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Surface Pro 4 and Band 2 waerable are also expected to be announced, alongside the new flagship Lumia 950 (or 940?) and 950 XL

It's been a long wait for new high end Windows Phones as Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) has struggled to revamp its smartphone campaign and resize its acquired Lumia unit.  Windows 10 has seen strong success, but will its mobile iteration be worth the wait amid the hyper-competitive crowd of smartphone launches we've already seen?

If there's one thing to be said a priori for its planned push, it's that Microsoft's branding and press courtship has drastically improved, thanks in part to the leadership of Satya Nadella who is currently serving out his second year as Microsoft CEO.  Indeed one might mistake the company's teaser for an Oct. 6 event for something from Apple, Inc. (AAPL) were it not for the pastel logo and appearance of a Seattle, Wash. skyline.  The press seems relatively excited over the event.

Lumia 940 XL

Lumia event

That said Microsoft's announcement comes much later than anticipated.  Initially we heard it would announced phones in August.  With time the rumor shifted to an announcement at the IFA 2015 consumer electronics trade show which was slotted for Sept. 4-9 in Berlin, Germany.  But the IFA came and went with nary and announcement.

It's possible this was all according to plan and leakers just understood its time frame.  But one also can not rule out the possibility that the recent layoffs that have decimated its already thinned smartphone unit staff somehow delayed these devices.
Whatever the case may be, the devices aren't dead and those who remain are putting on a brave face, marching forward.

Lumia logo

In the face of the cuts, it is leaning heavily on its operating system team to deliver enough gravy to make its new flagship phones must-have devices for some.

Microsoft is expected to potentially announce up to four devices at the event:
  • Microsoft Lumia 940 ("Talkman")
  • Microsoft Lumia 940 XL ("Cityman")
  • Microsoft Band 2
  • Microsoft Surface Pro 4
The Microsoft Lumia 940 is probably most comparable to the well-received Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KRX:005930) (KRX:005935) Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge.  Notably liked the Samsung models, the "Talkman" is expected to come in 32, 64, and 128 GB variants which rumor has it won't have external storage (unfortunately).

Lumia 950 "Talkman"

A leaked press render of the Lumia 950 (or 940?) "Talkman" [Image Source: @evleaks]

Probably the strongest selling point is the 24 or 25 megapixel PureView camera, which is expected to be market leading and packing terrific image stabilization optics.  A series of leaks begin with the practically ancient leak of a spec sheet last November to PhoneArena by a former Nokia Oyj. (HEL:NOK1V) factory basically have all confirmed that these tuned up PureView cameras will be onboard both the Lumia 940 and the 940 XL.

That same leaked spec claims the device would feature a Snapdragon 805 chip from Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM) onboard.  If accurate that'd put it at a fairly modest computational deficit versus Apple and Samsung, who both use proprietary processors in their flagship devices.  Fortunately more recent benchmarks and rumor postings have indicated that the older chip has been scrapped for a more recent 64-bit Snapdragon -- probably a hexacore Snapdragon 808 in the case of the Lumia 940.  

That said I'm still keeping a wary eye on processor selection given both the cuts and Microsoft's tendency in prior generation to throw softballs in terms of the processor selection.  If this is indeed the case it's worth noting that this is yet another instance of the handful of Nokia-focused foreign blogs being overly optimistic regarding Microsoft's upcoming hardware.  But I think more likely the more recent rumors will prove true given the numerous benchmarks we've seen and statements from Microsoft's Lumia team that the Snapdragon 808 and/or 810 would likely be on tap.

While Samsung's chip may be faster in a battle of comparable hardware, Microsoft may have a trump card if it indeed opts for a full HD (FHD) (aka 1080p; 1,920 x 1,080 pixels) versus the quad HD (QHD) displays (2,560 x 1,440 pixels used by Samsung).  Benchmarks showed that while Samsung processor was a workhorse that was faster than the Snapdragon 810 in QHD devices, it was beat out by last year's Apple A8 due to the major hit from the QHD.  That indicates a 1080p Lumia could probably eke out a narrow win over Samsung's design.

And in the battery life dept. it's expected to score a far bigger win.  While its nearly a third thicker than the GS6 (according to some rumors) and up to a tenth heavier, it makes the best of that space.  It is rumored to squeeze in souped-up fast charging and a 3,250 mAh battery (roughly a quarter bigger than Samsung's GS6 battery), which should be enough to deliver a knockout blow to the GS6 battery-life wise, given the substantial hit in power consumption when you move to QHD.

I argued that Apple was smart to stick with 1080p in its larger iPhone 6S+ device given the more modest resolution's substantial battery life and graphics rendering advantages at the cost of a minimal loss of screen crispness.

Rounding out the device is expected to be NFC, USB 3.1, and a passable 3 GB of DRAM. 

The Lumia 940 XL -- "Cityman" appears to pack a slightly different (and more premium) optical unit although both devices are rumored to have similar resolution sensors and optical image stabilization (OIS).  Likely the 940 XL will pack a larger sensor (similar to the Lumia 1020) and perhaps a more beefy OIS module as well.


Lumia 950 XL
A leaked press render of the Lumia 950 XL "Cityman" [Image Source: @evleaks]

The memory is expected to be bumped to 4 GB which should be handy when operating like a PC in Continuum mode.  The screen jumps to a 5.7-inch QHD display -- which I find a bit disappointing.  Nonetheless I can see why Microsoft would want to be one of the QHD cool crowd, even if it may be a poor design tradeoff.  At least it supplements the battery enough to soften the blow; the Lumia 940 XL is rumored to pack a massive 3,950 mAh battery -- early a 50 percent higher capacity battery than the one in (also QHD equipped) GS6.

The Lumia 940 and 940 XL may be renamed to the Lumia 950 and 950 XL, a rumor that recently gained the prominent backing of The Verge.  

The Verge says the Surface Pro 4 will likely play out as a relatively minimal update, with a keyboard redesign and fingerprint sensor (for Windows Hello biometrics) likely in the cards.  The size will likely remained unchanged at 12-inches and the entry price is rumored to hold steady at around $800 USD.  Given that the Intel Corp. (INTC) Broadwell Core M processor is still pretty much the cream of the crop for ultramobiles, that part may be left unchanged as well.

Surface Pro 3

Last generation's Surface Pro 3, introduced a bigger 12-inch form factor.

Less is known, respectively about the Band 2.  The Apple Watch has dominated the wearables discussion thus far this year, but it hasn't all been happy news.  Sales have disappointed lofty analyst expectations although they now appear to be getting back on track with some help from Best Buy Comp., Inc.'s (BBY).

That said, perhaps the more compelling success story was Fitbit Inc. (FIT) who not only pulled off a big IPO, but also managed to upset Apple in sales for at least part of the summer.  That was a pretty epic feat given that the Fitbit devices were backed by what could charitably be termed a "minimalist" marketing effort, compared to Apple's massive Apple Watch marketing blitz.

Overall athletic bands -- like last October's first generation ~$200 USD Microsoft Band and Fitbit's assorted devices -- appear to be much easier to sell for several reasons.  First they're less complex.  Second they tend to outperform multifunctional smartwatches at what is nonetheless the smartwatch's most compelling talent (sports tracking).  Third, they're cheap.  And last but not least they don't carry the social awkwardness that tends to come with the territory of public smartwatch use.

For all those reasons I don't expect Microsoft to try to creep its device too much farther into smartwatch territory.  The previous model was a quiet, but solid seller and the followup should be more of the same.

Microsoft Band

The Microsoft Band was a modest success, earning a followup that's expected to be announced later this month.

Probably the biggest shift will be the possible shift to the Windows 10 IoT Core libraries, a set of graphical and UI codebases published by Microsoft for use in custom GUIs on lightweight devices.  The libraries are seemingly a perfect fit for the Band 2.

I'd also hope that Microsoft might address the sort of quality and comfort issues that some of last year's Band buyers complained of.

Sources: Microsoft, via The Verge





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