Nokia Needs Lumia 920 to Shine

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- It's hard to fault investors for having abandoned phone giant Nokia ( NOK) and what was once a prominent company -- one that was in a fast-growing market. With chronic self-inflicted wounds, the company essentially handed over the phone market to Apple ( AAPL) and Samsung. But with renewed excitement stemming from Nokia's Lumia 920 running on Microsoft's ( MSFT) Windows Phone 8, investors want to know does Nokia now deserve a second look?

For Nokia, I'd like to think that the company can revive its fortunes with its new phone, but it's hard to discuss the prospects of the Lumia 920 without first considering its predecessor, the Lumia 900 -- particularly for how the company botched the launch. After getting its tail kicked by Research in Motion's ( RIMM) BlackBerry, which then gave way to Apple's iPhone, Nokia needed a spark.

Enter the Lumia 900, a device billed as Nokia's "corner-turning" product and its first phone launched in partnership with Microsoft. It was supposed to be the company's "saving grace."

Except it was launched on Easter, April 8 on this year! Yes, the holiday that all but guaranteed that a significant portion of stores would be closed. It was remarkable how two prominent companies in Nokia and Microsoft could have gotten something so important, so incredibly wrong.

What made Nokia's gaff so eye-opening was that the company was already playing catch-up to not only Apple, but also Samsung and could ill-afford such unforced errors -- particularly as Apple was executing flawlessly. Nokia has lost close to 80% of its value during the course of the past five years after having once enjoyed almost 50% of the global smartphone revenue.

Today as the company is fighting for its life, it is still burning through cash like nobody's business. What's more, its issues have been compounded by the fact that neither Apple nor Samsung have made enough mistakes to present it with an opening. Fumbling the ball as it did with the Lumia 900 does not inspire confidence that it can get the 920 right. But does it deserve a second chance?

Early Reviews Are Mixed

There is plenty to like with the Lumia 920. For example, it sports a screen sensitive enough that it can be used while wearing a glove -- I think that's pretty impressive, even if you don't live in northern states where it's cold. Also noteworthy is the phone's wireless charging support. The phone is by far the best on the Windows platform. It's powerful and feature rich. However, at the same time I do wonder about what looks like a considerable amount of excess.

For instance, it's unnecessarily heavy -- weighing 6.5 ounces, or twice as heavy as the iPhone 5.Also the Lumia 920 is taller and wider than the 900. While this helps slightly from the standpoint of an increased screen size, one loses the convenience of storage. For pockets, I would have to wear much looser pants. On the other hand, my wife may not have a problem if she elects to carry it in her purse -- although she'll develop some shoulder strength, albeit an unintended consequence.

Moving Forward

Overall, when assessing the 920, I would say the reviews have been positive. But it also comes with many questions. What does Nokia stand to benefit by having AT&T ( T) be the exclusive carrier? Likewise, that Microsoft has exclusivity with the operating systems could be both a plus and positive. If Windows 8 turns out to be an overwhelming success, it could signal more entrants to that platform -- essentially adding pressure to any advantage Nokia might have developed.

On the other hand, if consumers don't embrace Windows, Nokia has nowhere to run.

Another concern is the cost of the 920 -- currently retailing for close to $800. I wonder if this is the market Nokia should be in if it wants to truly generate volume to ignite a turnaround. After all, Samsung took an entirely different approach in attacking Apple's dominance, which is to win on being the least expensive option while offering similar value. So far it has worked to perfection. So I worry that Nokia just might have priced itself out of another opportunity.

Bottom Line

Believing in Nokia at this point requires having faith that the Lumia 920 and whatever product that follows can be significant enough to avert the company's spiral towards irrelevance.

Likewise, making a bet on the stock today also requires investors to believe that eventually Apple or Samsung will slip up.

I tend to think there are better odds elsewhere. But that is not to say that Nokia can't enter the discussion and stay relevant. This will require producing phones that consumers will want and gaining enough market share from names such as HTC and LG.

So far the Lumia 920 looks promising. But let's hope the company does not botch this one.

At the time of publication, the author was long AAPL and held no position in any of the other stocks mentioned.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
Richard Saintvilus is a private investor with an information technology and engineering background and has been investing and trading for over 15 years. He employs conservative strategies in assessing equities and appraising value while minimizing downside risk. His decisions are based in part on management, growth prospects, return on equity and price-to-earnings as well as macroeconomic factors. He is an investor who seeks opportunities whether on the long or short side and believes in changing positions as information changes.