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Innovation, Value Get Smartphone Focus

The smartphone market is heading into the summer season with new design and technology innovations competing with new value-priced phones and new niche models.

Many of the newly announced products target the unlocked market, whose sales are growing at a faster percentage rate than the overall U.S. smartphone market.

Unlocked sales are growing, said Jeff Fieldhack, research director of Counterpoint Research, “as carriers’ installed base of subscribers who bought a device on subsidy diminishes.” More than 10 percent of smartphones purchases will be in open channels in the second half, he said, pointing to “a great opportunity and great entry point for new OEMs entering the U.S. market.”

New smartphones offering innovative designs or technologies include the first modular phones from Lenovo’s Motorola Mobility subsidiary and the industry’s first smartphone incorporating Google Tango technology, which offers AR, depth-sensing, and positional-tracking capabilities. That phone is the Lenovo-brand Phab 2 Pro, and it’s one of the first three Lenovo-brand phones that will be available in the U.S.

All three Android 6.0 smartphones will be sold unlocked.

Motorola is also going unlocked. Of the two modular CDMA/LTE phones to be available under the Verizon-exclusive Droid brand, one will also be available as an unlocked GSM/LTE model in the U.S.

Modularity and technology such as Google’s Tango are coming to smartphones as a way for suppliers to differentiate their products and gain share in a slow-growth market.

Here’s what’s coming:

Lenovo: The world’s first smartphone equipped with Google’s Tango technology arrives unlocked in September along with two other smartphones.

Freetel: The Japanese cellphone maker, established in 2012, brought its first phones to the U.S. market through, with BestBuy. com, Amazon and Target planning June availability.

The two GSM/HSPA/LTE phones, both unlocked, are the flagship $389 Kiwami and $99 Priori3, both with Android 5.1 OS.

Freetel positions itself as offering Japanese craftsmanship and high-end devices at affordable prices.

The Kiwami features 6-inch 2K WQHD IPS display, 2GHz octacore processor, fingerprint authentication, HD Voice, 21-megapixel rear camera, 8-megapixel front camera, fast-charging technology and 32GB storage.

The Priori3 features 4.5-inch 480 by 854 screen, 1GHz quad-core processor, 8- and 2-megapixel cameras, and 720p video capture.

Motorola: The Lenovo subsidiary joined the short list of companies launching or planning smartphones that can be upgraded and customized via optional modules.

For exclusive availability through Verizon in the summer, the Moto Z Droid Edition and Moto Z Force Droid Edition accept Moto Mods back covers that magnetically attach to the phones. The initial slate of four Mods will add high-power stereo speakers, a pico projector, and Tumi and Kate Spade New York power packs for on-the-go charging. The Mods can be snapped on and off without turning the phones off.

The initial modules will be followed by modules that will be developed in cooperation with other leading brands. Motorola will also release a Moto Mod development kit for third parties to create Mods. Moto Mods developed today will work with future generations of Moto Z phones, the company promised.

Pricing wasn’t released.

In a departure, Motorola also plans U.S. availability of one of the CDMA/LTE Droids as an unlocked GSM/LTE model lacking the Droid name. That phone, called the Moto Z, will be available in the fall in Motorola’s web store and through such retailers as Best Buy, Motorola told TWICE.

In the past, products marketed as Verizon Droid models in the U.S. were marketed under different names only in other countries, said ABI research director Jeff Orr.

Both Droid models feature 5.5-inch Quad HD display, 64-bit 2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, 32GB storage, 2TB MicroSD card slot, main camera with optical image stabilization and autofocus, USB-C port, water-repellant nano coating to protect against moderate water exposure, and fingerprint reader.

Samsung: Through AT&T on an exclusive basis, Samsung began offering the fourth-generation Galaxy active. The $794 Galaxy S7 active is a ruggedized version of the flagship S7 and, like the S7, features 5.1-inch Super AMOLED display.

Compared to its predecessor, it offers bigger battery at 4,000 mAh for talk time up to 32 hours, tougher screen, higher shock resistance, and a side-mounted ‘active’ key button. The button can be programmed to launch apps or an activity zone, which features access to a flashlight, compass and other apps. It’s also positioned as our most stylish active smartphone of the past four years.

It resists shattering at drops from 5 feet on a flat surface. It’s IP68-rated for immersion in up to 5 feet of water for up to 30 minutes.