Durban - Some analysts have described Nokia’s launch of its Lumia 920 and 820 smartphones running Microsoft’s new Windows Phone 8 operating system as the last throw of the dice for the once dominant Finnish cellphone maker.

Assuming that’s true, a big assumption in my opinion, Nokia seems to have loaded the dice in its favour, at least judging by my initial impressions from the South African unveiling of the Lumia brand along with a pleasingly comprehensive range of accessories.

The company eschewed the glitzy, big budget launch extravaganzas, choosing instead to show off the devices to small groups of selected tech journos in Joburg and Cape Town.

I attended the Cape Town session and was not surprised when Patrick Henchie, Nokia’s product marketing point man for South and East Africa, kicked off his spiel by waxing lyrical about the camera in the top-of-the-range 920.

By all accounts it’s a stunning snapper and arguably the phone’s stand out feature. It boasts Carl Zeiss optics and Pure View technology, introduced in the quirky 41 megapixel Nokia 808. In the 920 the megapixel counts down to a more realistic 8MP and thanks to sophisticated “floating lens” image stabilisation hardware, does a fantastic job of eliminating camera shake.

It comes with support for fourth-generation long-term evolution (4G/LTE) broadband which promises theoretical speeds of up to 100Mbit/s. At present Vodacom is the only operator offering commercial LTE services in parts of Gauteng on the 1.8GHz band and Henchie confirmed that the 920 works on it. MTN will use the same band when it launches 4G in a few weeks.

The Lumia 920 features a gorgeous 4.5-inch, “better-than-HD-quality” capacitive touchscreen, 2.32GB of flash storage, 1GB of RAM and a dual-core, 1.5GHz processor. Another nifty feature is wireless charging using a variety of optional mats, pads or even speakers, eliminating the need to plug it into the mains – although you can still charge it the old fashioned way if you want.

According to Leo McKay, head of communications for Nokia SA, the company is in talks with a leading restaurant chain to install charging mats at its outlets country-wide, which should prove a boon for Lumia-toting road warriors and a marketing coup for Nokia.

Another drawcard is the revamped, but still totally free, Nokia Drive and Maps apps, fully customised for South African roads. If that’s not enough to sway you, there’s Nokia Mix Radio, a free streaming music service that can be used both online and offline with full integration with the Nokia Music Store so you can buy and download high quality versions of any song that catches your fancy – a shot across the bows of paid-for competitor Simfy.

The smaller, more affordable Lumia 820 lacks the floating lens tech, high definition screen and beefy battery, but wireless charging is possible via an optional click-on cover and it runs the same touch optimised Windows Phone 8 operating system.

Both phones can stream music wirelessly, either over Near Field Communication (NFC) or Bluetooth, to a selection of brightly coloured speakers and headphones.

The 920 is already available and reportedly selling well, with contracts starting at around R400-a-month. The 820 will go on sale before the end of the year. Prices are still to be announced, but it’ll obviously be cheaper than the 920.

Have you already got the 920? I’d love to hear what you think. Tweet me @alanqcooper. - Sunday Tribune