Nokia's New Lumia 920 Could Raise Smartphone Bar with Windows Phone 8

Nokia unveiled is new line of Lumia smartphones today at an event in New York City. Building on Windows Phone 8, the company has harnessed its design and development teams to create one of the most innovative smartphone approaches on the market.

It's no secret that Nokia has been playing catch up in the smartphone market. It has shed market share, laid off employees, and been forced to completely rethink the company, top to bottom, in its effort to compete with Apple and Google's Android operating system.

When Nokia abandoned its MeeGo smartphone platform and began phasing out its Symbian devices in February 2011 in favor of Windows Phone, the natural question was how Nokia would adjust its R&D effort to Microsoft’s new mobile platform. Windows Phone's Hubs-and-Tiles approach did not leave much room for software customization.

Nokia has built its reputation and market presence on R&D. But when it pulled the plug on its own mobile platforms, it had to race to get a Windows Phone to market and did not have time to properly implement many of its particular enhancements, such as location services or camera technology. The result was two well designed Windows Phones, the Lumia 800 and 900, that were ho-hum additions to flashier Windows Phones made by companies like HTC or Samsung.

The goal for Nokia was to add its distinctive technology to the Windows Phone platform. That is precisely what the company has pulled off with the new Lumia 920.

“Across all of our strategy, we said that Nokia would differentiate,” CEO Stephen Elop said. “Future disruptions, we are identifying ways to challenge the shortcomings of today's user experiences.”

Nokia focused on a few specific categories to differentiate the Lumia 920 from other smartphones: camera, screen and video playback, location and navigation services, and wireless charging. 

Nokia seems to be proudest of the camera. The company has integrated its 8.7 megapixel PureView hardware and software with its Carl Zeiss optics in an effort to deliver one of the best smartphone camera experiences available. Nokia uses what it calls “floating lens technology” (which isolates the optics using tiny springs) to keep the shutter open longer while accounting for the natural movement of a person’s hand. Essentially, Nokia has increased the size of the Lumia’s aperture while keeping the shutter open longer. It expects this approach to deliver superior low-light performance. 

“Since the Nokia Lumia 920 has the best smartphone camera for taking pictures and video for every day use, we wanted to help people find places to use it,” said Jo Harlow, executive vice president of Nokia. 

Nokia also touted its navigation and location services. The usual Nokia stand-outs are there, including revamped maps and turn-by-turn navigation. The newest feature combines the smartphone camera with location services for an augmented reality function called “Nokia City Lens.” The feature overlays information on local businesses through the smartphone’s camera viewfinder. A user can tap the screen and call a restaurant to make a reservation.

Nokia also became the first major smartphone manufacturer to ship a smartphone that has inductive, wireless charging as a default feature. Until now, wireless charging (by laying the phone on a pad that charges the battery) was available only from third-party vendors and required users to change the device's back panel. Nokia has partnered with a company called Fatboy to add a charging pillow without the need to change the back plate.

Nokia did not announce the pricing or availability of the Lumia 920 or the lower-end Lumia 820. Elop said that pricing and regional availability would be available in the fourth quarter of this year.