Microsoft's new 2014 offering was launched at an event in Sydney last night: the high-end Lumia 930 on contract pricing or at $672 outright, at Telstra is designed to take on the upcoming iPhone 6 models and the current Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8, alongside the mid-range yet budget-friendly Lumia 635 which is already selling at Telstra for $179, $100 cheaper than the reccomended retail price.
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Complete with the official version of Microsoft's latest smartphone operating system, Windows Phone 8.1, both Lumia smartphones have finally taken the slickly updated new OS mainstream, adding a host of new features to bridge various gaps that had previously put iOS and Android so far in front.
The Lumia 930 is a visually impressive phone, which, as Nokia notes, is "built from a single block of durable aluminium". It has a coloured, plastic back panel, with colours including "bright orange, bright green, black and white", and while the first two colours do give life to Nokia's claims of the phone looking like business in the front, and a party at the back, the coloured backplates sadly aren't interchangeable as with the lower-priced, lower-specced Lumia 635.
On first impressions, the Lumia 930 and Windows Phone 8.1 are, well, impressive, as is the "Metro" tiled interface that works so much better on smartphones than it does and has on desktops and laptops.
The UI and quad-core-powered performance are fluid and fast, a proper notifications bar can finally be swiped from the top of the screen, a Swype-style keyboard called "Word Flow" is standard for far faster and more convenient typing, inbuilt wireless charging pad compatibility, excellent OneDrive cloud integration, inbuilt Skype and a 20 MP PureView camera for stunning photography and video recording with OIS (optical image stabilisation) and Carl Zeiss lens, with four microphones to record much richer surround sound in video recording mode than the competition.
The screen is nice and large at 5-inches, at 1920x1080 resolution with enhanced touch sensitive and excellent sunlight readability, Microsoft Office is built right in, as are OS-level apps to help you manage personal fitness, battery life, data usage, storage capacity and easy Wi-Fi connectivity - amongst plenty more - even including the Xbox Halo-derived Cortana "personal assistant" in US-centric "beta" mode - when region and language settings are set to US English.
Cortana won't officially come to Australia and the rest of the world until sometime next year, but while Cortana will answer requests for a weather forecast with temperatures in Fahrenheit, simply asking her to show you those results in Celsius brings up the desired result. Asking "her" a range of questions and to perform a range of Siri and Google Now-like tasks gave the expected results, and despite expecting to hear a US English accent, Cortana features impressively fast and accurate voice recognition.
In addition, there's that more than quarter-of-a-million apps, with a huge swathe of the most important titles already available. Nokia has also updated its range of first-party apps, from the MixRadio competitor to other streaming music apps, Nokia's camera app, Nokia's Creative Studio software for advanced, non-destructive photo editing and Nokia's HERE mapping navigation software, among others, ensuring the 930 has plenty of quality software to take on the iOS and Android app libraries.
Puzzlingly and annoyingly, Nokia decided against including a removable microSD card slot on the 930, which only comes in one 32GB model. This is despite including a microSD socket capable of taking cards up to 128GB on the much cheaper Lumia 635, and while Nokia touts 7GB of free OneDrive cloud storage, it's a real shame that Nokia's flagship smartphone doesn't offer microSD expansion - perhaps we'll see it next year with a presumed Lumia 940 successor running Windows Phone 9 or whatever they end up calling it.
I'll need to spend more time with the 930 to see how it and Windows Phone 8.1 really compares to iOS 7 and Android KitKat 4.4, and how it shapes up against the forthcoming iOS 8 and Android "L" OS updates, but for now, it is inescapable to notice that WinPhone 8.1 is Microsoft's most advanced, most capable and most beautiful mobile OS ever, on phones at outright prices that seriously challenge the future dominance of iPhones and especially high-end, mid-range and low-cost Androids.
Then there's the budget-friendly and 4G-equipped Lumia 635, at AUD $279 outright. The Lumia 635 can be thought of as Nokia's attempt at an iPhone 5C, except at the cheap pricing that pundits hoped the iPhone 5C would magically retail at when rumours of a "cheaper" iPhone raged this time last year.
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Although the iPhone 5C has been a stunning success for Apple, despite disappointing people's expectations of an approx $300 iPhone model by selling today for well over twice that $300 price, the 5C has reportedly outsold the Galaxy S5 and other flagship Android smartphone models from HTC, LG, Sony and others.
While this higher pricing model has worked for Apple, Nokia is coming from behind and can't afford to play the same high price game, thus ensuring a market for a quality, low-cost smartphone exists, with the Lumia 635 being Nokia's solid attempt at filling that gap.
Nokia had already filled that gap with last year's 520 and 620 models at very affordable pricing that propelled Windows Phone marketshare between 5 and up-to 10% levels in various parts of the world, so it's good to see Nokia continuing this trend with the 4G-enabled 635 at an outright price an iPhone presumably costs to make and will more-than-likely never sell at.
While more expensive, the 635 offers a faster and much higher quality alternative to the generally awful sub-$200 and $100 Android smartphones on sale even in supermarkets, and does all it can to help grow this marketshare for Nokia and Microsoft even larger during the rest of 2014 and beyond.
Unfortunately for those who might have wanted Nokia's Lumia 630 with dual-sim capabilities, Nokia isn't officially launching that model in Australia, although local grey market importers and overseas online stores can undoubtedly supply if you want to satisfy any dual-sim desires.
Both the 930 and 635 will be available later this month (July) from all major carriers, as well as at retail in Harvey Norman, Dick Smith, JB HiFi and AllPhones stores.
Given the maturing sophistication of the Windows Phone app store and Windows Phone 8.1 itself, alongside Microsoft's strict app store and OS rules that make malware and viruses as unlikely as they are on iOS and iPhones, there can be no doubt that Microsoft is gunning for iOS and Android as hard as it can.
Unless something unexpectedly catastrophic happens to the entire Windows Phone 8.1 ecosystem, Windows Phone's popularity, especially at the competitive pricing, will only grow. This will likely put greater pressure on Android sales than iPhone sales, but Microsoft is clearly set to try and steal as many customers from both competing smartphone and mobile computing platforms as possible.
Whenever Blackberry introduces new smartphones these days, it only seems to portend an even gloomier future for Blackberry itself, but with Nokia's new Lumias, it is iOS and Android that truly have to watch out, which is yet another reason why the iPhone 6 and iOS 8 are hotly anticipated and Google is upping the ante with its forthcoming Android "L" OS update.
Specs for the Lumia 930 include a 2.2Ghz Snapdragon 800 processor, 2GB Ram, 32GB storage, 4G LTE with "up to" 150Mbps network-dependent download speeds, 7GB OneDrive Cloud storage, 5-inch screen, 1920x1080 res at 441ppi, Sculpted Gorilla Glass 3, 20 MP Pureview rear camera with flash, 1.2MP wide angle HD front camera, integrated wireless charging, a 2420 mAh battery capable of delivering up to 15.5 hours of talk time on 3G networks, up to 23 days of standby time, up to 7.5 hours of video playback and up to 86 hours of audio playback, Bluetooth 4.0 and WiFi 802.11b/g/n and more, with full specs available here. http://www.nokia.com/au-en/phones/phone/lumia930/
Specs for the Lumia 635 include a 4.5-inch display with Gorilla Glass 3, a 1.2Ghz quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor, 512MB Ram, 8GB storage with microSD card expandability up to 128GB, a 5 MP auto-focus camera, Bluetooth 4, WiFi 802.11b/g/n, 4G LTE with "up to" 100Mbps network-dependent download speeds and more, with full specs available here. http://www.nokia.com/au-en/phones/phone/lumia635/