Instead of the long-rumored Smartisan T3, China’s fledging phone maker Smartisan Technology took the wraps off the fourth smartphone in its product lineup M1/M1L on Tuesday in a showy press conference held in Shanghai. Together with hardware, the handset vendor also launched a new update for its custom OS.

Like always, rumors and hypes surround Smartisan’s new product has churned up weeks before the official press release. The event gets much local press attention partially because it has been a while for the once high-profile company to make a move, partially because this is a make-or-break point for the Chinese smartphone vendor.

M1 continued its signature minimalist design with aluminum body and seamless strips, which makes it resemble iPhone a lot. Enabled by Android-based Smartisan OS, the smartphone is powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon quad-core 821 processor, which clocks at 2.35GHz, along with Adreno 530 GPU.

It comes with two versions, a 5.15 inch M1 and a 5.7 inch M1L, which are offered in three color options of silver, white (mirror stainless steel) and leather coffee. The phone sports a 4080mAh battery that can support a claimed 45.54 hours of continuous phone call. Luckily, the firm has integrated Quick Charge 3.0 technology to get the phone charged more quickly.

The power button is integrated into the home button and the SIM card tray is hidden behind keys on the right side. One big difference is Smartisan has finally incorporated finger scanners into its products, a standard for most smartphones now. A handy feature that comes along with the scanner is users can assign various functions to fingerprints, allowing users to open either Alipay or WeChat payment QR codes by scanning different fingers without faffing around with separate apps.

The phone features a 23 megapixel rear camera and a 4 megapixel front facing camera. The rear camera supports 4K video recording.

Unlike most Chinese smartphone companies that try to bombard users with high specs, the company’s charismatic leader Luo Yonghao emphasized that the company puts priority on the look and feel of their products rather than standard hardware. But it’s catching up, at least on par with mainstream flagship products in the country.

Specs:

  • 5.5-inch/5.7-inch in-cell display
  • 2.35GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon quad-core 821 processor
  • Adreno 530 GPU
  • Android based Smartisan OS3.X
  • Dual SIM card
  • M1: 149.36x 71.75x 8.22mm, 146g; M1L: 159.66x 78.96 x 8.32mm, 175g
  • 23MP rear camera with LED flash, f/2.0 aperture, ISOCELL sensor, 4K video recording
  • 4MP selfie camera, OmniVision OV4688
  • 4G LTE / 3G /2G
  • 4080mAh battery

Pricing various according to RAM and memories.

  • M1: 4GB RAM + 32GB – 2,499 yuan ($370)
  • M1L: 4GB RAM + 32GB – 2,799 yuan ($415), 6GB RAM + 64GB – 2,999 yuan ($445)
  • M1L 6GB RAM + 64GB (mirror stainless metal version) 3,299 yuan ($489)

Product info page (in Chinese)

Highlights from Smartisan OS update

At the same event, the company released a new update for its Android-based operating system, which offers more highlights to the event as compared with the hardware. Smartisan OS 3.X sports a raft of features that aims to make smartphone input or textual processing more convenient for mobile users.

Supported by China’s top voice recognition service iFLYTEK, the voice input demo wowed the audience with a reliable and accurate output which the company claimed an accuracy rate of 97%. A good news for users with foreign contacts. Smartisan’s phone book now supports search in English, Japanese and Korea.

By long pressing the screen, a new feature dubbed “Big Bang” can fragment lengthy paragraphs into word segments, easy for copy to other editing tools, select as search keywords, or drag to a sidebar to share with friends. It’s worth nothing that not only sheer texts, words from pictures can also be processed.

“One Step” facilitates multitask operations by allowing users to put various items such as pictures, files on the top bar, or apps, frequent contacts, commonly accessed settings on the right sidebar, eliminating steps in switching between apps.

In a forward-looking move to contribute to the Android community, Smartisan plans to make “Big Bang” and “One Step” open source technologies in a hope that Google could make them basic features of the Android operating system.

Crucial flagship for the troubled company

Smartisan has hit a tough development path since its first product launch. Its first generation flagship product T1 suffered from capacity problems and the following products U1 and T2 failed to become smash-hits the company once harped about.

The company has been under lot of financial pressure as its total assets has slumped from 825 million yuan at the end of 2015 to 296 million yuan as of the first half of this year. The phone maker has recorded losses of 462 million yuan and 192 million yuan in 2015 and H1 2016, respectively, according to data from Tap4Fun, a listed investor of Smartisan. In June this year, company founder Luo has pledged 2.05 million shares in the company to Alibaba for an undisclosed sum of funding.

Rumors around Smartisan’s acquisition emerged in the past few months and potential investors include all big names from Lenovo, Alibaba, LeEco to Xiaomi. But company founder Luo Yonghao dispelled them. All this makes the flagship handset all the more important, and if the M series lives up to expectations and could register with users, it would gain more time for Smartisan to build a more solid foothold in China’s competitive smartphone battlefield.

Update (10/20/2016) 12:48: This story has been updated to add more information on Smartisan OS’s new features.

Emma Lee

Emma Lee is Shanghai-based tech writer, covering startups and tech happenings in China and Asia in general. We are looking for stories related to tech and China. Reach her at lixin@technode.com.