Nokia CEO, Canadian Stephen Elop, unveils the Nokia Lumia 1520 (displayed on the giant screen) during an event to unveil Nokia's latest products.

Durban - Last year was big for Nokia with the mobile phone maker nudging aside BlackBerry to take the number three spot behind Samsung and Apple in the global race for smartphone dominance, and this year is shaping up to be even bigger.

That was the upbeat message from the company’s South African General Manager Shaun Durandt at the launch this week of several new phones into the local market, led by the company’s first “phablet,” the gigantic 6-inch Lumia 1520.

Admittedly, that global runners-up spot still leaves them a fairly distant third, but when you zoom in on South Africa the picture is a lot brighter, with Lumia smartphones outselling Apple’s iPhone by a tidy margin and Nokia enjoying an impressive 44 percent share of the local market.

With the launch of the high end and pricey 1520 – don’t expect much change for R10 000 if you pay cash, although you can get it on a monthly contract for R499 – Nokia is well positioned to take on top dog Samsung and its range-topping Galaxy Note 3.

My first impressions of the 1520, based on the short time I got to spend with it at the Joburg launch, are very favourable, but then I do like big phones – I own the Note 3, after all. That said, it’s surprisingly slim and doesn’t feel over heavy in the hand, and all that extra screen real estate is a boon to browse the web or watch videos. And a gorgeous slab of glass it is too, boasting 1080p, full-HD resolution.

The bigger display has also allowed Nokia to squeeze a third column of live tiles on to its start screen, allowing users to get to their favourite apps faster with less scrolling.

I’d love to tell you more about the 1520, especially its impressive photographic capabilities thanks to a 20 megapixel Pureview snapper, but I’m running out of space, so I’ll save that for my upcoming full review – Nokia’s promised to send me a test phone shortly, so watch this space.

And while I am impressed by the 1520, I’m actually more excited by Nokia’s new range of affordable Asha phones. In comparison to their super-sized sibling, these 3.5-inch pocket phones are almost comically tiny. But, then, so is their price tag. The entry level Asha 500 is priced at just R999, with the dual SIM 502 and better specced 503 selling for R1 199 and R1 499 respectively.

Nokia executives hinted that they would like to trim those prices further ahead of the phones going on sale from March.

I need to spend more time with the Asha phones but predict they’ll be hard to beat on price.

If 2014 is to be a huge year for Nokia SA, as its GM predicts, it may well be thanks to these pint-sized crowd pleasers rather than its headline hogging flagship. - Sunday Tribune

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