IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Pick up the call of China smartphones

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Feb 19, 2014

Before Chinese New Year, my dad asked me to recommend a new phone, as his contract was up and he was ready to upgrade to a smartphone.

It need not be a high-end or expensive one (sorry, Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and Apple iPhone 5s), but it should be relatively easy to use (sorry, Windows Phone and BlackBerry). It should, however, have a measure of games and other apps that he can test out (hello, Android).

On account of what I do, I get asked this question on a weekly basis and my replies tend to follow the same pattern.

First, I would mouth off a string of high-end devices from each Android device-maker and sell the virtues of each model. If the other party uses a Mac computer, I would recommend the latest iPhone because Apple's ecosystem is hard to beat. But my father's question stumped me. Truth be told, I focus mainly on flagship devices and have seen enough mid-range devices to know that many of them are just not good enough to recommend to friends, much less my father.

Luckily, the answer has arrived, in the form of two upcoming Android devices from two China companies.

The first is from Huawei, the well-known networking and communications company.

Its Honor 3C is a 5-inch Android device running on an 1.3GHz quad-core processor, with an 8-megapixel rear camera and a 5MP front one.

The other, from newcomer Xiaomi, is the Redmi, which has a 4.7-inch screen over a 1.5GHz quad-core Android phone that houses an 8MP rear camera and a 2MP front one.

While both dual-SIM, 3G-only phones use the lesser-known Mediatek processors, there is no denying that both devices house impressive hardware specifications.

And the sweetener that seals the deal? Both are priced at "$169".

(To be fair, only Xiaomi has announced the local price. However, a Huawei Singapore spokesman indicated that both devices are priced the same in China and Huawei is currently looking at offering the same price here, although it cannot confirm it now, as the 3C is slated for an early-April launch.)

This pricing makes it two of the cheapest quad-core smartphones locally.

When the Motorola Moto G was launched here a month ago, that quad-core device was priced at $318 and it was considered cheap then.

With smartphones priced from $169, the very thought of paying $50 for a featureless feature phone seems ridiculous.

It is the equivalent of asking if you would like a $169 colour TV or a black-and-white one for $50.

The low price also gives the device plenty of leeway when it comes to comparisons.

The 1,280 x 720 screen resolution is not as sharp as those on high-end phones, but it costs only $169.

As for the lack of 4G? That is because of its price.

If I were to put it another way, can you name a smartphone from Nokia, BlackBerry, HTC, Sony, Samsung or LG which costs less than $200 and matches the hardware and software offerings of the Redmi or Honor 3C?

I doubt it and that is why these established players need to be very careful.

Taiwan handset maker HTC has already indicated it is, when it acknowledged mistakes of not going for the mid-range smartphone market and focusing too much on the upscale high-end one.

The company has said it would sell devices in the US$150 (S$190) to US$300 price range for emerging and developed markets.

The question is: Can these guys can do it better and faster than Huawei and especially Xiaomi, which made a name for itself selling 100,000 units of its flagship phone in 86 seconds last October?

Now, that is another number to beat.

sherwinl@sph.com.sg

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Feb 19, 2014

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