Nokia's Lumia 920 Drags Windows Phone to the High-End Smartphone War
Since Steve Jobs started pulling his "one more thing" trick – in which he would act as though he had forgotten what was clearly meant to be the biggest announcement of whatever event he was speaking at – product announcements have been about one stand-out feature. For Microsoft and its Surface tablet, that feature was the Touch Cover. For Apple's WWDC event, it was the Retina Display MacBook Pro. Even if it isn't called "one more thing" there is almost always a stand-out feature that consumers and the press can latch onto as the "big" announcement.
Nokia decided to say "fuck that" and filled the announcement of its new Windows Phone devices with stand-out features. Offline maps that also happen to work inside? Got 'em. Wireless charging? You bet your sweet ass. Augmented reality features and a camera with a floating lens? The list goes on and on, and did we mention that you can use the phone with gloves on? Because you can do that too.
Once the dominant force of the mobile industry, Nokia has slowly drifted from the top of the pile to also-ran status, failing to respond to the iPhone as early as it should have. The company abandoned its MeeGo and Symbian operating systems 18 months ago in favor of a partnership with Microsoft and a commitment to the Windows Phone operating system. Two once-dominant companies that failed to address the shift from a world ruled by dumbphones and Windows PCs were to become each other's salvation.
Nokia has more than delivered with the Lumia 920. Combining a 4.5 inch "PureMotion" display with a new, floating-lens camera and wireless charging capabilities, the Lumia 920 is one hell of a smartphone. The canary yellow, red, and "slate grey" chassis doesn't have the same quiet aesthetic as the iPhone, but Nokia has built a handsome device that combines a strong industrial design with playful color choices. In short, it looks good.
Hardware is only half the story, however. Nokia also announced that it would bring its Nokia Maps, which can be used offline and for indoor navigation, to the Lumia line. Nokia Music, a streaming service that allows users to listen to unlimited music for free, is also going to be available in the US for the first time. Everything that Nokia has learned about navigation, music, and manufacturing has been applied to this new phone, and it shows.
For all of its hardware advancements, for every service that Nokia links to its Lumia phones, there is one anchor holding the Lumia back: Microsoft. (Cue rampage and a quick scroll down to the comments section.) The split between Nokia and Microsoft's announcements would have been understandable if Nokia had only announced new hardware, but as it stands it seems like Nokia is pulling most of the weight in its partnership with Microsoft.
Put another way: Nokia introduced a camera that can delete unwanted people. (From a picture, not from existence, though that would have really made today's announcement a game changer.) Microsoft reiterated that users could resize Windows Phone 8's tiles. One of these things is not like the other.
Every feature that may convince a consumer to switch to Windows Phone from another platform was either introduced with Windows Phone 7's debut two years ago, or developed by Nokia. Nokia is the one that finally shipped a smartphone that doesn't need a cord to charge or connect to peripherals. Nokia is the one that announced a mapping solution that will, in all likelihood, blow Apple's offering out of the water. Hell, Nokia's Lumia models are almost indisputable kings sitting on top of a throne composed of the lackluster Windows Phone devices that came before it.
Nokia could have been the best manufacturer of Android smartphones. Its devices are compelling and well-designed enough to stand above most of the shovelware that gets pumped into the Android ecosystem every year, and different enough from the iPhone that the company won't end up having to pay Apple $1 billion in damages. The Lumia 920 is exciting in spite of, not because of, Windows Phone 8.