Huawei set to fill Note7’s shoes

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Huawei set to fill Note7’s shoes

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Huawei is poised to begin sales of the P9 and P9 Plus in Korea. [HUAWEI KOREA]

Global smartphone manufacturers are scrambling to close the gap in the premium smartphone market created by Samsung Electronics’ recent failure with its faulty Galaxy Note7.

Huawei, known for its reasonably-priced devices, is set to debut its latest premium P9 smartphone series as early as this month.

The company’s P9 and its bigger cousin P9 Plus passed Korea’s National Radio Research Agency conformity assessment in late September, a procedure every mobile device undergoes before sale.

Huawei, a network device giant from China, has been in discussions with telecom operators for the launch, sources say, but which one of the three - SK Telecom, KT and LG U+ - the phone will be released with has yet to be confirmed. There is strong speculation that LG U+, which exclusively sells three out of five Huawei phones in Korea, will again be the only vendor, according to Korea’s telecom industry insiders.

“We are gauging the strategically optimal timing for the launch of the P9 and P9 Plus,” a Huawei spokeswoman said, declining to specify a date.

At an exclusive launch for the two smartphone models in London in April, Huawei said it would “revolutionize smartphone photography” with a dual-lens rear camera in partnership with German camera icon Leica, the first of its kind for any smartphone maker.

The P9 has a 5.2-inch screen and the P9 Plus, a 5.5-inch screen, and insiders say the phones are the best-looking among all models from Huawei even though they carry an undeniable iPhone-ish feel.

Retail prices range from 599 euros ($663) to 749 euros depending on the screen size and storage of 32 gigabytes to 64 gigabytes - levels similar to premium phones in Korea.

The phones are powered by Huawei’s own EMUI operating system - like Xiaomi’s MIUI - that has reorganized the Android with a notification panel, menus and a unique memory cleaning utility. The move to rely less on Android differs from that of Samsung and LG, which are more dependent on the Google software.

So far the third-largest smartphone producer in China after local brands Oppo and Vivo as of September, Huawei has an edge in price competitiveness against domestic players led by Samsung. The first Huawei phone to arrive in Korea was the X3, released in 2014 through LG U+.

Since September, KT has sold the BeY, the localized version of the P9 Light, and LG U+, the H Phone, which is sold under the Y6 II model name in other markets. The former retails at 316,800 won ($280) before subsidies, and the latter at 242,000 won, almost a fifth of the price of Samsung’s discontinued Galaxy Note7.

Another Chinese manufacturer, Lenovo, is taking the wraps off its PHAB 2 Pro, the world’s first smartphone to include Tango - a new technology from Google that enables augmented reality gaming and utilities - next month. The phone will retail through e-commerce sites.

Google is also bracing to release its critically-acclaimed Pixel phone by the end of this year, at the earliest.

But it remains to be seen how successful these new phones will turn out on the home turf of Samsung, nicknamed the “graveyard for foreign phones.” BlackBerry, Motorola and HTC have all withdrawn their business here, and Apple accounts for about 20 percent of the smartphone market.

Even though consumers have lost confidence in the nation’s most valuable company, Samsung has come up with alternatives - the Galaxy S7 in the high-end bracket and the Galaxy A, J, and C series in the lower-end bracket - and Koreans remain loyal to the brand.


BY SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun@joongang.co.kr]

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