Nio took a giant leap into the smartphone arena on Thursday with the much-anticipated launch of its Nio Phone, the first handset designed by a Chinese automaker. The new device is hitting the market at a price comparable to the latest flagship offerings by Apple and Huawei.
Having developed its own phone from the ground up, the electric vehicle maker expects to create an ecosystem across vehicles, devices, and services, which will provide a seamless experience for Nio users. The handset offers the purest form of the Android experience without any pre-installed apps or banner ads, chief executive William Li said during a press event in Shanghai on Thursday.
Some of the standout features Nio highlights are a master remote control for vehicles with options to control everything from windows to seats, as well as seamless streaming of videos, music, and meetings from smartphone to car infotainment screen. Here’s what impressed us most about Nio’s first Android phone.
Ultra wideband technology
Nio said the phone offers remote control for in-car devices which differs from most competitors by using Ultra Wideband (UWB) technology, an emerging wireless communication protocol that enables precise, speedy, and secure location tracking.
During a hands-on session where TechNode was present, a Nio ES8 SUV “greeted” the phone by turning its lights on when a Nio employee approached and automatically unlocked shortly before he reached for the door handle without taking out his phone. The smartphone also serves as a central hub to remotely operate the car’s air conditioning among other options at the touch of a single button.
The short-range, high-bandwidth digital radio technology allows fast data transmission with increased security compared with other wireless standards such as NFC and Bluetooth, which are often absent from existing phone models produced by domestic makers such as Huawei and Xiaomi, according to Nio staff. The first initiative of this kind was announced by Geely-backed rival Meizu a month earlier.
Several global automakers are also investing in the technology in collaboration with Apple. The US smartphone maker has reportedly been allowing BMW’s iX owners to unlock their cars using select iPhones or wearables since 2021, although most carmakers are currently unable to leverage the technology with Apple’s devices, Nio CEO William Li previously told Chinese reporters.
TechNode reporters also played the hit racing game title Asphalt on the in-car display with a Microsoft Xbox wireless controller. It offered a smooth experience which did not freeze or crash, as it runs in the smartphone’s background enabled with 5G services and a Qualcomm semiconductor.
Nio’s in-car experience also allows users to stream videos on Bilibili, follow turn-by-turn navigation on Amap, or transition to live meetings on Dingtalk from their phones through the car’s infotainment screen. Huawei earlier announced a similar Super Terminal feature, while Geely claimed such capabilities with the recent launch of its new Meizu flagship series and operating system, Flyeme Auto.
It is worth pointing out that the feature is different from screen mirroring, as it actually creates a “doppelganger” of the Nio Phone on the in-car dashboard so that users can use the smartphone and the in-car system simultaneously yet separately.
With its first self-branded device, Nio is one of the few Chinese automakers capable of integrating users’ smartphones with their car’s infotainment system at the operating system level. Such integration for Aito and Geely was enabled by their respective smartphone partners Huawei and Meizu.
Specifications and prices
The Nio Phone is powered by a Qualcomm high-end Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor, the same as existing flagship offerings such as Xiaomi’s Mi 13, Oppo’s Reno 11 Pro, and the Meizu 20. It also comes with a 6.81-inch 2K+E6 Samsung screen, providing a resolution of 3,200 x 1,440 pixels, a 120Hz refresh rate, and a peak brightness of 1,800nits.
The device features a triple-camera system that includes three 50MP cameras and has a large battery of 5,200mAh, supporting 50 W wireless charging and 10 W reverse charging. An entry-level version weighs 212 grams and measures 165.19 x 75.54 x 8.9mm.
The Nio Phone’s three versions come in seven colors, and are priced between RMB 6,499 and RMB 7,499 ($890-$1,027). Shipment is scheduled for Sept. 28. For comparison, Huawei’s latest Mate 60 Pro flagship phone costs from RMB 6,499, while Apple on Sept. 15 began selling its iPhone 15 series with a starting price of RMB 5,999 in China.