Like another upstart brand from China, ZTE likes its current position in the no-contract market in North America, and is expecting the ongoing strategy to push its market share higher with new devices coming in 2017.
The Axon 7, ZTE’s flagship in Canada, will get an update to Android 7.0 Nougat by end of January or early February, assuming Google certifies the device in time. That update would also make the phone compatible with Google’s Daydream View VR headset, marking the first time ZTE truly enters the VR space.
A demo of the Axon 7 loaded with Nougat and nestled into the View, presented an experience that seemed the same as the Pixel or Moto Z, more or less. Without spending more time to gauge performance over a longer stretch, it’s hard to say how on par it will be with other, more powerful devices expected to be Daydream-ready in the coming months.
As for what’s new, the device the company hyped most was the Hawkeye, a crowdsourced effort called Project CSX (Crowd Source X), courtesy of four winners from Iraq who beat out thousands of other contestants to conceptualize and design the phone.
The unit at ZTE’s CES 2017 press conference was only a non-working prototype showing the basic design. And being in a glass case meant I couldn’t get my hands on it to feel what it was like.
On the surface, it’s a nice-looking phone, and the lime green back is unusual, yet interesting at the same time (the final colours haven’t been settled). Specs and other details weren’t revealed at the event, other than a 5.5-inch display, but the pricing indicates it will be well within the mid-range. The ideas and design had to fit within a certain cost-conscious budget, so the premise here was not to make a high-end, flagship-style handset.
Another first — ZTE will sell the phone through a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign for $199 USD to early backers, who can expect the Hawkeye to ship in Q3 later this year.
Canadians are eligible to pledge as early backers. The company was mum on any other plans for availability beyond the campaign. Whether or not the Hawkeye will be sold in retail or through carriers at some point is completely unknown at this time.
The one feature ZTE is pushing with Hawkeye is what it calls Senseye, eye-tracking technology that automatically scrolls up, down or across based on where the eye is looking. This works in tandem with an adhesive case that would come bundled with the phone to stick to any surface like a wall-mounted TV. The idea is that Senseye would be very handy in hands-free or one-handed situations, like in the kitchen or holding onto a support bar on a subway train or bus, for example.
Then there’s the Blade V8 Pro, a device and product line that is entering the American market for the first time. Axon has been the focus in Canada and the U.S., and bringing in a Blade device doesn’t appear to change that.
The Blade V8 Pro is available for pre-order now, shipping only in the U.S. starting January 18thfor an outright price of $229.98 USD. Canadians are not able to order it and have it shipped to the Great White North, and there is no word on if the phone will even cross the border or not.
It may be fair to assume that ZTE will test the waters in the much larger market down south before opting to release it in Canada, but that’s all speculation at this point.
Spending some hands-on time with the device felt like it was an Axon by another name, except it does stand out in some respects. It sports a 5.5-inch 1920 x 1080 pixel display and Snapdragon 625 octa-core processor, 3GB RAM, 32GB internal storage, microSD slot, plus a dual 13 megapixel rear camera setup in keeping with a blooming theme here at the show.
The home button doubles as a fingerprint sensor. The battery inside is a respectable 3,140mAh, which should perform well with these specs. The back is more rubberized for better grip, and photos do appear very decent from my limited hands-on time.
For the price, it comes off as a stiff competitor, but time will tell if gets to compete in Canada.