The name of Smartisan may not ring a bell in your mind, but the fledging Chinese phone maker is already four years old and has attracted a large group of artsy youth fans.

However, surviving China’s highly competitive phone market is no easy job. It’s no secret in China’s tech circle that the company has been struggling to stay afloat given the slim sales margin of previous phones, which have won applauds from the design world but failed to register with a broader group of mass users.

The company’s newly launched make-or-break flagship M1 has received lots of positive reviews from the market thanks to improved hardware specs and highly convenient software innovations like the text editing feature Big Bang and drag-and-drop operation One Step.

But the phone maker also receives some critics for losing the artisan spirits in industrial designing, which is at the core of the brand since its inception. “We have made compromises in the industrial design of M1 for more improvements in specs and functions” said Zhu Xiaomu, UX product director of Smartisan, at TechCrunch Beijing this Monday.

Does compromise in design creates a compromised product? Not necessarily, according to Mr. Zhu. “When putting products into mass production, we have to make compromises. If you want a larger battery capacity, it’s inevitable that the phone will become thicker.”

“That’s why it’s under the M series rather than our trademark T series. M is the initial for “full score” in Chinese. On the scale from one to ten, I would give M1 an “8”, that’s two points more than the passing grade.”

In addition, software innovation is another important driving force of the company. 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.

“In the past, Smartisan puts top priority on the look and feel of our products, but the sales figure was not that pretty. In order to survive the cut-throat competition of China’s smartphone market, we decide to roll out a new brand which might failed to offer stunning industrial design but excels in specs, functions and software.” Zhu said.

“Of course, T series is still one of our flagship brand.” But Zhu declined to disclose the release date of Smartisan’s next T series smartphone T3.

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.