Welcome Back, Nokia

If my Mom asked me what smartphone to buy right this second, I’d tell her to wait — wait until the Nokia Lumia 900 is released. It’s that good. Windows Phone 7 is that good. It’s faster and more idiot-proof than Android and presents core functions like phone calling and messaging better than iOS. Windows Phone is, in my humble opinion, a fantastic product.

Nokia has had a rough decade. Trouble started in the States where the company continued to pump budget phones into a market that went upscale. They were an early entrant in the smartphone race, but didn’t curate a developer-friendly ecosystem as quickly as others. They were down, out, and looking dead in the water. Then Microsoft floated by and threw out a life preserver worth $250 million. Now, after just one quarter, Nokia is the top dog of the third most popular smartphone platform. That’s a great spot to be in.

I have a T-Mobile Lumia 710 sitting in front of me right now. As John said in our review, it’s impressive to a point. The battery easily lasts days, outlasting an iPhone 4S or even the Droid RAZR MAXX. The hardware feels of the Nokia of old: a tad plasticy but very solid. I doubt it’s as durable as 3310 or 1110i but it can certainly survive drops. I’m not sure I would use it as a daily driver, but I would wholeheartedly recommend it to someone looking for a reliable and simple phone.

But this as much about Microsoft as it is Nokia. The partnership is nearly perfect. Microsoft knows software and Nokia knows hardware. Take the Zune: fantastic software hampered by just average hardware that had limited market distribution. Likewise, the Nokia N8 is one of the finest phones I’ve ever felt but the Symbian OS made it unsellable. When separate, these two companies were being pushed out of the mobile race. But together, they’re a major force.

Windows Phone 7 might never overtake Android or iOS in marketshare. Apple has legions of fans and Android is growing at an exponential pace fueled by an explosion of devices. But market share only matters to a point. Windows Phone does not have to be first in order to be successful.

Still, Microsoft, Nokia and all the rest of the Windows Phone makers are fighting an uphill battle. And they need to fight harder. It’s not cool to own a Windows Phone like it is an iPhone or Droid. Windows Phone needs stronger, more aggressive marketing. Look at Samsung with the Galaxy S II. They’re doing it right. Carriers need a better selection of hardware (read: Nokia needs to get on Verizon). The prices are right but the products are still relatively unknown by consumers. Buy salesman’s love. It’s dirty but spiffs and incentives generally result in higher sales.

Per today’s news Nokia holds 33 percent of the Windows Phone 7 market share and they reached that point in just one quarter using classic Nokia tactics. The Lumia 710 is wonderfully inexpensive and the Lumia 800 is not an iPhone competitor in the traditional hardware sense. But people still want them. The large Lumia 900 is hitting soon, which will no doubt increase Nokia’s dominance in the market.

If you’re like me, you’re fed up with Android’s nonsense and don’t really want an iPhone. My hope is that Nokia and Verizon releases a LTE-enabled 900 with a battery life comparable to that of the 800. That’s what I want.

Nokia bet all their chips on Microsoft. It was a bold move. Windows Phone 7 had yet to show signs of real life and it’s still a tiny sliver on the smartphone market share pie. But there’s still money to be made in third place and Nokia’s bet is looking smarter all the time.