Nokia takes aim at Apple with touch-screen phone

5800 Xpress Music looks and feels like the iPhone, but will it knock Apple off its perch?

Nokia's 5800 XpressMusic

Nokia's 5800 XpressMusic

Finnish phone maker Nokia launched its first touch-screen phone on Thursday, intending to one-up Apple's iPhone on features and be competitively priced.

Nokia has clearly taken a cue from Apple in its design of the 5800 Xpress Music, formerly known as "Tube." The device, due for release by year's end, looks quite similar to Apple's iPhone, which has a single panel of smooth glass on the front.

The similarities end there. The 5800 runs Symbian's Series 60 OS, which Nokia says it has modified to make the software more user-friendly. The handset maker plans to release a software development kit soon for the platform.

"We wanted to turn the user interface into a human interface," said Jo Harlow, senior vice president of marketing, during a launch event in London.

On the software side, the 5800 has a "contacts bar" that shows images of frequently contacted friends. Those friends can be sent text messages directly from the home screen. Also, feeds can be assigned to those friends that will alert the device's user to new content on social-networking sites. It also has a drop-down media bar that gives one-touch access to music, photos, video or the Internet.

The 5800 will support Adobe Flash multimedia technology, which is not supported by the iPhone. While many Web sites have created mobile versions of their sites to support the iPhone's capabilities, the 5800 could potentially work with many more Web sites without modification.

"I know some people thought Flash wasn't important on a mobile device," Harlow said, in a clear reference to Apple.

Like the iPhone, the 5800 has a software keyboard rather than a tactile one. Apple's software keyboard can at times be difficult to manipulate since it requires a person's fingertip to touch the screen. Harlow said the 5800's soft keyboard will work with a fingernail or even a guitar pick in addition to a finger.

When tilted on its side, the 5800 has a full-screen QWERTY keyboard plus a mini-QWERTY one. The 5800 is also equipped with handwriting recognition, which will recognize 60 languages, which Harlow said will cover about 90 percent of the world's mobile-phone users.

Nokia said the 5800 has built-in surround-sound speakers, which are louder than any other mobile device on the market. Nokia let those attending the launch try out the 5800's speakers in a soundproof booth. The 5800 has a 3.2-megapixel camera with a dual flash and a Carl Zeiss lens. The 5800's screen supports 16 million colors, which Harlow claimed is best in the industry.

The suggested retail price for the 5800 is US$393 without subsidies or taxes, Harlow said. Mobile operators in Europe often subsidize devices for users in exchange for those users signing a long-term contract.

"That means this device is about half the price of competitive touch devices in the market today, and it certainly means that it is the best touch value proposition on the market," Harlow said.

One analyst who has seen the 5800 is doubtful that the device will knock Apple off its perch.

"It might appeal to those who don't want to follow the crowd," said Chris Hazelton, an analyst at The 451 Group, who saw a demo of the phone.

However, he was impressed by the video capabilities of the phone. The 5800 lets users capture VGA (Video Graphics Array)-quality video and display videos in landscape mode.

"When you take a video on the phone it shows as a wide screen and plays and looks very good," he said.

(Nancy Gohring in Seattle contributed to this report.)

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