Nokia, Microsoft Launch Lower-End Lumia Smartphone

At the Mobile World Congress event Monday Nokia and Microsoft unveiled the Lumia 610 smartphone, the latest and lowest-priced model in Nokia’s Lumia series of Windows Phone-powered devices.

Nokia has positioned the Lumia 610 as its fourth and "most affordable" Lumia phone, targeted especially at younger or first-time smartphone users. The $250 device runs the most recent version of Windows Phone OS – version 7.5 dubbed "Tango" – which Microsoft built specifically to run on lower-cost hardware.

With Windows Phone 7.5, Microsoft partners including Nokia are no longer mandated by Microsoft to meet a set of pre-determined, high-end specs when developing a new device. Instead, Microsoft is giving partners the green light to use a slower Qualcomm processor (the bar was previously set at 1 GHz) and a reduced memory bandwidth of 256 MB to develop Windows Phones at lower price points and for a broader market.

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[Related: Nokia Unveils Its First Windows-Based Smartphones ]

"We’ve also just announced that we’re bringing Windows Phone to new markets and affordable new phones by expanding hardware support and regional availability," wrote Terry Myerson, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Windows Phone Division, in a company blog. "Our engineering team did the work to optimize how Windows Phone runs on lower-cost hardware, bringing the high-end smartphone experience to more affordable devices, while still running nearly all of the applications available in the Windows Phone Marketplace."

The Lumia 610 has a 3.7-inch 800x480 LCD screen, 256MB of RAM, and touts an MSM7x27 Qualcomm processor.

Nokia also announced Monday a new rollout plan for the 610’s more sophisticated sister device, the Lumia 900. The company said it will launch a dual-cell HSPA (DC-HSPA) variant of the higher-end, LTE-enabled 900 in countries where the 4G LTE service is not available. As previously announced at the Consumer Electronics Shows last month, the 4.3-inch Lumia 900 has a 1.4 GHz processor, 512 MB of RAM, and also runs Windows Phone 7.5 OS.

The Lumia 900 has been pointed to by analysts as come-back device for the once industry-leading Nokia, which has lost much of its market share the past few years to mobile giants Apple and Google. The device is also expected to boost Microsoft’s relevancy in the smartphone space and potentially position its Windows Phone OS as a serious competitor to Android and iOS.

Nokia declined to comment on which countries specifically will play host to the new 900, but did say that an update regarding both its global and U.S. availability will be released shortly. The lower-end 610 is expected to launch in the second quarter of this year, the company said.