Nokia Lumia 900 Is a Big Bet for Microsoft Windows Phone, ATandT

NEWS ANALYSIS: The Nokia Lumia 900, running Windows 7.5 on AT&T's LTE network, looks completely modern, is super quick and has a great price. But is it the change-maker these companies need?

Nokia, Microsoft and AT&T hope to have a change-maker on their hands, in the form of the Nokia Lumia 900. The high-end smartphone€”AT&T's first for its growing Long-Term Evolution (LTE) network€”will go on sale April 8 for $100.

Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, introducing the phone at Nokia World in London in October, talked some big talk, evoking the revered Finnish architect Alvar Aalto's desire to "make beautiful, easy-to-use things" and to make them accessible to more people, and how Nokia shared his deeply Nordic sensibility.

From the individually milled speaker holes to the two-shot color-molding process, Elop insisted, Nokia's devices were to be the pinnacle of craftsmanship and design. "We're playing to win," he told the packed house.

The Lumia 900 that will launch in options of cyan€”the bright blue you've been seeing around€”and black, followed by a glossy white version on April 22.

The phone is a sharp-edged rectangle with a 4.3-inch "clear black" active-matrix organic LED (AMOLED) display and runs Windows Phone 7.5. In person, the combination of the hardware and the dynamic OS, with its flipping and updating tiles, is a phone that looks utterly modern and fresh. An equally sized HTC Android phone€”once a head-turner€”set down unthinkingly alongside the Lumia 900, suddenly looked much more than a year out of date.

Start moving around the phone and tapping the tiles and the processor snaps between screens without pause.

Speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, Elop called the phone a "warhorse" and one of the "beachheads" helping in its battle for a larger portion of the mobile ecosystem.

Given the impressiveness of the device, and the fact that it's priced at half, if not a third, of what comparably featured devices go for after the carrier subsidy, and such talk becomes rather convincing.

If Microsoft is to seriously fight Apple and Google for smartphone market share, pricing could be a valuable weapon, and with the Lumia 900, it's shown it has that in its arsenal.

"The Lumia 900 is certainly impressive€”it€™s fast, and the machined polycarbonate [a.k.a., really fancy plastic] looks and feels premium with absolutely no flex in the case," Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart told eWEEK. "Scratch it, and you don€™t notice the scratch, because the case isn€™t painted, it€™s that color through and through.

Greengart said he personally liked the Lumia 800 better€”that the 900 feels too big to him. "But that€™s what U.S. consumers want," he added, "so the screen size is a plus, not a negative."

Neil Mawston, with Strategy Analytics, doesn't expect the Lumia to worry Apple or Google, but thinks it'll accomplish what Nokia and Microsoft need to€”act as that beachhead.

"The Nokia Lumia 900 is not an iPhone killer or an Android killer, but it will be a heavily promoted device that will help Nokia and Microsoft to gain badly needed visibility among U.S. consumers," Mawston told eWEEK. "The Lumia 900 is step one in what will be a long and tough race."

The price, he said, more than impressive, is just right.

"Price it too high, and Nokia is left open to easy accusations of profiteering. Price it too low, and Nokia is open to easy accusations of cheap hardware," Mawston explained. "For a first-generation 4G LTE smartphone, a technology where components are expensive, the Lumia 900 is priced reasonably competitively at the moment."

As for AT&T's LTE network, it grew by three markets April 3, with the additions of Bryan-College, Texas, and Bloomington and Muncie, Ind., bringing its grand total to 31 markets. In the next few weeks, it plans to announce eight more.

A good-looking phone on a fast network is two important pieces of the puzzle, and an April 3 report from ABI Research suggests the Lumia may help Nokia and Microsoft to gain the support of a third: developers.

The firm reports that Windows Phone's market share is expected to represent 2 percent of 2012's app downloads€”twice what it is now.

"One message we hear from many developers is that, purely technically speaking, Windows Phone is actually a rather appealing platform," said Aapo Markkanen, an ABI senior analyst. "And if it turns out to be a platform for relatively high-end devices, avoiding the fragmentation pitfalls of Android, it won€™t even need to achieve a remarkably large market share to attract a vibrant app scene."