Nokia's Chicago flagship: exclusive walkthrough

Chris Ziegler
C. Ziegler|06.21.06

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Chris Ziegler
June 21st, 2006
Nokia's Chicago flagship: exclusive walkthrough
Both Motorola and Nokia have tried hard to play down the idea of a heated rivalry, despite the fact that they've both opened their first US stores within a month of each other and in the same city. We all like the idea of phone manufacturers scrapping head-to-head on the mean streets of Chicago, but from Motorola's perspective, it's probably for the best that we not call it a rivalry after all -- Nokia's effort wallops Destination Q soundly in every category. We'd go so far as to say it rivals Chicago's impressive Apple Store just a couple blocks north for style, clean design, and clever use of technology. But judge for yourself, and take a the tour with us as we take a look around after the break.

Nokia's store is located at 543 N. Michigan Avenue in the thick of the Magnificent Mile. Motorola can be found at 666 N. -- literally up the street. For those not familiar with Chicago, this is an area typically reserved for designer boutiques, four-star hotels and restaurants; by choosing it as their homes, Nokia and Moto have set an interesting precedent and added a touch of high-tech to a neighborhood otherwise devoid.

We promise this is the last comment we'll make about the rivalry, or lack thereof: this nifty ad with five dummy Qs encased in Plexiglas appears immediately outside Nokia's pad. You be the judge.

This is what the curious onlooker sees as they take their first steps into the store. Pictures, unfortunately, don't really do this joint justice: you're immediately and constantly inundated with bright colors and rich images everywhere you stand.

If you live in Chicago, New York, or another metropolitan area of similar size, you may have noticed that the 8801 is Nokia's big push at the moment. The trend continues in store, with two kiosks devoted to the just-shy-of-Vertu slider as you walk in. Nokia tells us the "featured" phone will change from time to time, but for now, the N80s and N91s are playing second fiddle.

LED light panels are mounted along the walls from eye level to the ceiling, changing in color based on a variety of factors. Plasma displays mounted immediately below are used for everything from an SMS graffiti board, to artwork, to product information. The displays are seamless from one to the next and we witnessed some pretty cool effects in play between the LED panels and the plasmas, which are still being tweaked for Saturday's grand opening. Interestingly, control of the displays is left to an operation center in London, where visualizations are synchronized between stores. So, for example, text messages sent from Nokia's Moscow store could appear here in real time and vice versa.

Devices mounted along the walls (and there are many) are connected to the wall via a single retractable cable that handles both power and the security system. This in itself isn't too interesting, but here's the nifty part: pulling on a device will trigger the plasma above it to display detailed information on that particular product. That bit wasn't ready to be demonstrated for us, but we're told it'll be ready for Saturday along with everything else.

Old-fashioned price stickers won't do here, no sir -- embedded LCD displays below each device mount will handle that task. They can be changed from the control room as devices get moved around, or presumably as stock becomes depleted.

Much like Destination Q, Nokia's store features a variety of kiosks designed to showcase phone functionality and interoperability. For example, an N91 kiosk highlights its music capabilities. Another kiosk demonstrates printing from the N90's camera.

Nokia is taking this opportunity to give Vertu some face time, as well. As you can see, buying a Vertu here looks to be a high-end, jeweler-like experience walled off from the remainder of the store. A consultant sits with you at a leather-clad desk as you mull that four- or five-figure purchase. Frankly, for the price, we'd expect nothing less.

Fancy visuals aside, the big draw for many folks will be that every device you see can be purchased unlocked on the spot. Of particular interest, we saw 8801s, N80s (UMTS 2100, we hear), N90s, N91s, and 9300s. The selection should be fairly dynamic because Nokia wants to encourage repeat business -- folks who wander in regularly to see what's new. Besides the unlocked devices, they've also hooked up with Brightpoint to offer activations on Sprint, US Cellular, and T-Mobile in-store; we're told negotiations are underway with Cingular and Verizon as well.

So what did we think of Nokia's Chicago flagship? If you happen to be in Chicago, it's a must-visit. Even if you have no intention of buying a phone -- hell, even if you hate Nokia -- you shouldn't pass up the opportunity to zone out while staring at the hypnotic color panels. If New York is more convenient, they've got you guys covered too with a store opening later this year. Meanwhile, if you've been itching to get your grubby hands on that N80 or Vertu Ascent, the Chicago branch opens this Saturday, June 24 at 10AM.
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