Mobile phones from China are a familiar sight on store shelves across India. The mobile phone boom, fuelled by Nokia and Sony Ericsson, also brought along hordes of China-made devices that were feature-rich, very reasonably priced, but were unfailingly bad buys due to the horrible build and component quality. That’s a complaint that still rings true, though not all Chinese phones have stayed that way.

A large amount of the low-cost Android smartphones these days are Chinese products. These are all generically produced and are given the branding of the company that sells them. This allows great price flexibility. Top Indian manufacturers as well as newer entrants to the market use this production model for their smartphone business. The success of Micromax and Karbonn is a direct result of this. While China’s strength in manufacturing has helped Indian manufacturers make headway in the smartphone market, it could also end up affecting them adversely. The manufacturing prowess has also resulted in the surge of Chinese brands across the world. And soon companies like Huawei, Lenovo, ZTE will be fighting Micromax and its ilk for the same inch in the market. And this fight could end up blunting the edge Indians have in their home market. Huawei and ZTE already have a huge standing in the telecom business and the former has been a fast climber in the global smartphone ranks, sitting in the third spot. ZTE is not far behind either.

The big three Chinese brands will soon have a major India presence

The big three Chinese brands will soon have a major India presence

These days, the likes of Huawei, ZTE and Lenovo grab the headlines when it comes to new devices. Through a combination of teases and leaks, Huawei’s Ascend P6 earned great hype even before it was launched. Huawei’s Ascend Mate is one of the largest smartphones in the world and despite the sheer size, it is one of the most exciting handsets in India right now, simply because it takes the idea of a phablet to crazier heights. Both the P6 and the Mate also come with a Huawei-designed UI that brings unique customisation options and a thorough power management solution. The company has invested Rs 175 crore to bulk up its marketing efforts in India and for brand building. This signals its clear intention for the Indian market.

Huawei has invested heavily in building the brand in India

Huawei has invested heavily in building the brand in India

Lenovo has been a quiet watcher on the sidelines in India. The company had a small presence in select regions, but only now is beginning to show the distribution and manufacturing prowess that has made it a top brand in China and, of course, one of the largest PC makers in the world. Having sold its mobile division in 2008, the company bought it back next year to refocus on that segment. Instead of taking things slow, it spent $793.5 million to build a facility that can produce 30 to 40 million phones annually. With such bold moves has Lenovo climbed to the No 2 spot in the Chinese market.

Lenovo announced six new phones for India

Lenovo announced six new phones for India

In India, the company entered the limelight with the K900, a stunning medley of stainless steel and polycarbonate unibody, a massive display and Intel’s 2GHz dual-core Atom Z2580 processor (see our review). It also has five other smartphones to choose from, giving potential buyers a varied feature set. Lenovo also has its pulse on the market. Four of its six smartphones in India are quad-core affairs.

ZTE recently appointed a new CEO for its India operations and is planning to launch more products in India to help increase smartphone revenues by 30 percent this year. This could see smartphones like the Grand Memo and the Grand S, along side ultra-affordable devices like the Firefox OS-running Open. The Grand Memo should especially appeal to users in India, who seem to have embraced phablets more warmly than other parts of the world. The Grand S joins the fast-burgeoning 1080p brigade with the 5-inch LCD. Both phones have a 13 megapixel shooter with 1080p video capture and high-end connectivity options for Wi-FI and cellular data.

ZTE Grand S, a well-designed 1080p smartphone

ZTE Grand S, a well-designed 1080p smartphone

Another brand that’s ready for an India foray, and one that you probably have never heard of, is Coolpad. Coolpad is one of the top five smartphone companies in China. Indian manufacturer Spice has now teamed up with the company to bring new phones under the Spice Coolpad brand. The first such phone, the Spice Coolpad MI-515, is already out in markets. This particular brand is expected to flourish with Android Nation stores, which are being launched in India by Spice and Google.

While these are still early days to proclaim the Indian market as an India vs China battleground, the stage certainly looks set. The litmus test will come when Chinese brands have to answer for the same things that Indian companies do; things like customer service, software updates and device reliability. Secondly, the new players can also compete on the basis of price, since they have the same large-scaled manufacturing advantage as the Indian companies, but they also bring unique design, hardware and software innovations. So they have a definite edge on paper.

One thing is certain: With the entry of big-name Chinese brands, the market in India has turned into a three-way battle of sorts, with Indian companies sandwiched between the new Chinese entrants and the established international players. Things are about to get hot here.

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