China’s Honor unveiled its first premium smartphone for the global market on Monday as the former budget brand of embattled tech titan Huawei Technologies aims to expand in Europe and across Asia.
At the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona, Honor showed off the Magic 4 series featuring the most advanced 5G chipset from Qualcomm, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1. The most expensive model boasts a 6.81-inch screen, around the same size as the latest premium offering from Samsung Electronics, the world’s biggest smartphone maker.
The Qualcomm 5G core mobile platform, which is also used in this year’s flagship offerings from Samsung, Xiaomi, and Oppo, has become a hallmark of premium Android phones.
Honor highlighted its collaboration with the U.S. chipmaker at the MWC, one of the most important international expos for the tech industry.
“We worked with Qualcomm to bring the industry’s first AI-powered super rendering [for] mobile gaming to provide unrivaled gaming performance,” the company told Nikkei Asia.
Honor said it also co-developed the dual-security system for the Magic 4 Series with Qualcomm and added that its latest smartphone is equipped with chipmaker’s 3D Sonic Sensor Gen 2, “which offers the world’s highest-performing, thinnest, and most reliable fingerprint security solution.”
The smartphone maker has previously pointed to its access to global chipmakers, including Samsung, Sony, and MediaTek, as proof that it is overcoming Washington’s crackdown on its former parent.
Honor is aiming to stage a global comeback after it was sold to a consortium of suppliers and investors, including the Shenzhen government, in 2020. The company plans to bring all of the products in its Magic, Honor N, and Honor X series to global markets this year, Honor told Nikkei Asia. Honor introduced its first post-Huawei premium smartphone last August, but it was available almost exclusively in its home market.
Its midrange Honor 50 smartphone went on sale in 49 international markets last year, followed by the Honor 60 a few months later. Honor was the world’s ninth-biggest smartphone maker by shipments in 2021, IDC data showed.
“This year, we will accelerate our developments across key regions including Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the Asia Pacific and Latin America,” the company said.
Honor confirmed to Nikkei Asia that chip shortage remains an industry-wide challenge, adding that its strategy is to “concentrate its resources on key growth markets where the company has already built a solid foundation.”
The company says it has also built a factory that combines R&D, automation technologies, and mass production capability in the Chinese city of Shenzhen to strengthen its production and quality control capabilities.
In the home market, Honor has edged out domestic peers Vivo, Oppo, and Xiaomi in the October-to-December quarter to become the second-largest smartphone company in China with a 17% market share after Apple, according to data from IDC. Its quarterly shipments grew 253.4% from a year earlier, according to the data.
Huawei’s smartphone business, meanwhile, has suffered from its inability to buy 5G mobile processors and American technology without a special license. The company went from being the second-biggest smartphone maker in 2020 to just 10th last year.
Rivals including Honor, Vivo, and Oppo will keep trying to expand into the premium segment, according to Archie Zhang, an analyst with Counterpoint Research.
“In addition to foldable products, Android brands will introduce more premium smartphones this year to reclaim some of the market share gained by Apple in 2021,” the analyst said in a research note.
Joey Yen, an analyst with IDC, says Honor is in for a tough battle.
“Honor has been doing well in its domestic market, but it will face fierce competition in the overseas markets, as all of its domestic rivals, including Oppo and Xiaomi, are also aggressively expanding their market share and have already made some breakthroughs in the past two years.”