I gave Steve Ballmer very little credit a week or so ago after the motivational speech he gave at the Web 2.0 conference on the prospects for upcoming versions of Windows Phones and how handily they will out strip Android and iPhones in both sales and technical capabilities.
I admit that was my skepticism talking, though it was skepticism developed from years of covering Microsoft develop products that were sometimes brilliant in concept or brilliant in execution, but rarely achieved both consecutively, and rarely achieved either on purpose.
This morning, Nokia announced the first Windows Phones designed to fulfill Steve's motivational speech about them. They got some decent early reviews, but I have to say they don't do much to change my relatively low expectations.
Granted, the two new additions to the Lumina line of Nokia Windows Phones are aimed at Europe and a handful of PacRim countries, not the U.S., so the styling and services won't be tailored to U.S. expectations (which are still lower than in other countries, where telcos don't routinely cripple new phone features to block ways to access features they sell for a premium).
Nokia didn't say when or if it would deliver versions of the phone for the U.S. market. First deliveries will be in Europe, followed by Hong Kong, India, Taiwan, Russia and Singapore.
The Nokia Lumina 710 and 800 use the same 1.4Ghz single-core processor but differ in the amount of available memory and quality of the camera. One shoots in 8 megapixel, the other only 5.
Hands-on review from GMANews:
ITWorld readers gave the design and specs mixed but generally positive reviews, though one wished the Windows Phones came without Internet Explorer and another wished they came with the option to run a different OS.
Slick phone doesn't alleviate doubts about OS
The specs don't look that impressive, but Engadget reviewers were "bedazzled" by the Lumina 800 and lukewarm about the 710, at least partially because of the noticeable cost-cutting in the design and componentry.
In his speech at the Web 2.0 conference, Ballmer promised to bring the price of Windows Phones way down to make them more attractive.
Engadget's most effusive praise was that the Nokia Lumina 800 was comparable to Nokia's existing N9 – a sharply designed, plastic-bodied phone with a beautiful display screen running Nokia's Meego operating system, which a GMANews reviewer calls a "combination of the BlackBerry Playbook OS, Android Honeycomb and Apple’s iOS."
The Nokia 800 appears to be a slightly upgraded version of the N9, running Windows Phone rather than Meego, which Nokia has discontinued and will no longer install even on its own phones.
So, if phones of similar quality and slick design hit the U.S., would that fulfill Ballmer's boast that Windows Phone will move up in sales and market share to challenge iOS and Android?
Keep in mind that if it does, that would give most major companies at least four major smartphone/tablet operating systems to support – Blackberry, iOS, Android and Windows Phone. Many will opt for less diversity, though it's not clear from most survey results if they'd end up preferring Blackberry and Windows Phones for their legacy support, or iOS and Android for their support of the latest hardware and virtualization technology.
Phone OSes are a notoriously idiosyncratic choice, both for companies and individuals, so I won't try to guess based only on having read about phones that won't be available here until at least the end of the year.
Abe Olandres, who reviewed the N9 for GMANews, which is based in the Philippines and has tested many of the recent Nokia phones, doesn't sound optimistic:
For a first-time Meego device, the Nokia N9 is nothing short of impressive. Good build quality, nice simple design, great multimedia performance and a pretty capable shooter. And I have to admit, the N9 has certainly gotten my two thumbs up. I’d even dare to say that Meego works better than WP7 and they should just have used it for their flagship smartphones instead of partnering with Microsoft. That’s based from experience of using the HTC HD7 running Windows Phone 7 for a year. – Abe Olandres, GMANews, Oct. 26, 2011.
Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.