Nokia pre-empts iPhone 5 with new Lumias rocking Windows Phone 8

Software giant Microsoft and former cell phone champion Nokia held a press conference earlier today in a very wet New York City. Nokia is attempting to re-boot its ailing smartphone biz with some sleek new Lumia handsets, with a little help from its pal Microsoft and its new Windows Phone 8 operating system. It pays to keep tabs on what competition is doing and it’s always exciting watching good ol’ Windows maker playing a catch up in mobile.

With that in mind, the presser was basically a pre-emptive tease against the massive iPhone 5 launch due next Wednesday. Interestingly, Nokia hasn’t shied away from criticizing Samsung for failing to deliver a working Windows Phone 8 phone. Conspicuously enough, Nokia itself did not announce price points or shipping dates for the new Lumias.

Perhaps it would have been better to hold this event a month from now? Be that as it may, Microsoft will hopefully play its cards right and over time establish Windows Phone as a third viable platform. I’m all for it: some balance to the force is needed as it’s been disrupted lately by Android’s relentless march. Here’s what’s new from the Microkia camp…

As the lights went on and the first slide popped up, Nokia’s boss and former Microsoft exec Stephen Elop fired up a tweet saying “This is Lumia. It’s time to switch”.

We’ll see about that.

Let’s talk devices.

First up is the Lumia 920, Nokia’s new flagship smartphone.

Microsoft’s outspoken chief executive Steve Ballmer delivers a keynote. His unassuming sidekick, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, can be seen patiently waiting in the background..
Quite a telling photo (courtesy of The Verge), no?

The first smartphone in the world to run Microsoft’s new Windows Phone 8 operating system, the Lumia 920 has a 2,000 mAh battery and an NFC chip inside. From the outside, you’ll first notice its 4.5-inch curved glass display rocking a 768-by-1,280 pixel resolution that the company pompously calls the Pure Motion HD+ display because it features “better than HD resolution”.

Nokia also says it’s the “brightest smartphone HD display ever” and also the “fastest LCD display ever shipped on a smartphone” due to fast refresh rates.

A media release minces no words praising PureView technology:

Using advanced floating lens technology, the camera in the Nokia Lumia 920 is able to take in five times more light than competing smartphones without using flash, making it possible to capture clear, bright pictures and video indoors and at night. It also compensates for hand movement while the photo is being taken.

What else is cool, you ask.

How about Nokia’s augmented-reality tech called City Lens?

By pointing the camera at a city street, City Lens overlays information about restaurants, shops, hotels and more on the surfaces of buildings, for the most intuitive way to explore surroundings.

Nokia City Lens is the start of a new augmented reality experience that also enhances Nokia Maps, making it possible to move between maps view and augmented reality view to help people check their direction and surroundings.

Perhaps disappointingly, the device runs a dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 chip though some observes were holding their breath for a quad-core processor.

The headline feature has got to be Nokia’s PureView camera technology (the company’s expertise in smartphone imaging should not be taken lightly). What we’re talking here is basically an 8.7-megapixel sensor with a Carl Zeiss lens, 1080p video recording and a “floating lens” optical image stabilization system for sharper photos in low-light.

This is basically the same tech as a 41-megapixel sensor on last year’s Symbian-driven PureView 808 handset (sans the resolution) and a marked improvement over the sensor found inside the Lumia 800 and 900.

This means the 920’s camera won’t let you losslesly zoom in on images without any loss of detail, like its more powerful 41-megapixel counterpart does.

The phone also boasts wireless charging by way of the Wireless Power Consortium’s Qi standard, also found on smartphones launched by Japan’s carrier NTT Docomo and consumer electronics giant Sharp.

Also worth mentioning, Apple is thought to adopt Intel’s chips that incorporate wireless charging across MacBooks, presumably to allow for wireless charging of future iPhones, iPads and iPods.

The Lumia 920 will be available in yellow, red, white, grey and black. No price point or availability was revealed at the event, apart from Stephen Elop’s cryptic note that his company will be entering “select markets” with “intense focus” in the fourth quarter of this year.

Here’s your video, courtesy of Microsoft.

And here’s Nokia’s own introductory clip.

Another device Nokia introduced: a mid-range Lumia 820.

This one has a 4.3-inch display with 800-by-480 pixels, a flatter back and an eight-megapixel camera with a Carl Zeiss lens but without PureView technology.

It, too, comes in an interesting range of vibrant colors.

The 820 shares the same processor, Qi wireless charging and software camera features like its more-powerful 920 brother, though wireless charging and NFC functionality is an option for the 820, added by way of exchangeable covers.

The company also introduced a range of wireless charging accessories. I especially like the JBL speaker dock with NFC to auto-play your music as soon as the phone is docked, pictured below.

There are some interesting partnerships as well, like one with Virgin Atlantic to install Qi charging pads in their Heathrow Airport in London and New York’s JFK (also coming to Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf cafes in select major metropolitan cities).

And the final tidbit: both phones have capacitive touchscreens that can be used with your gloves on, a Synaptics soution.

Here, your spec sheet for both devices.

And here is a handy competition comparison chart.

On the software front, Windows Phone 8 software delivers marginal improvements, like the screenshot-taking capability (what took so long?) and an enhanced camera app.

New software features of the camera app in Windows Phone 8 include pinch to zoom, instant image effects (supporting third-party effects), a burst mode and panorama photography via Microsoft’s PhotoSynth technology.

The home screen in Windows Phone 8. Click to enlarge.

Both phones have Nokia’s free unlimited music streaming service preloaded, as well as Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 10 web browser and free turn-by-turn voice-guided navigation called Nokia Drive.

If you’re eager to lear more about Nokia’s and Microsoft’s motives here, I recommend a nice interview with the Nokia CEO Stephen Elop by The Verge editor Joshua Topolsky.

Another recommended read: a Wired interview with Nokia’s design chief Marko Ahtisaari who talked colors, shapes and designing the new Lumia handsets around sexyiness and lust factor.

Other resources: blog posts by Nokia and Microsofts announcing the new Lumia range.

What’s your take on the Nokia presser?

Did you expect more from the company’s inaugural Windows Phone 8 device?

Are you switching to Lumia?