ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK: Nokia not ready for the smartphone grave

A major selling point is that the handset’s operating system will be upgradeable for years

11 April 2021 - 00:07 By Arthur Goldstuck



The demise of LG smartphones, anticipated for some months, became official on Monday. The most significant message sent by their passing is that there is little room for brands that are unable to compete with the three giants of the sector, namely Samsung, Apple and Huawei.Unsung names like Oppo, Xiaomi and Vivo have muscled their way in through high-spec devices at relatively low cost, winning mass market appeal in developing economies. That leaves precious little room for smaller manufacturers at either the high end or in the mid range.LG's decision was the most palpable acknowledgement yet of this reality, raising the spectre of the gadget grave for the likes of Sony and Nokia handsets, too.As if on cue, however, on Thursday Nokia once again seemed to return from the dead - or the death that had been assigned to it by market talk. Its manufacturer, HMD Global, unveiled not only a new flagship smartphone, but no fewer than three new ranges and six handsets. That makes it one of the biggest arrays of new smartphones launched by a manufacturer in the history of the industry.The three new lines comprise a top-of-the-range Nokia X-series, an intermediate G-series, and an entry-level C series. All draw on a legacy that has survived from the original Nokia cellular brand positioning: quality devices that last. Except that, now, a large element of the value proposition is that the handsets will last not only because they are durable, but also because their operating systems (OS) will be upgradeable for several years.That means the phones will remain current, using the latest version of the Android OS that forms the basis of most smartphones outside the Apple family. That in itself is likely to appeal to consumers who resent their phones becoming obsolete after a year or two.However, innovation and features remain key selling points, and the pressing questions will revolve around whether Nokia can answer them convincingly.First, it must be underlined that these phones do not compete at the high end of the market. The flagship Nokia X20 and X10 devices are described as "pushing the boundaries of the mid range" to "provide experiences and quality far above their price tag". They both have a large 6.7-inch display and 4,500mAh battery, along with 128GB storage.Each has a four-lens camera array on the back, with the X20 main lens peaking at 64MP and the X10 at 48MP. In other words, they would not be out of place among the high-end flagships of the market leaders. The biggest difference between the two is the front camera, with 32MP and 8MP lenses respectively, with the lower-specced device also having a 64GB storage option, allowing for the X-series to cross several price bands in the mid range.The most powerful selling point is that these phones will both cost less than R10,000, making it an astonishingly economical - not to mention stylish - alternative to, well, every single high-end handset on the market.The next range, the 6.5-inch G20 and G10, offers a performance alternative to the X. Both promise three days of battery life, again drawing on a Nokia hallmark of devices past. The massive 5,050mAh batteries are the largest yet in a Nokia handset. The G20 has the same camera specs as the X10, but costs far less, positioning itself as an affordable flagship alternative.The C-series is the entry-level option for feature phone users looking to enter the smartphone arena. That the C20 and C10 also sport 6.5-inch screens tells us how far the entry level has come. However, the single 5MP lens on the back of each also tells us how much spec has to be sacrificed for price. The main difference between the two is a more powerful processor on the C20, which is likely to go unnoticed by entry-level users, but again offers a price range to suit different wallet sizes."The X-series allows us to offer the benefits of our high-end partnerships with Qualcomm and ZeissOptics," said Stephen Taylor, chief marketing officer of HMD Global, during the launch this week. "Finding that perfect balance between specs and affordability is what the G-series is all about. The C-series thrives on delivering ultra-high-value tech to the smartphone market."As the most affordable device of the new portfolio, at around R1,500, the C10 is the ultimate test of Nokia's economical innovation strategy.Don't expect the new phones to be talked of in the same breath as Apple and Samsung, but do expect to be talking about Nokia again. Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za

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