Huawei's Honor brand strives to become global

Huawei announced two new products for its Honor brand

The Honor Band Zero is waterproof.

The Honor Band Zero is waterproof.

Huawei isn't a name that's easy to pronounce. Nor has it been free of controversy. In 2012, U.S. politicians called the Chinese company a potential security threat.

So it helps that Huawei is building up a separate consumer brand, one that's been growing fast in China and hopes to take the world by storm.

The company's so-called "Honor" business announced its newest smartphone on Tuesday, a 5.2-inch Android handset loaded with high-end features, including a polished metal case and a fingerprint scanner.

"We want it to be the number one brand," said Richard Yu, the head of Huawei's consumer business during the product launch. "We want it to not only succeed in China, but cross into the world."

Established 18 months ago, the Honor smartphone brand has mainly targeted China, the world's largest market for handsets. It's done this by selling affordable but feature-packed products to younger consumers mainly through e-commerce channels.

Those efforts have paid off. In the last six months, the Honor business has sold 20 million phones, or the same number of phones it sold for all of 2014.

At the same time, the brand has been selling phones in foreign markets, although on a smaller scale, said George Zhao, president of the Honor business.

"Our goal this year is to sell 6 million phones in foreign markets," he said, while speaking to journalists. "For the entire global market, our goal is 40 million."

Zhao added that the brand was preparing to enter the U.S., but he declined to give an exact date. Currently, the Honor business is in 74 countries, including Japan, India as well as European nations. The goal is to strengthen that existing market presence, rather than continue expanding the scope.

"For the Honor brand, we have developed very quickly, but we haven't been around for long," Zhao said. "So we still need time."

Huawei is just one of many Chinese handset makers with global ambitions. Lenovo acquired Motorola and is now the third largest smartphone vendor in the U.S. Meanwhile, fast-rising Xiaomi -- China's largest smartphone company -- hopes to one day target the U.S. as well.

Huawei, however, is no slouch in the smartphone sector. The company's newest phone, the Honor 7, is an impressive device starting at only 1999 yuan (US$328) for Chinese consumers when purchased without carrier subsidies.

For that price, consumers will get a 4G phone with a 1080p screen, an 8-core, 2.2GHz Huawei processor, a 20-megapixel rear-facing camera and 3G of RAM. It handles like a high-end phone that doesn't feel cheap at all. The software runs fast, and the fingerprint sensor worked as advertised, allowing the phone to be unlocked in half a second.

The Honor 7 will first arrive in China in July, and the brand also has plans to release it to international markets at some point.

The company also announced a wearable called the Honor Band Zero. The product works like a fitness tracker, but has a circular display and is shaped like a watch. It can track steps taken, calories burned, and connect to an Android or iOS phone to show notifications. Huawei plans on launching it in August in China.

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Michael Kan

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