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Nokia takes aim at China with budget-friendly Lumias

With China overtaking the U.S. as the world's largest smartphone market, Nokia needs to re-establish its position there.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Roger Cheng
2 min read
Nokia Lumia 520
The budget-friendly Lumia 520. Nokia

BARCELONA, Spain--With the Lumia 720 and 520, Nokia has a shot of getting back in the China game.

The announcements at today's Mobile World Congress press conference were about Nokia filling out its portfolio with a few more budget-friendly smartphones, as well as two basic cellphones it files under the category of "first phone."

But in doing so, the company has given itself additional ammunition to re-enter the Chinese market with a bit more swagger. As with many other parts of the world, the company has struggled to offset the declines in its traditional Symbian phone business with its new Lumia phones. In the fourth quarter, the company saw its revenue in Greater China plunge 79 percent to 213 million euros ($280.7 million). Unit sales fell to less than 5 million from 14.7 million

It's even more important now that Nokia has a strong presence in China, as the country recently surpassed the U.S. as the world's largest smartphone market. Given the growth in demand in the region, Nokia would be wise to put more resources there.

Nokia already cracked opened the door to China with the Lumia 920T, a variant of the 920 customized specifically for China Mobile. China Mobile, which boasts the world's largest customer base with more than 700 million subscribers, has also signed on to sell both the Lumia 720 and 520.

Vesa Jutila, head of global marketing for the Lumia line, declined to say how well the Lumia 920T was performing on China Mobile, but he said it was a good sign that the carrier would re-up with two additional commitments.

Nokia isn't exactly making it a secret that the phones will go after China. Jutila noted that one of the key features in the "trendier" Lumia 720 is "Glam Me," which allows users to edit and enhance a self-portrait -- something Jutila said was popular with its target market in Asia.

He said the Asia Pacific market would be the main one for the Lumia 720.

Nokia Lumia 720
The trendier Lumia 720. Nokia

Because neither phone comes with LTE, they are better suited for China, which still is trying to get its 3G networks up and running.

The prices, meanwhile, are attractive enough that they can lure in a wider group of consumers. Without a contract, the Lumia 720 will retail for 249 euros, while the Lumia 520 will sell for 139 euros.

Jutila said the Lumia 520 could be particularly competitive because of its 4-inch display, noting that other similarly priced budget phones often feature a smaller display. He said that screen size was a big factor in the China market.

While Nokia has won some critical praise for its Lumia phones, particularly the Lumia 920, the company is far from pulling off its turnaround. Questions remain about whether Nokia can get back to a solid position in the smartphone business, and whether Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system will finally resonate with consumers.

At least in China, Nokia will have a better footing with its new Lumia phones.