Nokia rolled the dice on its big Windows Phone bet Oct. 26, unveiling two smartphones running Microsoft's software: the high-end Lumia 800 and lower-cost Lumia 710.
If that bet succeeds, and those two smartphones mark the beginning of a successful line of Nokia-Windows Phone devices, then the Finnish phone maker will have revived its fortunes in the face of significant competition from the likes of Google Android and Apple's iPhone.
If that bet fails, and users fail to gravitate to Nokia's latest offerings, then the company is in significant trouble. Nokia CEO Stephen Elop made the decision to abandon Symbian and MeeGo, software that had previously powered Nokia's higher-end devices, in favor of Windows Phone. The ships have been burned on the beach, metaphorically speaking; there is no easy retreat.
Nokia will offer the Lumia 800 in three colors (cyan, magenta and black). The smartphone is packed with powerful hardware, including a 1.4GHz processor, hardware acceleration and graphics processor, an 8-megapixel camera that utilizes Carl Zeiss optics, 16GB of internal user memory and 25GB of free SkyDrive storage for music and images. It features a 3.7-inch AMOLED ClearBlack curved display integrated into a body rendered from a single piece of polycarbonate.
The cheaper Lumia 710 will also include a 1.4GHz processor. In addition, it will feature a 5-megapixel camera, and a choice of white, cyan, fuchsia, and yellow back covers.
"Lumia is the first real Windows Phone," Elop told the audience during his London keynote Oct. 26. "We are signaling our intent right now to be today's leaders in smartphone design and craftsmanship, no question about it."
In New York City, meanwhile, Nokia representatives offered eWEEK and other media outlets a quick hands-on with the two devices, which are expected to arrive in the United States sometime in early 2012 at an undefined price point (in Europe, the Lumia 800 will sell for about the equivalent of $584, while the Lumia 710 will sell for $376).
The Lumia 800 manages to feel light in the hand without feeling cheap. The 3.7-inch screen is perfectly adequate for most functions, and the AMOLED ClearBlack curved display ensures that blacks render velvety, and the colors crisp. The 1.4GHz processor means fast app-loading and page-rendering, and the camera shutter snaps off rapid-fire (and crisp) images.
Nokia is also including some exclusive apps with its phones, including Nokia Drive (with turn-by-turn navigation and voice-activated control) and Nokia Maps, which offers up points of interest around the user's location. The latter feels like Windows Phone's Local Scout (also offered on Nokia's devices), albeit with a somewhat different interface. For its part, Nokia claims that both apps will be optimized for dozens of countries worldwide, which could broaden its device's appeal to diverse audiences.
The Lumia 710 also feels like a solid phone, although it lacks the sleekness of the 800. Thanks to the same processor as its more-expensive sibling, pages and apps activated quickly, with precious little discernable lag.
Can these devices go toe-to-toe against Google Android and Apple's iOS? In terms of first impressions, they certainly they seem better-constructed than many of the Android devices that hit the market over the past several quarters. And Windows Phone, thanks to its recent "Mango" update, is a rapidly maturing operating system with a lot to offer. It remains to be seen, however, whether things like battery life will end up justifying that good first impression.