Mobile Tech

Nokia Shows Off New Line of Pricey Handsets

Nokia unveiled a host of new smartphones Monday at the Mobile World Congress 2008 held in Barcelona, Spain. Among the handset maker’s upcoming offerings is the N96, the follow-up to the phone maker’s flagship N95 model.

Styled as a multimedia computer, the N96 sports a slightly larger screen at 2.8 inches versus 2.6 inches on the N95. The new model is optimized for video and TV, the mobile manufacturer said.

Nokia has set the European release date for sometime in the third quarter. The N96 will sell for 550 euros (US$803).

A Video and Internet Machine

Underneath its shiny black finish, the N96 offers 16 GB of internal flash memory — enough to store approximately 40 hours of video or 12,000 songs. Users with greater storage needs can also expand the N96’s memory with an optional 8 GB MicroSD card for total storage of up to 24 GB.

Users may need that kind of storage capacity as they transfer and take in a variety of supported video formats, including MPEG-4, Windows Media Video and Flash Video ,using the N96’s high-speed USB 2.0 connection. The device also supports WLAN (wireless local area network) and HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access).

Select markets will also be able to take advantage of the integrated DVB-H (digital video broadcasting — handheld) receiver to view live broadcast TV. Nokia has made the task of finding programs easier by including an automatically updating program guide.

“There are some clear improvements with the addition of DVB-H for mobile TV, the doubling of memory above the 8 GB version — plus the bigger screen compared to the N95 — and the addition of an external memory slot, not present in the 8 GB [model],” said Charles Golvin, an analyst at Forrester Research.

The N96 also features a 5-megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss optics and a flash as well as a video camera with video light that captures video at 30 frames per second for DVD-like quality, according to Nokia. Other offerings include Nokia’s Assisted (A-) GPS software, in addition to Nokia Maps 2.0. Maps 2.0 combines the Drive service for full voice and visual turn-by-turn driving instructions with the beta version of Walk, a door-to-door guide for pedestrians. The device’s geotag functionality for pictures includes location data, and the Nokia Video Center provides access to content from YouTube Reuters and Sony Pictures.

Despite its cool features, unless carriers can offer up significant subsidies, the N96 could be dialing up trouble with its high price tag, Golvin told TechNewsWorld.

“In truth, in European markets the N95 is currently heavily subsidized by operators. It’s unclear to me what the price point might be if a U.S. operator were to make the N95 or N96 available through its retail channels,” he continued.

New Devices on the Block

Nokia also introduced the N78, 6220 Classic and 6210 Navigator. The N78 sports the same shiny black finish as the N96 as well as some features: A-GPS and Nokia Maps. Its 3.2 megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss optics and 8 GB of storage via an MicroSD memory card are balanced by an integrated FM transmitter that enables users to play music on any FM radio, whether at home or in a car.

The N78 also features Nokia’s geotagging and supports high-speed Internet activity over WLAN or HSDPA. Nokia plans to launch the N78 during the second quarter of 2008. It will retail for 350 euros ($511).

With the lavender 6220 Classic and pinkish-red 6210 Navigator, Nokia has taken a more colorful approach. The 6220 offers a 2.2-inch screen, a 5-megapixel camera with Zenon flash and Carl Zeiss optics, an Internet browser, e-mail capabilities, a music player, FM radio with RDS and up to 8 GB of memory. It also comes loaded with a service that brings Web content directly to the device via widgets for easy access to news updates, games and Web communities.

Meanwhile, the 6210 Navigator lives up to its name as the first GPS-enabled mobile device with an integrated compass for pedestrian guidance from Nokia. It, along with the 6220, features Nokia Maps 2.0 application, which will plot the quickest route to a desired location and illustrate it on the map. High-speed 3.5G connectivity also provides detailed information on points of interests with phone numbers or Web addresses. It aslo includes pre-installed one-touch navigation with full voice guidance and self-mount car kit.

Although he gives the Maps software the thumbs up, Forrester’s Golvin is not sure whether consumers will want to pay additional money for something that realistically they could do for no charge over the Internet.

“The new Maps application is very good. The main question for Nokia is whether consumers will be willing to spend extra for the navigation option, and the Walk feature makes it usable in more situations and [increases] the likelihood that consumers will pay. How many will pay remain to be seen,” Golvin explained.

The 6220 and 6210 will hit store shelves sometime during the third quarter and will cost 325 euros ($474) and 300 euros ($438), respectively.

New Internet and Ad Initiatives

The Finnish handset maker also unveiled a new sharing component in its Web site, “Share on Ovi.” Users of the site can share photos, buy music and also access other services such as Flickr. With Share on Ovi they can upload, manage and share personal media while on the go, from their desktop and other connected devices. Acquired after its purchase of Twango in 2007, Ovi also includes social networking features that allow users to socialize, interact and collaborate. The service is designed from more than 100 different media types with unlimited storage and unlimited monthly uploads, Nokia said.

Nokia, however, is dipping its toes into a market chock-full of choices for consumers, said Neil Strother, a JupiterResearch analyst.

“It is a crowded field. But Nokia is determined to succeed across a wide range of services, and given their clout in the market, they have a chance to win, especially if they can get key carriers to buy in, and if they can convince enough consumers. They might not win on all fronts, but they’re marshaling enough forces to make a significant push,” he told TechNewsWorld.

The Nokia Media Network is another newly announced project that puts the handset maker into the mobile advertising game.

So far, some 70 leading publishers and operators such as AccuWeather, Discovery, Hearst, Reuters and Sprint have joined what Nokia said is the first global mobile ad network.

The challenges for Nokia are the same as it moves into ad sales as with Ovi, Strother pointed out.

“Crowded field, but again given Nokia’s global reach, they will make some noise,” he concluded.

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