Huawei shows design prowess with MediaPad X1, Ascend G6 smartphone

The company also debuts the MediaPad M1 and the TalkBand smartwatch

Unveiling the Ascend G6 4G smartphone, the MediaPad X1 hybrid "phablet" and the MediaPad M1 tablet Sunday, Huawei took a big step toward proving that it should be a force to be reckoned with in mobile-device design.

U.S. consumers will have to wait a while before they get their hands on the latest and greatest Huawei devices, though. The company is mainly aiming at global markets outside of the U.S. and Canada, where the China-based company has made just a few inroads so far.

Huawei's innovative spirit was perhaps best exhibited by the MediaPad X1, dubbed a "crossover" device by CEO of Huawei Technologies Consumer Business Group, Richard Yu, at a company event in Barcelona a day before the start of Mobile World Congress.

The MediaPad X1 combines smartphone and tablet features in an aluminum alloy body, with specs that put it into what market analysts have called the "phablet" product category. Its 7-inch, 1200 x 1920 pixel touch display features an unusual 80 percent screen-to-body ratio. It's 7.18mm thick and weighs in at only 239 grams.

The MediaPad X1 is powered by a 1.6GHz quad-core processor and runs on Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. It sports a 5000 mAh battery that provides 21 days of standby time -- over five full days of continuous use. It offers reverse charging, letting users power other devices from the X1. A SIM card slot provides 4G LTE data connectivity and lets the device function as a phone.

The X1 also features a 13-megapixel Sony rear-facing camera and a 5 megapixel front-facing camera with Huawei's proprietary self-focus tips, preview screen, 10-level auto-facial enhancement and voice-activated, hands-free capture.

The MediaPad X will be available in China, Russia, western Europe, the Middle East, Japan and Latin America starting next month. It's priced at 399 (US$548).

Huawei started to transform itself from a contract device manufacturer into a maker of its own products two years ago, noted Colin Giles, executive vice president of the company's Consumer Business Group. Instilling a "culture of innovaton" in the company, Huawei ended up selling 95 percent of the devices that it made in 2013 under its own brand, Giles said at the Barcelona event.

"To keep up with the pace of change in the world around us the industry needs to transform itself; it's kind of like the situation of transform or die," Giles said.

Giles announced that the company will sell only smartphones from now on.

Though Huawei has managed to edge out other tier-two smartphone makers, it still is a distant third place behind Samsung and Apple. In 2013 Samsung had 31.3 percent of the smartphone market, compared to Apple at 15.3 percent, Huawei at 4.9 percent, LG at 4.8 percent, and Lenovo at 4.5 percent, according to IDC.

Last year, the global smartphone market topped 1 billion shipments for the first time, up 38.4 percent year over year, according to a recent report by IDC.

Also debuting Sunday was Huawei's new Ascend G6 4G smartphone, featuring a 4.5-inch, 960 x 540 pixel display and running on Android 4.3 It's 7.85mm thick and weighs 115 grams. The smartphone also offers a 1.2GHz quad-core processor, a 5-megapixel front-facing camera, an 8-megapixel camera on the back, and 4G LTE connectivity.

In addition, the phone also supports NFC (near field communication) and mobile payments. The Ascend G6 4G comes in a variety of colors and will be available from April. Huawei did not offer pricing and did not immediately specify where it would sell the phone outside of Europe.

Huawei also announced the MediaPad M1 tablet. It's 7.9 mm thick, weighs 329 grams and features an 8-inch, 800 x 1280 pixel multitouch screen, a 1.6 GHz quad-core processor, and a 4800 mAh capacity battery supporting eight hours of video on a single charge. It also has a 1-megapixel front-facing camera, a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera, and built-in Wi-Fi routers.

The M1 will be available in this quarter in Europe, Russia, the Middle East, China, Japan, Asia-Pacific, Australia and Latin America. The tablet runs on Huawei's Emotion UI 2.0, based on Android 4.2.

Huawei isn't excluding Canada and the U.S. from its marketing plans, said Andrew Connell, Huawei's chief marketing officer for Europe, on the sidelines of the event. The company is, however, first focusing on markets where it has built networks and has strong relationships with carriers, he noted. Huawei at the moment does some sales through retailers in the U.S., but has no plans to build networks there.

Huwaei also announced the TalkBand B1, a smartwatch-type device that features wireless calling with a Bluetooth 4.1 earpiece. It weighs 26 grams and is 14.6mm thick.

The TalkBand offers up to seven hours of calling on one charge and a 1.4-inch flexible OLED display. It supports Android 2.3+ and iOS 5.0+ compatible devices and offers NFC syncing. It's designed to track activity time and progress, including steps taken, miles covered and calories burned.

It will be available in China from next month and in Japan, the Middle East, Russia and western Europe from the second quarter. It's priced at 99.

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Marc Ferranti

IDG News Service
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