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Nokia announced today that it is launching the Nokia Astound in the United States, a low-end smartphone geared toward first-time smartphone owners running the company’s Symbian mobile operating system.

The device is purposely built with slightly weaker technical specifications — including a 620 megahertz processor (compared to 1 gigahertz dual-core processors in most phones today) and around 300 megabytes of memory (compared to 512 megabytes in most phones), according to Nokia representatives. It keeps the phone simple and drives the price down, which is the device’s main selling point, said Mark Slater, vice president and general manager of Nokia.

“It’s their first smartphone, they’re not looking for $199, they’re looking for something under $99,” Slater said. “We’ve set this up so the apps and the way it’s built, it’s best for a feature phone user that wants to jump for a smartphone for the first time.”

The phone is designed to be used as-is and runs on Symbian 3, the latest version of Nokia’s oft-maligned smartphone operating system. It has a number of pre-loaded applications like Slacker Radio, an online streaming music service similar to Pandora. Astound owners can still download applications off the Ovi mobile application store.

The device will cost $79.99 along with a $10 data plan that gives users up to 250 megabytes of data each month. Most light users who buy a smartphone for the first time typically use around 180 megabytes a month across online music services and email, Slater said. The phone also sports an 8-megapixel camera that can shoot high-definition video and has an SD card slot to boost its storage up to 40 gigabytes.

Nokia has already agreed to work with Microsoft and will serve as Microsoft’s flagship Windows Phone manufacturer well into the next generation of smartphones. But Nokia does not plan to load Windows Phone 7 on the Nokia Astound, and is actually quite bullish on Symbian for the near future, he said. Nokia expects to sell about 150 million Symbian 3 devices like the N8, he said.

“(Windows Phone 7) is a whole new world for us, but it won’t be this device,” Slater said.

The device is exclusive to T-Mobile and will run on that phone network’s mobile broadcast spectrum. Slater wouldn’t indicate whether the device would also work on AT&T’s network in the future after the telecom giant purchased T-Mobile for $39 billion on Sunday.

By comparison, some of the cheapest smartphones running Google’s Android mobile operating system cost between around $80 to $100. It’s an uphill battle for Nokia because Android is more popular than Nokia’s smartphone operating system. The price point is competitive, but it isn’t clear if the software and hardware can compete with some of the cheapest Android phones on the market.

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