Late last night, the infamous Evan Blass (aka @evleaks) posted a render of a Microsoft branded phone in white with a gold frame. The text simply read 'Honjo' and said nothing more. No details about the model number, release dates, its status, or even specs.

Of course, the blogosphere went crazy as some have been building up a "Lumia 750" and "Lumia 850" as coming even though we know Microsoft cut back on their Lumia line many months ago.

Unfortunately, as I have noted back in July this 'Honjo' phone, which was supposed to be an 8xx series, was cancelled.

Some history

Honjo (8xx) got the axe with Saana (6xx) and Guilin (7xx) in July. All of those codenames (plus Saimaa for 5xx) first came to light back in June when @evleaks first revealed them.

The cancellation of the phones in mid-July suitably follows Nadella's letter to employees one week earlier where Nadella mentions the restructuring of their phone business. Those changes resulted in more layoffs, the ouster of Stephen Elop, and a reduction in the Lumia line. Quoting Nadella:

"In the near term, we will run a more effective phone portfolio, with better products and speed to market given the recently formed Windows and Devices Group. We plan to narrow our focus to three customer segments where we can make unique contributions and where we can differentiate through the combination of our hardware and software. We'll bring business customers the best management, security and productivity experiences they need; value phone buyers the communications services they want; and Windows fans the flagship devices they'll love."

Of course, Nadella is referencing the then unannounced Lumia 950 (Talkman), Lumia 950 XL (Cityman), and Lumia 550 (Saimaa). Nadella's next remarks about the phone division are very compelling in hindsight:

"In the longer term, Microsoft devices will spark innovation, create new categories and generate opportunity for the Windows ecosystem more broadly. Our reinvention will be centered on creating mobility of experiences across the entire device family including phones."

Now that we know a 'Panos Surface phone' is in the works the line about 'create new categories' starts to make sense with whatever a Surface phone may bring. It won't be just a metal Lumia.

Saana (6xx) un-cancelled

Just one week after we heard those phones had been cancelled, however, and we got word that Saana, which is now known as the Lumia 650, was brought back to life.

Indeed, that phone is still happening and my sources tell this phone will be announced in mid-January (likely following CES so as not to overshadow partner announcements of their new phones). I also hear Cricket in the U.S. is slated to pick up the Lumia 650 in early April (that does not rule out other carriers, however).

Here is what I know about the Lumia 650 so far:

Lumia 650 (Saana)

  • Qualcomm 410
  • 5-inch AMOLED display
  • 5MP front-facing camera; 8MP rear (likely, newer camera design) with LED flash
  • 1GB RAM
  • No wireless charging
  • New design language

The new design language is interesting. As I have personally seen some internal documents regarding the final branding I can say it looks a lot like the 'Honjo' device including:

  • Flat chrome band around the top and sides
  • White and black variants including white or black for bezels
  • Glossy in the front (glass covered); matte backs

In fact, the Lumia 650 looks very similar a white iPhone 5S and I have a feeling once others see it, they will concur. Although people will tease the design, frankly I think it looks really nice and not dissimilar to how the Lumia 950 picks up some appeal when you throw on a Mozo case. In short, I think for a 'budget' phone it is going to look really premium.

Unlike the 'Honjo,' the Lumia 650 will only have a chrome metallic band and not a gold one. After all, this is a budget phone.

The site WinBeta had posted an early render of Saana although the front-on angle does nothing for this device, which looks very different with a white front bezel. Nor can you see the flat metallic band that goes around the edge or its thin profile.

Why cancel 8xx and 7xx?

So, everyone is likely wondering why did Microsoft cancel those phones. Well, besides the fact that Nadella flat our said they were going to "run a more effective phone portfolio" to "massively" retrench my guess is the Lumia 7xx and 8xx series never really sold well.

Going back to the Lumia 810, Lumia 820, and Lumia 830, all of those phones while compelling and interesting just never found a home. Indeed, every time I used one I often found myself saying "They would be great if…" because they felt close to being perfect. For instance, the Lumia 830 was perfect...if it had a faster processor and higher resolution display. Of course, making such a change would have made it a "Lumia 935" or something. In all the AdDuplex numbers and anecdotal traffic in our forums and carrier pick up the 8xx series was always an odd family member.

If you are making a business decision about portfolio reduction and you had 6xx, 7xx, or 8xx it is the 6xx series that always did the best and saw the most interest from carriers. That latter part may have also played a role. Microsoft likely shopped these phones around to carriers and saw little interest. Considering how poorly the Lumia 830 did on AT&T, I would not find that surprising.

Why now?

The other question is why now? Why all of a sudden are we seeing various leakers make renders of what is essentially a device that is DOA? Part of it goes back to a weird riff between @onleaks and @evleaks who like to compete on render quality and accuracy and I think the other is just information – even outdated – coming forward.

I find it interesting that Evan Blass simply tweeted "Honjo" with no further details. It's a convenient move as you certainly cannot accuse him of being wrong. He made no claims about the device, specs, release, etc. just the render, which is accurate.

However, I can say with fairly high confidence that 'Honjo' or what would be the Lumia 850 is not happening. I'd kind of like to be wrong on this, frankly, as I think the phone looks great. Then again, like all 8xx series it'd be perfect if…it had a dedicated camera button. New device, same old problem.

For now, we'll just have to wait for the Lumia 650 (Saana), which sources tell me is likely the last Nokia-Lumia design from the portfolio. Nothing else I hear is in the works except for whatever Panos and co are working on for fall 2016.

While a Lumia 650 is hard to get excited about I am rather intrigued by its design and hope it can continue to sustain that low-end MVNO market, a market that Windows Phone does seemingly well in.