The Nokia Lumia 900 has it all: Beauty, brains, and brawn. But is it enough to upset the balance of the smart phone industry and establish a viable third platform? I hope so, because if this fails, there’s nowhere to turn. There simply isn’t a nicer smart phone in the market.

I’ve now used the Nokia Lumia 900 for over a week and have tried to use the handset as much as possible over the past several days in order to come to an understanding about what this phone means to the Windows Phone ecosystem. I think it’s a big deal for Windows Phone.

The Lumia 900 is the best smart phone I’ve ever used or owned. And I mean that in an all-around way: It’s the best looking, most well-designed handset running my preferred mobile OS. Others may disagree. But most of those people have never even picked up a Lumia, let alone used it for any amount of time.

People ask about the phone regularly. It just stands out in a sea of bland and identical iPhones and Android handsets. The color, cyan, is beautiful. I’d like to see other color choices, though. Many others.

It’s a big device, not as humongous as the Titan II, but only a hair smaller than the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, the current Android flagship. That may be an issue for some people, and I’d like to see Nokia introduce a modified Lumia 800—with the 900’s cameras and a few other features—for those with smaller handset aspirations.

The Lumia’s a solid device too. I’ve dropped it an inordinate number of times already, including a gasp-inducing three foot fall in which the handset literally face planted onto its screen. So far so good. There’s a small nick in the tiny black bezel that I didn’t previously see surrounding the screen, but that’s it. That fall would have killed my iPhone, I just know it. (Read more about the Lumia 900 build quality.)

The Nokia software and services that are unique to this phone are mostly excellent, and the Drive, Maps, and Transit apps in particular are fantastic. I’ve heard that Nokia offers some apps in other countries that we don’t see here in the US, such as a music app, and given the high quality of what I do see, I’m eager for more. Bring ‘em on, Nokia.

I’m excited to finally have some Windows Phone 7.5 features I’d not used before, including visual voice mail, Internet sharing (tethering) and support for LTE cellular networks. I’ll be writing Feature Focus articles about the first two in the near future.

The camera, while not strictly disappointing, is not as good as I’d hoped. The issue, in part, is that Microsoft leaves the Windows Phone camera experience up to the handset maker, so while there are some great features in there—including the long-awaited widescreen picture taking support—there are some missing ones as well. That this is a software thing suggests Nokia could “fix” the camera experience, which is to say, make it better. It’s very good now. Just not as good as hoped.

So, the Lumia 900 is fantastic. Best of breed. Beauty and powerful. And Windows Phone is fantastic. What’s the problem?

The problem is that there’s no apparent place for Windows Phone in the market, no matter how good the device. The smart phone market, so far at least, has paralleled that of the PC industry. There are two major players, with the majority of sales going to a mass market platform that is inexpensively (or in this case, almost freely) licensed and used by a variety of clone makers and an elitist, closed alternative. As with the PC industry, the latter role is played by Apple. But in the smart phone market, Microsoft has been usurped by Android.

And there’s no apparent way for Microsoft to win back its spot. That’s because Android is (essentially) free, and Microsoft can’t undercut it on price. And Microsoft has shown absolutely no willingness to give Windows Phone away.

Whether there’s room for three major players remains to be seen. I suspect it’s possible. If it happens, that third player will be Windows Phone.

Until then we wait. In the past, we always pointed to some coming milestone as the turning point. Microsoft would add copy and paste, and do so quickly, but it wasn’t enough. Windows Phone 7.5 added tons of new features and multitasking, and ... nope, not that. OK, well, here comes Nokia, first with its mid-market Lumia 800 and 710 devices, but then finally with the breathtakingly beautiful Lumia 900 and ...

And we’ll see. I have a good feeling about this one. I think it’s going to win some converts. Do I think it will turn around Windows Phone once and for all? Baby steps, people, baby steps.

Having the single best smart phone on the market certainly changes things though.