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Unlocked Phones Try To Lock Up Market

Unlocked smartphones dominated the recent spate of cellphone introductions as sales of unlocked phones continue to grow.

New brands entering the U.S. market with unlocked phones include Coby, Freetel, and Huawei’s Honor brand, hoping to present consumers with more choices as the market shares of such companies as Black- Berry, HTC and Microsoft fall.

Unlocked phones were also announced by Acer, ZTE’s Nubia subsidiary, Nuu Mobile, Polaroid and Yezz.

“The unlocked phone market is growing in the U.S., giving consumers more choices when it comes to their device and their service provider,” said Freetel president Ian Chapman-Banks.

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” driven by carriers dropping phone subsidies. Unsubsidized phones are enticing cost-sensitive consumers to search for more affordable options, he said.

Unlocked phones accounted for 1 percent of total smartphone volume in the U.S. in 2012 and 7 percent in 2015, with 2020 share forecast at 16 percent, Strategy Analytics said.

Here’s what’s coming in both locked and unlocked models:

Alcatel OneTouch: The brand will make its first North American Windows 10 Mobile phone available exclusively through T-Mobile in the coming weeks.

The LTE-equipped Fierce XL comes with preinstalled Cortana, 5.5-inch 720p display, 1.1GHz quadcore processor, 2GB RAM, 16GB storage, 32GB MicroSD card slot, Category 4 LTE in bands 2/4/12, VoLTE, Wi-Fi calling, and 8- and 2-magapixel cameras. A 2,500 mAH battery delivers up to 14 hours of talk time or 820 hours of standby time.

Coby: The brand, licensed exclusively by Summit CE Group, unveiled its first trio of smartphones, all value-priced. Two models in the Slide series are 3G models, and one features 4G LTE. All are dual-SIM models running Android 5.1.

The line starts with the CPB-PH2 with 3.5-inch 320 by 480 touchscreen, 1GHz processor, 512MB RAM, and dual 0,3-megapixel cameras. The SPB-PH6 steps up to 5-inch 480 by 800 display, 1.2GHz quadcore processor, 512MB RAM, and 2-megapixel main camera. The LTE-equipped CPB-PH6 steps up to LTE, 5-inch 720p HD display, 1GB RAM, and 2- and 8-megapixel cameras. It comes with 1GHz quad-core processor.

Freetel: Japanese handset maker Freetel, founded in 2013, is making its U.S. debut with a quartet of unlocked phones, including the Musashi flip smartphone. All feature LTE and Android 5.1 OS. They’re positioned as offering high-end design and Japanese craftsmanship at affordable prices.

The Musashi, due in the second quarter, features two 4-inch WVGA touchscreens, one on the outside facing the user when the phones is closed. The other appears above the phones hinge when the phone is open. It features LTE, Android 5.1, WVGA displays, 8-and 2-megapixel cameras, quad-core 1GHz processor, dual SIMs, 8GB storage, 64GB MicroSD card slot and 2,000 mAh battery. Pricing was unavailable.

The other three are due in the first quarter at Freetel and They include the U.S. flagship Kiwami priced at a suggested $389. It features 6-inch WQHD display, 21- and 8-megapixel cameras, 3,400 mAh battery, fast charging technology, Corning Gorilla Glass, gesture technology and fingerprint authentication.

Honor: Huawei’s e-brand unveiled its first handset for the U.S. market. The 5X is launching on Amazon, Newegg and at $199.

The 5.5-inch 5X features a gently curved design, diamond-polished aluminum alloy chassis with ceramic coating, and choice of gold, silver and gray finish. Inside is a 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon octa-core processor, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage, MicroSD card slot, a 13-megapixel f2.0 rear camera, and 5-megapxel f2.4 front camera with 22mm, 88-degree wide angle lens for more encompassing selfies.

The phone features a second-generation fingerprint sensor delivering a 0.5-second unlocking time and a self-learning capability to enhance accuracy over time. The phone also supports gesture controls for initiating calls, launching an app while the phone is locked, snapping photos and other functions.

Huawei: One new phone is the Mate 8, promoted as offering the longest battery life of any smartphone at 2.36 days. It features fingerprint scanner button in back that doubles as a selfie shutter release, rapid charging to deliver a day’s worth of power in a half hour, knuckle-on-screen taps to shoot a photo or trace-crop images and video, longpage screen capture, and a 16-megapixel camera with three-axis OIS.

The U.S. won’t be among the first countries offering the phone, which will sell outside the U.S. at 599 euro for the 3GB RAM/32GB ROM version and 699 euro for the 4GB/64GB edition.

U.S. retailers, however, will be able to get their hands on the more basic aluminum unibody 5.5-inch GX8, due in the first quarter at $349 unlocked. It will be available in gold, gray and silver.

Sony Mobile: The company is bringing high-resolution audio playback to more Xperia smartphones in the U.S. with the launch of the $599 5.2-inch Xperia Z5 and $499 4.6-inch Xperia Z5 Compact.

The two Android 5.1 GSM phones will be available unlocked on Feb. 7 through such retailers as Amazon, Best Buy and B&H.

The phones decode high-res audio formats, including Sony-developed DSD, and feature proprietary LDAC technology, which transmits near-high-res audio via Bluetooth to LDAC-equipped Bluetooth headphones and speakers. Both also feature proprietary technology to upconvert lossy music files to near-high-res quality.

In the U.S., Sony also offers the Z3+, Z3, and Z3v with high-res decoding, also with DSD decoding. Not all feature LDAC.

Both new models feature 23-megapixel main camera said to offer the fastest autofocusing of any smartphone at 0.03 seconds. Both also feature PS4 Remote Play, which lets users continue playing Play-Station console games on the phones via Wi-Fi when a game controller is attached. And both are IP68- rated, making them dust-right and submersible in more than 1.5 meters of fresh water for longer than 30 minutes.