Super-battery and superthin Chinese designs excite and delight

Many Chinese OEMs are tired of simply producing "me-too" Android clones of more popular American, Japanese, and South Korean phonemakers' designs.  They're finally looking to debut designs with truly revolutionary hardware, and the results are already quite exciting, and arguably a boon to Android.

I. Superthin, Super-Battery? Android OEMs Explore New Hardware Directions

Some Android phonemakers are looking to differentiate their devices by going ultra-thin.

One example is the Elife S5.5 from China's Gionee.  To be fair the name is a bit of a shameless impersonation of Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd.'s (KRX:005935) (KRX:005930) Galaxy series naming (a common ploy among both Chinese and Indian companies).  But the 5.5 part actually means something big -- the Elife S5.5 is only 5.5 millimeters thick -- 27.6 percent thinner than Apple Inc.'s (AAPL) iPhone 5S.

Yes, China has produced the world's thinnest Android phone to date.  And the spec isn't half bad either; onboard is a MediaTek Inc. (TPE:2454) octacore 1.7 GHz MT6592 system-on-a-chip (SoC) with power-saving big.LITTLE technology.

Gionee Elife
The Gionee Elife S5.5

The rest of the spec -- 1080 AMOLED 5-inch display, a 2 GB of DRAM, and a Mali-450 MP4 (@ 700 MHz) GPU from ARM Holdings plc (LON:ARM) -- is also impressive.  But technically speaking, perhaps the biggest feat is the inclusion of a 2300 mAh battery in the razor-thin package.

Other Chinese OEMs are pushing the boundary in the opposite direction.  Why go thin, they argue, when you can offer a really, really huge battery?

Perhaps the highest profile upcoming release in this vein is the Lenovo Group, Ltd.'s (HKG:0992) S860.  The spec isn't quite as good (1.3 GHz quad-core MT6582, a 720p screen, 8 MP rear camera, etc.) as the Elife S5.5, ironically, but it does have one key edge.  It packs a massive 4,000 mAh pack, a battery that is 177.8 percent higher capacity than the iPhone 5S and 53.8 percent higher than the Galaxy S5.

Lenovo S860
The Lenovo S860

The massive 4,000 mAh cell allows for 24 hours of 4G (LTE) talk time.  And the phone features a slick brushed aluminum case and attractive $350 USD price (unlocked) to boot.

II. Thundergod Ups the Ante

But Lenovo has some competition as local rival Eton has unveiled a stunning device dubbed the "Thundergod".  

The Eton Thundergod packs a bigger battery that allows it to nearly match Lenovo's promises in talk time, while delivering a thinner, more powerful device  The Thundergo's battery weighs in at 5,000 mAh -- good enough for 21 hours of 3G/4G talk time or a whopping 46 days (1,100 hours) of standby time.  Literally, you can go days without charging this monster.

Where as the S860 is rather "fat" -- 10.3 mm thick -- the Eton Thundergod is only 9.3 mm (about 22.4 percent thicker than the iPhone 5S, but pretty darn impressive, considering the massive battery onboard).  And the Eton Thundergod packs a meaner processing punch with its 1.7 GHz octacore MediaTek MT6592 (the same chip as Gionee's Elife S5.5).

There's a Mali-450 MP4 and 2 GB of DRAM onboard, as well.  The screen resolution has yet to be announced, but expect it to likely be 1080p.

There's a couple bits of bad news -- first off, of all these devices, only the Lenovo S860 has committed to coming to North America, although it would not be surprising to see the Gionee Elife S5.5 or Eton Thundergod stray out of Asia as well.  Second, MediaTek's MT6582/92 chipsets that power all of these devices currently only work with Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Android 4.2, not the latest and greatest Android 4.4 "KitKat".

Eton Thundergod

But it's almost certain that similar phones equipped with more capable chipsets (e.g. the Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM) Snapdragon 4xx/6xx/8xx family of multicore SoCs) will land on U.S. shores with similar specs.  And that's something big to look forward to.

Android is definitely showing the merits of its flexible approach, an approach that has driven competitors like Apple's Phil Schiller batty.  Recent court documents in the Samsung-Apple U.S. legal dispute revealed this week that Mr. Schiller had internally vent frustrations over the iPhone's slowing sales, something he blames on larger screen sizes.

But to be fair to Apple, it's been relatively good at predicting consumer trends and demand.  The key problem is that Apple only has two current smartphone models, only one of which is a premium device.  As these super-battery and super-thin Androids show, what's really killing Apple is something it can do little about -- Android's diversity.  Android phonemakers are willing to throw stuff at the metaphorical wall and see what sticks.  Some of these design directions will clearly not resonate with what customers want and fail.  But as an overall ecosystem, Android is virtually guaranteed to correctly predict what the market wants, where as Apple has to rely on equal measures of luck and market research.

In other words -- it's a great time to be a prospective Android buyer. 

Sources: Mtksj [Chinese], Lenovo [press release; PDF]

"I mean, if you wanna break down someone's door, why don't you start with AT&T, for God sakes? They make your amazing phone unusable as a phone!" -- Jon Stewart on Apple and the iPhone

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