Lumia phones (and Nokia's outlook) enjoy a buoyant Christmas

Nokia sold 4.4 million Lumia handsets in the fourth quarter of last year, beating analyst expectations. 

Sales of Nokia Lumia phones are up. Here, the Nokia Lumia 920.

Nokia sold 4.4 million Lumia smartphones in the fourth quarter of 2012, beating expectations and buoying industry confidence in the ailing Finnish manufacturer.  

The Lumia line, which utilizes Microsoft's Windows Phone software, was first showcased in late 2011. The devices were colorful and powerful enough – the flagship Lumia 800 boasted a hardy Qualcomm chip and 512MB of RAM – but sales were less than stellar. Even the introduction of the Windows Phone 8-powered Lumia 920 didn't do much to catapult Nokia up to speed with rivals such as Samsung and Apple. 

So the Q4 numbers come as a pleasant surprise for Nokia (and for investors – stocks were up in trading today). 

"We're very pleased with the Lumia response," Nokia CEO Stephen Elop told analysts today, according to Reuters. In all, Nokia sold 80 million phones in the final quarter of last year, a figure worth just north of $5 billion. Lumia devices made up a small chunk of that 80 million, but 4.4 million is a marked leap over Q3, when Nokia sold only 2.9 million Lumias. 

As Reuters notes, "success of the high-end Lumia smartphones has been considered crucial for the company's survival." The reason: The Lumia line, as opposed to the budget handsets which comprise the bulk of Nokia's trade, marks a foray into (the extremely lucrative) terrain currently held by the iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy line. Nokia wants a piece of that market, and it needs the Lumia to get it there. 

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