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New Nokia smartphone an outstanding bargain

Nokia Lumia 920 smartphone, by Nokia Corp.

$99.99 with two-year service contract from AT&T

Desperate times call for desperate bargains. That’s the only explanation for AT&T’s aggressively low price on Nokia’s flagship smartphone. This remarkable handset, which runs Microsoft Corp.’s Windows Phone 8 software, has got to be the best $100 phone you can buy, with an excellent camera, a big, beautiful video screen, and snappy 4G LTE data downloads.

Nokia, once the leading wireless phonemaker, is getting clobbered by Apple Inc.’s iPhone and by Android­ smartphones. And while Windows Phone software is outstanding, consumers are still reluctant to embrace it. But this phone could be good enough, and cheap enough, to change some minds.

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The Lumia 920’s screen isn’t as sharp as that of the iPhone 5, but it’s a good deal bigger, for more comfortable video viewing. The 8-megapixel camera shoots good still photos and even more impressive 1080p high-resolution movies. As for Windows Phone 8, it’s a snappy, elegant operating system full of smart features that efficiently integrate phone, ­e-mail, and social-networking services.

If Microsoft had brought this software to market a couple of years sooner, they’d have 50 percent of the smartphone market by now, instead of less than 5 percent.

The Lumia 920 would be well worth buying at $199,99, the usual upfront price for high-end smartphones. At $99.99, it ought to be nearly irresistable.

JBL PowerUp Bluetooth speaker and charging station for Nokia Lumia phones

$299.99 from AT&T

I guess JBL isn’t feeling especially desperate. That’s the only way I can make sense of the hefty price tag on this product, a combination Bluetooth loudspeaker and phone recharger that’s three times the upfront price of the Lumia 920.

For that, you get a pair of so-so speakers mounted in brightly colored plastic that echoes the look of the Lumia product line. These phones can be recharged by simply dropping them onto a wireless charging station that uses a magnetic field to fire up the battery. Such a charging station is built into the top of the JBL speakers.

So you connect the phone to the speakers via Bluetooth and start cranking out your favorite tunes or the latest podcast. Then place the phone atop the PowerUp and the battery­ gets charged.

The system works just fine, but I’ve heard better Bluetooth speakers. And while wireless charging is cool, it’s hardly worth so much cash, especially when AT&T is throwing in a free wireless charger when you buy a Lumia 920. The PowerUp, alas, is a decent product that’s way too costly for its own good.

Nikon 1 J2 camera

$549.99 at BestBuy.com

If you’re bored with your inexpensive point-and-shoot digital camera but aren’t quite ready for a big, bulky digital single-lens reflex camera, here’s something that falls right in the middle. The Nikon 1 features a light, compact form, along with the ability to choose from multiple lenses.

The one I tested came with a good midrange lens, with a focal length of 10 to 30 millimeters. Just the thing for family snapshots and other casual work. But Nikon offers five other compatible lenses, from a $190 lens for tight closeups to one intended for serious video shooting and priced at $750.

The Nikon 1 delivered good, crisp images. But I was disappointed by its relative lack of fancy features I’ve found on less-expensive cameras. There’s no Wi-Fi wireless networking, for instant transfer of photos to a home computer or an online service like Facebook. Also, the video screen on the back, which acts as a viewfinder, is firmly bolted to the back of the camera. Other cameras let you rotate the screen, so you can hold the camera any which way and still compose your shots accurately.

Still, Nikon’s come up with a well-made, high-quality camera that should appeal to the amateur who’s ready for an upgrade.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com.
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