a/b/g/n networking, Gorilla Glass 3 covering the screen, three microphones, and 15GB of OneDrive storage. Its 10-megapixel camera gets a Zeiss lens, optical image stabilization, and the PureView brand that the company uses to denote better image quality.
The Lumia 730 and 735 have 1GB of RAM, 8GB of storage, a 6.7-megapixel main camera with an f1.9 lens to work better in low light, a 5-megapixel wide-angle front-facing camera for video calls and self-portraits, a removable 2,220mAh battery, 802.11a/b/g/n networking, and dual microphones.
Microsoft has struggled to extend its PC dominance to the mobile market. It got a slow start as Apple's iPhones and handsets powered by Google's Android exploded into the marketplace.
In the second quarter of 2014, Windows Phone shipments dropped 9 percent to 7.4 million units as iOS rose 13 percent to 35.2 million and Android rose 33 percent to 255.3 million units, according to analyst firm IDC.
Microsoft isn't giving up, though. It's "firmly the third ecosystem," Weber said, and he believes good products will attract customers, developers, and ultimately business success.
Also at the press conference, Microsoft announced second-generation wireless charging technology whose charging mat can blink patterns to notify people of things like email or Facebook posts.
Updated at 7:13 am PT and 5:37 am PT Sept. 5with further specification details and analyst comment.