The Chinese smartphone invasion begins

China's Huawei and ZTE, looking to win U.S. consumers away from Apple and Samsung, unveiled new smartphones at CES

Tech giants Apple, Google, and Microsoft were no-shows at CES this week in Las Vegas, which worked out just fine for Chinese vendors looking to establish a name for themselves with U.S. consumers. Telecom suppliers Huawei and ZTE, in particular, have set their sights on breaking into the U.S. market for smartphones and tablets.

That goal may seem a tall order -- many consumers may remember that a select committee from the U.S. House of Representatives slammed Huawei and ZTE in October. The House report warned U.S. companies against using equipment from Huawei and ZTE: "Based on available classified and unclassified information, Huawei and ZTE cannot be trusted to be free of foreign state influence and thus pose a security threat to the United States and to our systems." Around the same time, Cisco reportedly cut ties with ZTE after a year-long investigation into allegations that the company sold Cisco gear to Iran.

While the odds on a breakthrough may be long -- after all, Huawei has been unsuccessful in getting most U.S. carriers to sell its branded products -- the Chinese firms appear uncowed and confident. ZTE even had the temerity to ding Apple in public last year, saying the slow pace of iPhone releases showed that the iconic American company was losing its edge. The IDG News Service report notes:

While ZTE is three spots behind Apple as the world's fifth-largest smartphone vendor, according to research firm IDC, the Chinese company saw second-quarter smartphone shipments grow 300 percent year on year. Helping to fuel that growth was the China market, where ZTE narrowly beat Apple in market share by selling lower-end smartphone devices.

As part of Huawei's campaign to conquer the U.S. market -- which CEO Richard Yu calls "key" to the firm's future -- Huawei unveiled two new smartphones this week at CES. The Ascend Mate has the world's largest display; at 6.1 inches, it surpasses even the popular Samsung Galaxy Note II with its 5.5-inch screen and prompts Joel Evans at ZDnet to ask how big is too big for a smartphone. The phone runs Android 4.1 with a custom Huawei user interface, and it's dust- and water-resistant -- a feature cited as one of the five smartphone trends from CES. It also features an impressive 4,050mAh battery that should translate into longer usage time between recharges.

Huawei also introduced the Ascend D2, which the company claims is the world's most powerful smartphone. It sports a 5-inch 1080p display, a quad-core 1.5GHz CPU, Android "Jelly Bean," a 13-megapixel rear camera, and 3,000mAh battery. Head over to Engadget for hands-on photos and videos of what Huawei's Yu calls the "dream phone."

ZTE also jumped on the big-screen smartphone bandwagon at CES, unveiling a flagship Android phone with a 5-inch full HD display. The ZTE Grand S will launch in China in early 2013, but ZTE said it is in talks with two carriers about selling the phone in the United States. The Grand S is one of the thinnest smartphones on the market at 6.9mm thick (the iPhone 5 is 7.6mm) and runs on the "Jelly Bean" version of Android and a quad-core 1.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro processor.

Whether these Chinese imports can take on the likes of Apple and Samsung remains to be seen, but as Wired quotes Jeff Lotman, the CEO of Global Icons, an agency that helps companies build and license their brands:

The thing that's amazing is these are huge companies, and they have a lot of power, but in the United States nobody has heard of them and they're having trouble gaining traction, but it's not impossible. Samsung was once known for making crappy, low-end phones and cheap TVs. Now they're seen as a top TV and smartphone brand.

It's not impossible at all.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.