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Nokia N8It’s taken several years of failing to sell phones to Americans, but Nokia is now finally gearing up to launch flagship N8 and E7 smartphones next week — both obviously meant to compete with Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android — two sources with knowledge of its plans tell Reuters.

Nokia first announced its Facebook-friendly N8 camera in April. At the time, it was notable for its powerful 12-megapixel camera, 720p high-definition video recording capabilities, as well as the fact that it was running Nokia’s new Symbian^3 operating system. From the little we can gather about the E7, it appears to be a variation of the N8 with a slide-out hardware keyboard.

But while Nokia’s camera specs were impressive in April, they are less so today. Now most high-end smartphones include HD video recording, and are packing cameras in the 5 to 8-megapixel range that are plenty impressive. And just like with proper digital cameras, we’re finding that high megapixel counts don’t always make for better pictures (the iPhone 4’s 5MP camera blows away many 8MP competitors). Ultimately, having a 12MP camera may not be the massive draw the company thought it would be.

Nokia N8 photoSo Nokia is left with its Symbian^3 operating system — which is actually just a fancy name for the tenth iteration of the Symbian OS — to differentiate itself from the increasingly crowded smartphone market. You’d think that the company would have made an extra effort to blow users away with the OS, but judging from its Symbian^3 website, it doesn’t seem like it’s bringing anything new to the table. For example, Nokia touts that it has “real multitasking” — but Android sports that already, and Apple’s multitasking upgrades for iOS4 are satisfactory for most users.

Nokia’s more ambitious Meego platform — a joint open-source operating system developed in conjunction with Intel — will eventually make up its high-end devices, starting with its N9 phone. But it’s going to be some time before Meego devices are released. For now, its Symbian^3 devices are the closest things it has to iPhone/Android competitors.

Nokia is still an industry leader — it accounts for around 40 percent of handsets sold worldwide — but the company never managed to catch up to the advances made by the iPhone and Android. While the company was content to churn out slightly improved handsets every year, and never really focused its smartphones on America, Apple sparked a whole new vision of mobile devices with the iPhone. Google followed through quickly with Android, and managed to create a viable iPhone competitor.

At this point, it doesn’t seem like the N8, E7, or Symbian^3 will do much to turn the tide for Nokia on the smartphone battlefield, but at least now it’s actually trying.

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