Microsoft: mid-range phones for budget conscious

09/04/2014 2:56 PM

09/04/2014 2:56 PM

Microsoft will seek to draw more people to its Internet-based services with two new mid-range smartphones.

The devices unveiled Thursday are under the Lumia brand Microsoft bought from Nokia. They run the latest version of Windows Phone 8 and feature Cortana, a Siri-like voice assistant available to help with directions, calendar appointments and messages. Many of those interactions will steer users to Microsoft services such as Bing search and OneDrive storage.

Chris Weber, Microsoft's vice president for mobile devices sales, said consumers should feel comfortable about storing their personal pictures on OneDrive, despite recent hacks exposing celebrities' private pictures stored on services such as Apple Inc.'s iCloud.

"I think we have to amplify the message around security regarding these cloud services," Weber told reporters.

To this end, Microsoft is also giving users more control over the kind of information — friends, diaries, home address — that the Cortana voice assistant will have access to, he said.

Microsoft bought Nokia's phone business in April as it seeks to boost Microsoft's Windows Phone system, which has had little traction compared with Apple's iPhones and Google's Android system. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has made mobile phones and Internet-based services priorities for the company as its traditional businesses — Windows and Office software installed on desktops — slow down or decline.

Microsoft's new Lumia 730 and 830 phones won't have all the technical advances found in Microsoft's pricier flagship, the Lumia 930 phone, which is known as the Lumia Icon in the United States. The 730's rear camera takes 6.7 megapixel shots, while the 830 is 10 megapixels. By contrast, the 930 phone is at 20 megapixels, one of the highest in a smartphone.

The 830 has a 5-inch screen and will cost about 330 euros ($435) before tax, compared with 440 euros for the Samsung Galaxy S5 and 515 euros for the iPhone 5.

The 4.7-inch 730 will cost 199 euros. It will have 3G connectivity and slots for two SIM cards, an important feature in emerging markets where wireless plans vary widely such that users switch services often to get the best deals. A 4G version will be known as the 735 and will cost 219 euros.

Microsoft, which bought Skype three years ago, is also throwing in three months of free international voice calls with every new purchase.

The new phones will start shipping in September, though not necessarily right away in all markets. Typically, Lumia phones make it to the U.S. under different model numbers.

Among other new releases unveiled at the show:

— Chinese firm Huawei is focusing on battery life with its Ascend Mate7 smartphone, which as 6-inch screen and a massive 4100 mAh battery.

Shao Yang, head of Huawei's marketing department, said even heavy users would get two days' work out of a full battery charge.

The Mate7 sports a fingerprint sensor on the back that can be used to unlock the phone. But while Samsung and Apple have already done this in their latest flagship phones, Huawei lets users associate each of up to five fingers with a different function. This can be used to show something to a friend but hide private photos, for example.

—Taiwanese phone manufacturer HTC unveiled a mid-tier Desire phone.

The Desire 820 has an 8-megapixel front-facing camera for the increasingly important selfie function; and a 5.5-inch screen to show off the videos recorded with the 13-megapixel back camera.

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