Lumia 900: Do-or-die for Nokia, Windows Phone in U.S.?

Low cost LTE phone -- free to new AT&T customers and $100 for others -- could provide boost versus iPhone, Android smartphones

Nokia's Lumia 900 smartphone goes on sale April 8 in what many analysts believe is a do-or-die moment for Nokia and Microsoft's Windows Phone OS in the key U.S. market.

The Lumia 900, which will run exclusively over AT&T's fast 4G LTE network, is priced at $99.99 with a two-year contract, making it among the lowest-priced LTE smartphones on the market. (AT&T was offering Lumia 900 pre-orders over the Web for free, applying the discount at checkout only to new AT&T customers. But it wasn't clear how long that deal would last.)

Despite its LTE support and low (or free) price, the Lumia 900 is not considered at the forefront of smartphones when comparing its specs with recent competitors and upcoming devices such as the next-generation iPhone expected this summer.

The Lumia 900 does offer a 4.3-in. Amoled, 480 x 800 pixel touchscreen for viewing large, clear images, an 1830 mAh battery for seven hours of talk time, and an 8 megapixel rear-facing camera with an aperture that can capture images in low light. The camera can also record high definition video and is complimented by a 1 megapixel front-facing camera.

Still, Lumia's 1.4 GHz Qualcomm APQ8055 processor is just a single core, while many new Android phones boast dual and quad-core chips.

The Lumia also doesn't offer Near Field Communication for mobile wallet purchasing, a feature that's already available on some Android phones and is widely expected to appear in the next iPhone.

The biggest question for Nokia and Microsoft is whether customers will curry to the Windows Phone operating system, which holds less than 3% of the U.S. smartphone market, analysts noted.

Nonetheless, most market analysts believe a $99.99 price tag for an LTE phone will woo new smartphone customers. More powerful LTE phones are generally priced between $200 and $300.

"It's very, very important for Nokia to make a statement in the U.S. [with the Lumia 900]," said Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner.

"The problem is that if Microsoft fails with [Windows Phone 7], it takes down Nokia even when Nokia does everything right. Windows Phone 7 has struggled. It doesn't seem to have blunted the growth of Android and iOS," Dulaney said.

"But free is free [with pre-orders] and that's a good value. It's a big 4.3-in. phone at $0, so that is pretty significant," he added.

The free pre-orders could be a sign that pre-orders for the Lumia 900 have been lower than AT&T had expected, Dulaney said.

AT&T started taking pre-orders on March 30.

"Still, I think it's a little too early to panic," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, calling a free Lumia 900 "a pretty sweet deal."

Even at $99.99, Nokia and Microsoft were being aggressive "and trying to buy market share" from the iPhone and Android-based devices, Gold added.

AT&T's offer of free Lumia 900 phones to new customers and other expected promotions show that the carrier is trying to offer a "new and exciting" alternative to the iPhone and Android phones, Gold said. A successful Lumia 900 would also give AT&T leverage in future iPhone negotiations with Apple, he added.

The Lumia 900 smartphone

The Lumia 900 smartphone from Nokia.

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