OPINION: With a hardware overhaul and a raft of new Nokia features, the Lumia 920 is looking like Windows Phone's best weapon in its uphill battle against Apple and Android.
Nokia unveiled the Lumia 920 and Lumia 820 in New York earlier this morning, with Microsoft's Steve Ballmer briefly joining Nokia's Stephen Elop on stage.
Ballmer was particularly heavy on rhetoric and light on details, wanting to keep some of the Windows Phone 8 announcements under wraps until Microsoft's official launch in October.
The Nokia presenters spent much of their time talking about the phone's camera features. They mentioned features such as Near Field Communications and wireless charging almost in passing, which seems a foolish strategy considering Nokia's tendency previous strategy to focus on camera features (such as with the Nokia N8) hasn't helped it make any serious ground on Apple and Android.
Even during the hands on sessions after the launch, the phrase "we're not talking about that today" was a common response to questions which strayed from the Nokia feature set. Demonstrators from Microsoft and Nokia were reluctant to flick away from the Start screen to show the app list and applied the same rules when journos such as myself had hands on time with the phones. At this point it seems like Nokia is afraid to take a piss without Microsoft's blessing, even though it hasn't swallowed up the phone maker as Google has Motorola.
When you do get your hands on the Lumia 920 is doesn't immediately feel that different to the slick Lumia 900. It has a slightly larger display at 4.5 inches, but the screen now runs closer to the edge of the handset (as you get see in the photo above, with the Lumia 920 on the left). The WXGA screen also has a slightly more pronounced curve, but not so much that you'd notice it in day to day use.
Nokia has stuck the the exquisite ClearBlack display used on the earlier Lumias, which feels incredibly smooth and inviting. With the new model Nokia has added extra light sensitivity features to adjust the colour and brightness on the fly when outside.
It's when you look under the bonnet that the changes become more obvious. The Lumia 920 is blessed with a dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor, 32GB of onboard storage and 1GB of RAM to keep things snappy (although, to be fair, the older single-core Windows 7.5 models didn't feel sluggish). There's a generous 2000 mAh battery to support the larger screen and extra grunt. Nokia spent a lot of time talking about the PureView camera and PureMotionHD+ video capture, which offer impressive optical image stabilisation thanks to a floating lens. The f2.0 apeture lens and stabilisation lets the phones take impressive low light images.
But great cameras from Nokia are par for the course. To me the real eyecatching features are wireless charging and Near Field Communications. Both are built into the Lumia 920 and can be added to the Lumia 820 using interchangable cases. Other differences with the cheaper model include the Lumia 820's 4.3-inch display, smaller 1650 mAh battery, 8GB of onboard storage and the inclusion of a micro-SD card slot. Nokia wouldn't be drawn on pricing and will only say they're both available in Q4.
Turning to Windows Phone 8, the most immediate change is that it now extends all the way across the screen rather than leaving a gutter down the right side. You can flick the Start screen to the left to see the full app list. Along with room for more tiles, WP8 now allows for three tile sizes - adding a small size to let you fit more on the screen. It's easy to tap on any tile to change its size, with its display reconfiguring on the fly to take advantage of the available space.
Nokia is also building on its strong mapping heratige and is developing augmented reality features such as City Lens which let you hold up your phone to see information about your environment such as nearby stores. The inclusion of a true offline maps for more than 200 countries is another key feature, rather than simply caching, will appeal to travelers. You can search maps and points of interest while offline, although you need internet access to calculate routes. Nokia Maps supports walking, driving and public transport, with spoken guides while walking. In Australia you'll find estimated public transport times for the mainland capital cities.
The final headline feature is Near Field Communications, which I think has the potential to really take the fight to Android and Apple. NFC allows quick wireless pairing with audio devices, plus the wireless charge pads have NFC to trigger specific events. But the really killer use for Nokia will be NFC's tie-in with Windows Phone 8's Wallet. It can hold credit card and loyalty card details. Most impressive is that you can manually add third-party cards rather than relying on them to be compatible with Windows Phone 8. I had to work the room before I found someone who was prepared to break Microsoft's cone of silence and talk in detail about NFC and Wallet, but what I saw really impressed me. Apple is going to come out hard with it's wallet features, while Android is dragging it's feature. I think it's an area where Nokia and Windows Phone 8 can really do well.