If there’s one thing I miss in the current smartphone industry, it’s design. Honest to good, real design. We basically see one boring slab after another, void of any true identity, whether it’s iPhone, Samsung, or any of the others. In this boring world of grey, black, and the occasional white, Nokia is the jester, coming up with its own unique designs and crazy colour selection. Today, the company unveiled the Lumia 920 and 820 to continue this trend.
I’ve been growing increasingly frustrated with smartphone design – and with hardware design in general. Years ago, back when they were still busy trying not to die, Apple produced its best and most iconic designs. It started with the colourful original iMacs, continued through the PowerMac G3 and G4, and reached its zenith with the PowerMac G4 Cube and the iMac G4. Since then, the distinctiveness and colour has left Apple’s designs, and nobody in the industry has the guts to bring it back (and can you blame Apple? The money just keeps on coming). Smartphones and tablets followed this trend. They’re all pretty boring, and most of all, void of any form of colour or identity. See one smartphone, you’ve seen them all. See one tablet, and you’ve seen them all.
That is, until Nokia shook things up last year. They started with the N9 – the Swan Song for the Nokia of old, and harbinger for the Nokia of new. In white, I like to refer to the Nokia N9 as the ‘unicorn phone’; I’ve seen pictures of it, but never in real life. Like unicorns, I’m pretty sure it exists, but I’ve never seen one. From the ashes of the N9 came the Lumia 800 and Lumia 900, in exciting colours, with the same distinctive and unique design that sets them apart from the competition. It’s hard to be distinctive with such little space, but Nokia nailed it.
The Nokia Lumia 920 and to a lesser degree the 820 continue this trend. In a world where grey and black rounded rectangles rule the roost, where the same boring design is regurgitated and mildly iterated every six-to-twelve months to squeeze yet another few precious hundreds of euros from the pockets of unsuspecting customers, it’s refreshing to see a company have the guts to come out with a unique red or even yellow phone. They call the red “lipstick red” for Fiona’s sake. Nokia, here’s to the crazy ones!
It doesn’t end with the phone’s hardware design, though. Nokia has made sure to properly match the external colours with the main interface colours of the – still – distinctive and unique operating system. Windows Phone is as distinctive and unique as ever, and next to the boringness of iOS and Android, it simply stands out.
Alight, enough marketing talk. Let’s get down to business. The phones look nice, but as far as specifications go, it’s nothing special. The camera is labelled as PureView, but it’s nowhere near the kind of craziness the Nokia 808 displayed; it’s a regular sensor with some additional technologies to improve image quality – but considering Nokia wasn’t confident enough to not fake its marketing material, I am highly sceptical of their claims about the camera.
To make matters worse: no pricing information, no availability, no nothing. We have no idea when these will hit the market, and everything seems to point to this event being planned now just to make sure they wouldn’t be overshadowed by the iPhone 5’s announcement. I got all excited and was ready to (pre-)order the lipstick red 920 (a red phone! A red phone!), only to be disappointed when nothing was said about pricing and availability. This is a letdown, and as a consumer, this puts me in the wrong mood. What puts me right back in a good mood, however, is the fact that Nokia has managed to make the touchscreen work even while wearing mittens and gloves – something that’s surely going to come in handy in the winter.
Still, I will reward Nokia for having the guts to be unique in this boring industry. I will most definitely buy a lipstick red 920 (I just love saying that) to replace my HD7 and SII (Windows Phone is my favourite mobile operating system), and for the sake of the industry, I hope many others will do too. We could use a little craziness, a little colour, a little competition.
Unless you want to be stuck with boring iOS and Android for the foreseeable future, of course.
Welcome back Nokia.