Nokia is back in the smartphone game...sort of

The troubled handset maker unveils its first two Windows Phone smartphones at an event in London, but new devices won't hit the U.S. until early next year.

The Lumia 800, Nokia's flagship Windows Phone model, will go on sale in November. The once-dominant mobile phone maker debuted it and a lower-end sibling, the Lumia 710, at its Nokia World conference in London.
The Lumia 800, Nokia's flagship Windows Phone model, will go on sale in November. The once-dominant mobile phone maker debuted it and a lower-end sibling, the Lumia 710, at its Nokia World conference in London. Stephen Shankland/CNET

LONDON--Nokia announced its first two Windows Phone smartphones here today, in what could be the start to a recovery for the company's beleaguered smartphone product line. But U.S consumers will have to wait to get their hands on the new devices.

The Finnish company introduced the Lumia 800 and Lumia 710 , the first two devices in its revamped smartphone portfolio that will support the Microsoft Windows Phone platform. The new Lumia 800, the flagship smartphone, is already being packaged and sent out from the company's manufacturing facilities in Finland and will go on sale in November for a retail price of 420 euros ($584) at 31 carriers in six countries in Europe: the U.K., France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain.

The Lumia 710, a lower-cost Windows Phone smartphone, won't be coming to market until later in the year. It will retail for 270 euros and will be available initially in Hong Kong, India, Russia, and Taiwan.

As for the U.S., American consumers are left out of the Nokia Windows Phone frenzy until the early part of 2012. Nokia's CEO Stephen Elop said that U.S. consumers can expect a portfolio of Nokia Windows Phone devices in the early part of the year. And he promised support for 4G LTE as well as CDMA, which is a good indication that it will be making a splash at Verizon Wireless.

Despite the lack of U.S. availability, the new Lumia products are a good first showing for Nokia's Windows Phone smartphones. The company took a bold step earlier this year when it announced in February that it was ditching its old Symbian smartphone OS to work exclusively in a close partnership with Microsoft .

The Lumia 800 has many of the same specs as the Nokia N9 , introduced earlier this year and using a Nokia-developed OS called Meego. Specifically, the device, has a 1.4GHz processor, a 3.7-inch touch screen phone, an 8-megapixel camera, and 16GB of memory. And in addition to the tight integration that the Windows Phone 7.5 software provides for things like Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft Bing, Nokia has added some of its own integrated apps. These include a home-grown navigation app that offers turn-by-turn navigation and full maps coverage. It comes preloaded on the phone so that subscribers don't have to download a separate app. And it's free. Something that is not the case for other apps on platforms, such as Apple's iOS.

It also added a music app that offers pre-created music lists that are free and can be downloaded onto the phone and listened to while people are offline. And the other new major app is a sports app offered with ESPN. Like other sports apps for other iOS or Google Android, the ESPN app offers scores and ways to interact with fantasy sports teams along with other capabilities. But Kevin Shields, head of Nokia's smartphone team, said the difference with the ESPN app is that it is preloaded on the phone and does the job of multiple apps that would have to be downloaded onto any of these other platforms.

These integrated apps will also be available for the Lumia 710.

The combination of slick design and the integration of apps and software that make the device more usable is the key to the new Lumia line of products Nokia's CEO Stephen Elop said during the keynote here.

"We're signaling our intent to be today's leader in smartphone design and craftsmanship," he said.

But he added that today's announcement was just a first step.

"Today is the next step in our mobile journey, which began in early '90s," Elop said. "And it's one of many important milestones since we announced the change in strategy on February '11."

The fact that Nokia is launching this new device first in Europe is a throwback to the old days when all the coolest new cell phones in the market were available first overseas. But Nokia's decision to first offer these devices in Europe is likely a strategy born out of necessity. Microsoft's Windows Phone software doesn't yet work for LTE devices, and without that support it's difficult for Nokia to build a phone for the highly competitive U.S. smartphone market that could get the necessary marketing attention from carriers.

"It looks like they are initially focusing on the markets with the best opportunity for monetization," said Avi Greengart, research director for consumer devices at Current Analysis. "But that puts the U.S. once again on the back burner.

Indeed, no matter how interesting the new Nokia Windows Phone devices are, the company faces stiff competition. And that competition is most fierce in the U.S., where wireless operators have a lot of say in which devices consumers buy. The Apple iPhone 4S has just launched and is likely to get a lot of marketing power at carriers such as Sprint, which has bet the farm on its iPhone offering.

Verizon Wireless, the largest U.S. carrier, is also offering the iPhone 4S and is pushing several new Google Android devices. And AT&T, the second largest carrier, is finding its footing in a post iPhone-exclusive world. It too has bet big on Google Android, but may offer the best opportunity for Nokia's Windows Phones when they eventually hit the U.S. shore.

"It's really hard to go up against a $99 iPhone 4," Greengart said. "But Nokia's messaging around the Windows Phone is dramatically better than Microsoft's. They have made the Windows Phone seem appealing, which shouldn't be hard to do since it really is."

 

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