China's ZTE launches 'game-changing' Axon smartphone in US to build brand overseas

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 July, 2015, 1:18pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 January, 2018, 5:01pm

Chinese technology giant ZTE launched its new flagship Axon smartphone in the US market on Wednesday in a bid to raise its profile there after adopting a more localised approach with American consumers firmly in mind.

The 5.5-inch Axon was designed in the US based on surveys of, and feedback from, local consumers to reflect their needs and wants, the company said. 

It will retail at the unlocked, pre-tax price of US$499.98, with preorders due to start shipping on July 27, the company said. In Chinese culture, eight is considered an auspicious number.

This marks a departure from the phones ZTE typically offers in the US, which are usually low-cost, low-end models made by various carriers.

The Axon features metal finishes, a quad-HD, 2560 x 1440 pixel display, and comes in blue, gold, and silver colour options. It is equipped with a dual rear camera that allows for refocusing after a picture is taken, as well as what ZTE is calling "hi-fi audio." 

Despite ranking as the fourth largest smartphone manufacturer in the US, and the second largest in the American market for handsets sold without a contract, ZTE USA has struggled with its brand awareness prior to the launch of the Axon.

It hopes to change that with its latest offering, which appears to have been developed by former Blackberry staffers. ZTE has said the model could change the landscape of the global smartphone business. 

Early last year, the company hired dozens of former BlackBerry designers and engineers in North America, according to sources close the company. 

They helped to set up a team that evolved into ZTE’s first North America-based R&D centre late last year focusing on new mobile devices.

The model is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor with 4GB of RAM and has a 3,000mAh battery. It works on both AT&T and T-Mobile's LTE networks and runs Android 5.1.1 Lollipop.

Amid a backlash against memory-gobbling pre-installed apps, ZTE said the Axon would not be preloaded with any unnecessary software.

In May, the company made a splash by announcing the arrival of its so-called "bezel-less" Nubia Z9 high-end smartphone.

It then opted to spin off Nubia into an independent subsidiary last month to help grow its brand awareness globally. 

As China's smartphone makers gain experience and confidence, they are increasingly exploring foreign markets.

Telecoms giant Huawei and Xiaomi are now looking into opportunities in Southeast Asia, India, Turkey and Mexico.

READ MORE: Huawei takes on Apple, Samsung with launch of 'world's thinnest smartphone' 

Xiaomi, China's top-selling homegrown smartphone brand, recently started making and selling smartphones in Brazil in what it called step one of its Latin American expansion plan. 

Earlier in April, it launched its Mi 4i smartphone in India for US$205 to tap the lower-end market.

In the same month, Huawei announced that it would launch two new smartphones in over 30 countries as it bids to tap the higher end of the market.