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New Phones Flock To Unlocked Market

CES has turned into a key venue for smartphone companies to show their latest unlocked phones to retailers.

Unlocked-phone suppliers such as Yezz, Polaroid, Nubia and NUU are displaying their latest models, which include a Yezz model that could be the first phone with 360-degree video capture.

The products are entering an unlocked market that Strategy Analytics says will grow more than 43 percent in the U.S. in 2016. Unlocked models accounted for 1 percent of total smartphone volumes in the U.S. in 2012, 4 percent in 2014, and 7 percent in 2015 and will rise to 16 percent by 2020, the company says.

“The unlocked market is definitely growing,” said Jon Maron, VP/marketing and communications for Alcatel OneTouch in North America. “Right now we see it as accounting for less than 10 percent of the total mobile market in the U.S., but as consumers come to better understand this purchasing option, we see it growing quite substantially.”

As mid-range-price devices “continue to offer greater flagship-style experiences at an even greater value, unlocked carrier-agnostic options will drive new smartphone users, and we expect this to actually increase replacement rates,” he said.

For his part, Andrew Elliot, ZTE USA VP of strategic marketing for mobile devices, called the unlocked phone market a “high-growth, high-value market.” Unlocked sales are being driven by leasing and equipment installment payment (EIP) plans that “take smartphones back to their ‘real’ values rather than subsidized prices, which will make cost-sensitive consumers search for alternative or more affordable options in open and online channels,” he said.

Here’s what CES attendees will find at the show:

Acer: The Liquid Jade Primo will offer Windows 10, a 1920 by 1080 AMOLED display, and a 21-megapixel rear camera with dual LED flash. It’s the company’s first phone with AMOLED display and first with 21-megapixel camera, up from 13 megapixels. It will be sold unlocked and to carriers and will be available mid-March.

Honor: The Huawei brand is expected to bring its phones to the U.S. for the first time. Details were unavailable, but a launch event is planned. Honor is sold online in China and other counties.

Nubia: The three-year-old ZTE subsidiary is bringing its unlocked Z9 Max elite, Z9 mini elite, and Z9 third-anniversary special edition to the show. Nubia products are available in the U.S., Europe and other countries.

Nuu Mobile: The unlocked Z8 Android smartphone features LTE, 1.7GHz octacore processor, Android 5.0 Lollipop, 5.5-inch 1080p display, 13-megapixel rear camera with Sony optics and low-light sensor, 8-megapixel front camera with wide-angle lens, main-camera burst mode, choice of16GB or 32GB storage, 64GB MicroSD car slot, 2GB RAM, and dual LTE SIMs. The 16GB version is $249, and the 32GB version is $299. They’re available.

Polaroid: The brand is unveiling the Polaroid Snap and the $249 Polaroid Power to its line of unlocked U.S. phones. The dual-SIM, LTE-equipped Android 5.1 smartphones are upgradable to Android 6.0 Marshmallow.

The Power is the first Polaroid phone in the U.S. with octa-core processor. It features 6-inch Full HD IPS display, 3GB RAM, 32GB storage, MicroSD card slot, and 13-megapixel main camera with two-tone LED flash. It’s due in the spring.

The Snap, available now, comes in 5-, 5.5- and 6-inch sizes with 720p IPS display, quad-core, 64-bit processor, and choice of 1GB RAM with 8GB storage or 2GB RAM with 16GB storage. Prices start at $129.

Yezz: Smartphones are getting 360-degree 4K cameras with Yezz’s launch of the LTE-equipped 5.5-inch Sfera. The Android Marshmallow phone creates a 360-degree image or video by stitching together the images or videos captured by special lenses on the front and rear cameras.

Users will be able to horizontally and vertically browse the captured image or video on a touchscreen device. Through the Cardboard Viewer option, users will be able to use a Google Cardboard viewer to view their 360 degree images and videos with a VR experience.

The first generation will offer 2.3GHz octacore processor, 3GB RAM, and 4K H.265 video encoding at 30fps. Pricing was unavailable.