ZTE unveils tablet with built-in phone

ZTE is sending the first shipment of the 7-inch tablet to Russia next month through the carrier Beeline

ZTE, one of China's largest network and phone suppliers, has unveiled a new tablet device that includes phone functionality and runs on the Android 2.1 OS.

The product, called the ZTE Light, debuted this week at a telecom exhibition held in Beijing. The tablet features a 7-inch touchscreen and a SIM card to allow for mobile phone calls. The device can also surf the Internet through Wi-Fi, and features a battery life of up to 10 hours.

The Chinese company plans to make its first shipment of the device to Russian telecom operator Beeline starting next month, a company rep at the expo event said. A subsidiary of telecom operator Vodafone will also carry the device later this year.

ZTE says the tablet's cost will be determined by the telecom operator carrying the device. But the estimated retail price could be around 3,000 yuan ($449), the company rep said.

ZTE previously released details of the device last month, calling it the Smartpad V9 and saying it would be released in Europe, Latin American and the Asia-Pacific region later this year. The company has yet to determine a China launch date, the company rep said. But the device could be released as early as the first quarter of 2011.

The ZTE light comes as other tablets are entering the market. Apple launched its iPad in China last month. Samsung also displayed its Galaxy Tab at this week's telecom exhibition, with a company spokeswoman saying the device could arrive in China by the next month, although no official date has been set.

Huawei, a Chinese telecommunications equipment supplier and rival to ZTE, has also released its own tablet called the S7. The device is similar to ZTE's tablet in that it also runs on the Android 2.1 OS and features a 7-inch touchscreen. Users can also make phone calls from that tablet.

Huawei has already made the tablet available to telecom operators overseas, but the device has yet to be launched in China, a company rep at the show said.

Huawei and ZTE may be launching their tablet devices overseas first because there is not yet a strong market for them domestically. Before tablets can be a success in China, they must be affordable for the average Chinese consumer, said Sun Peilin, an analyst with Beijing-based research firm Analysys International.

"If the price is not low enough, then the device will have no advantage in the domestic market," he said. "That's why these devices are going to the overseas market first."

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