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Smartphone Entries Entice Feature-Phone Users

NEW YORK — Handset suppliers stepped up their aggressiveness in the low- and midprice tiers of the smartphone market in recent days.

The new low- and midprice models underscore a growing push by suppliers and carriers to entice the still-sizable segment of feature-phone users to step up to higher margin devices that deliver higher revenues for carriers.

The phones will also appeal to U.S. consumers who want to buy unsubsidized phones without a contract.

In all, 166 million people in the U.S. owned a smartphone in the first quarter, reflecting 68.8 percent of all cellphone users, ComScore said, citing its survey of cellphone users ages 13 and older. The percentage was up 6 percentage points from the previous quarter and up from the year-ago 58 percent.

To entice the remaining feature-phone users, Motorola expanded its selection of low-price smartphones, ZTE launched its second-generation smartphone based on the open Mozilla Firefox OS, and Kyocera launched the latest LTE smartphone in its Hydro series of waterproof phones.

Likewise, LG unveiled its LTE-equipped F 70 and the Volt.

Here’s what the companies announced:

Kyocera’s latest smartphone in its Hydro series of waterproof smartphones is available through Sprint and Sprint’s Virgin Mobile prepaid brand. It features Sprint Spark network technology, which delivers LTE speeds over three bands (800MHz in the old Nextel band, 1900MHz, and 2.5GHz).

The Vibe, like the ZTE Reef, withstands immersion in up to 3.3 feet of water for up to 30 minutes.

Sprint priced the Hydro Vibe on a Sprint Easy Pay plan an unsubsidized Hydro Vibe for $0 down (plus tax) and 24 monthly payments of $9.59. The phone with subsidy and two-year service agreement is $29 after a $50 mail-in rebate.

Virgin Mobile USA will offer the Android device without contract beginning May 27 at $149.

LG said it plans North American availability in the coming weeks of the LTE-equipped F70. The company also announced plans to deliver the LG Volt, which is the first smartphone equipped with Sprint Spark technology for Sprint’s Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile nocontract brands.

The LG Volt is available at a suggested $179 at the two brands’ online stores and at retail. Key features include 4.7-inch IPS display with Corning Gorilla Glass 2, 1.2GHz quad-core CPU, 8-megapixel rear camera, 1.3-megapixel front camera, 1080p video capture, 1GB embedded memory and a 3,000 mAh removable battery.

Like a growing number of LG phones, the Volt features LG’s Easy Home user-interface feature, which simplifies the home screen and increase the size of icons and fonts for first-time smartphone users.

The LTE-equipped F70 features a 1.2GHz quad-core processor, 1GB RAM, Android 4.4 OS, 4.5-inch WVGA 800 by 480 IPS display with 207 ppi, and a removable 2,440 mAh battery.

Motorola expanded its selection of low-price smartphones positioned to appeal to price-conscious consumers, whom it contends don’t want to settle for older obsolete smartphones.

The phones are also designed to appeal to users in less developed and poorer countries where phone prices generally aren’t subsidized.

Last year, the company unveiled the 3G Moto G at an unlocked price of $179 through its website. Two new models include the 3G Moto E, priced at $129 unlocked on the website. The other new model is a 4G LTE version of the Moto G, priced at $219 unlocked through the website.

Like the original Moto G, the phones will also be sold through carriers throughout the world, including CDMA versions. All feature interchangeable backs in different colors.

The Motorola E features Android 4.4, Qualcomm 1.2GHz dual-core CPU, 4.3-inch 540 by 960 qHD screen with 256 dpi, 4GB embedded memory, 32GB MicroSD slot, Gorilla Glass 3, 5-megapixel rear camera with 30 fps FWVGA video capture, no front camera and Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n.

ZTE’s The Open C is the first smartphone with latest version of the Firefox OS, which inventor Mozilla said is designed to bring down the cost of smartphones by using HTML5 technology to create phone features and apps. It’s also designed to accelerate the development of low-cost mobile apps that target small niches.

The new model, like ZTE’s first Firefox OS smartphone launched in August 2013, is available unlocked on eBay in the U.S. It’s also available in more than 20 European countries plus Russia. It’s priced at $99, while the first model is currently priced at $69.

The new model steps up processing power and adds HSPA+ 21Mbps 3G technology in the 800/1,900MHz bands, up from the first model’s 3G 7.2Mbps HSDPA technology. The new model features 4-inch touchscreen, 1.2GHz dual-core processor, 512MB RAM and 4GB embedded memory.