In the invitation to the Nokia World event in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Nokia promised to show "innovation reinvented," making its own attempt to generate Apple-style hype for a product that no one was really expecting in the first place.
Instead, Nokia actually announced two new devices that seem as if they were torn out of the Book of Samsung: an oversized phone and a 10-inch tablet. While both devices feature 1080p screens, quad-core processors, and cameras that rival some point-and-shoots, they aren't exactly "innovative." Nokia is simply pointing its ship in the direction the wind is blowing.
Lumia 1520: Who needs pockets?
Windows Phone users may be disappointed when they realize they can no longer make fun of their Android-wielding friends over their large phones. With its 6-inch screen, the Lumia 1520 is only marginally bigger than the Samsung Galaxy Note III, but the 1080p display is a huge improvement over its predecessors.
Microsoft's latest Windows Phone update will take advantage of the bigger screen size by enabling three rows of live tiles rather than the standard two, which you can use to highlight the most important apps for immediate thumb access. The device will also come with a 2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage, and a MicroSD expansion slot, as well as a 3400mAh battery pack.
Ifi Majid, Nokia's head of product marketing, said at the event that as with the Lumia 1020, the company put great emphasis on the camera in the 1520 to leverage Nokia's existing camera abilities in "new form factors ... and across the portfolio [of new devices]." The 1520's 20-megapixel rear-facing camera will feature Carl Zeiss optics, image stabilization, 2X lossless zoom, oversampling, and a dual-LED flash, as well as 30-frames-per-second full HD video recording. On the software side, you'll no longer have to contend with three different Nokia camera apps: Nokia combined them all into the concise Camera app, where you can choose between different modes. You can then take those photos and drop them into Nokia's new Storyteller app, which automatically places the images into an interactive map that you can bring up at any time.
In the short time I spent with the phone, the Lumia 1520 felt a lot like the Samsung Galaxy Mega: easy to use for multitasking, but too big to hold comfortably for long periods. Instead, the Lumia 1520's thin chassis had me wishing that Nokia had been making thinner phones all along. I fear that if the Lumia 1520 isn't successful, we may not get a chance to see more of Nokia's design chops in the future.
Lumia 2520: A tablet all its own
Nokia's much-ballyhooed tablet device will reside in the market alongside Microsoft's Surface tablets. The Lumia 2520 looks like an enlarged version of its phone siblings and runs Windows RT 8.1. It features a 10.1-inch 1080p display with high brightness and low reflectance, which Nokia says will make it easier to use in direct sunlight.
It's equipped with a 6.7-megapixel rear-facing camera and a 2-megapixel wide-angle front-facing camera, as well as a 2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, which is a bit of a departure from the Surface 2's Tegra 4 chip. Nokia says that sticking with Qualcomm's mobile chip should help improve startup times, as the tablet could take advantage of the processor's fast-charging abilities. The 2520's 8000mAh battery pack can charge up to 50 percent after just half an hour, though it requires an entirely separate port--and power adapter--to do so. This connection exists in addition to the USB 3.0 port (the same that Samsung uses on its latest, the Note 3) and a Mini HDMI-out on the side.
You can also buy a keyboard case, seemingly fashioned after the Surface's, that has a "bouncy" Chiclet-style keyboard, an extra battery pack for an extra five hours of juice, and two USB ports. The case folds over like a Trapper Keeper and protects the Lumia 2520 from dust and scratches.
Nokia hopes that integrated, out-of-the-box Office functionality--something that Apple and Google tablets don't offer--will draw users to the 2520. But with both versions of Microsoft's Surface tablets not selling well, and considering the fact that the tablet feels heavier than Apple's iPad without the keyboard case, it's not clear which part of the tablet market Nokia is gunning for here: the mobile consumer segment, or the professional productivity niche the Surface has managed to carve out.
Apps are coming, too
Today's announcement finally puts Nokia and Windows Phone directly in the ring with the big competitors, Google's Android and Apple's iOS. And the company isn't going into battle alone--Nokia also announced that more app makers have come on board the Windows Phone 8 platform. You'll see popular apps such as Flipboard, Instagram, and Vine in the coming weeks, in addition to a few handwriting applications. "We want to keep bringing great applications to Windows Phone," Majid said in our closed session. "There's a little bit of a perception problem with the applications [Windows Phone 8 has now]." Some worthy applications--especially Instagram--may be in the pipeline, but whether consumers will be willing to leave the comfortable embrace of the platforms they know best will be another thing entirely.
The Lumia 1520 and Lumia 2520 will be available for purchase later this year. The 1520 will cost $749 before carrier subsidies. The 2520 will sell for $499 before subsidies, while the power keyboard accessory will cost $149.
Updated at 9 a.m. PT to include a video report from IDG News Service.