As expected, Nokia today announced its Lumia 1020 smartphone with superior camera and video technologies, including a 41 megapixel optical sensor and 6x zoom.
The Nokia Lumia 1020 smartphone.
Nokia CEO Stephen Elop introduced the phone in a yellow unibody case and claimed it would help users see objects up close with greater clarity and in low light better than their own eyes.
"You will see things you've never seen before," Elop said. "You will get the smartest, sharpest ... smartphone pictures you've ever seen before."
AT&T will be the exclusive U.S. carrier of the Lumia 1020. It will be available July 26 for $299.99 with a two-year agreement.
The smartphone also runs the Windows Phone 8 operating system, which hasn't taken the market by storm. Nokia is clearly hoping the 1020's camera functionality will help boost sales and improve Nokia's fortunes, analysts said. The 1020 will also have a 4.5-in AMOLED PureMotion HD+ display with 1280 x 768 pixels and will run on AT&T's LTE network.
"Cameras are a very good place to attempt to differentiate smartphones, so this  is a good move for Nokia," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. "Consumers really are basing their future phone choice partially on how well it takes pictures. Unfortunately, this cannot make up for Windows Phone 8's lack of applications, which has resulted in a lack of market traction."
Moorhead said his private surveys have found that camera functionality in a smartphone is one of the top three considerations for potential buyers, along with a fast processor and a superior display.
The 1020's superior camera "will help Nokia get some attention during the holiday season," added Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Gartner. "Nokia has been building a portfolio of products, but they have lacked differentiation in the high end, as wireless charging features did not quite do it for them. The camera is an important part of the phone for consumers, especially if it comes with no compromise on design and without a price premium."
This fall's holiday sales will be critical to Nokia, analysts said. "Fourth quarter is the time when Nokia needs to show that volume is growing and it is the time when the ground work has been done and things need to get moving," Milanesi said. "In that respect, the 1020 is critical."
Elop noted that the 1020 follows a long tradition of adding photo and video technologies to its cameras, going back to 1994. The company has 450 camera patents.
The Lumia 920, introduced last year, had stabilization technology for video that is part of the 1020. There is also a xenon flash for quick capturing of motion in dark conditions. The 6x zoom in the 1020 was used to show clear images of bees in a bee hive, indicating details of pollen on their legs.
The 1020 also has six lenses, the most in a smartphone, to allow wide angle pictures as well as narrow angles with clarity. Nokia also demonstrated that the zoom capability allows editing of an image already taken by zooming in or out to focus on details not seen in the original frame.
Nokia even showed a photo of a needle in a haystack, starting with a shot several feet from the haystack and then zooming in to show the actual needle's eye.
Manual controls are also part of the 1020's camera, including manual exposure settings. Elop demonstrated a four-second exposure photo taken in the dark, as two assistants used the glow from their cameras to "draw" the numerals "1020" captured by the image.
Stereo sound recording capabilities are also possible with high-performance digital microphones.
Elop said that with Windows Phone 8, the photos taken with the 1020 can easily be shared with others on social networks. There are now 165,000 apps in the Windows Store.
The 1020 also takes advantage of augmented reality technologies that Nokia introduced more than a year ago. Users can deploy a mapping app with an overlay of store locations, for example, by using AR. The capability can be used off-line without an Internet connection.
Nokia said the Lumia 1020 has 32 GB of internal storage, putting the base price of $300 at the same price as the iPhone 5 with 32 GB. It runs a Snapdragon S4 1.5 Ghz dual-core processor. In addition to the 41-megapixel rear camera, the front camera is 2 megapixels. The battery is 2,000 mAh. Overall, the phones weighs 5.5 ounces and measures 5.13 x 2.81 x 0.41 inches. In addition to yellow, it comes in black and white.
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is [email protected].
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