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Goldstuck on Gadgets

HTC comes back to the party

It makes some of the best phones in the world. Yet HTC imploded as a brand this year. Now it’s back in South Africa, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Major smartphone manufacturers all seem to be taking turns to prove they have what it takes to restore tarnished reputations. The only brand that does not, for now, seem to have put a foot wrong is Samsung, which last week reported record sales, and now dominates the global smartphone market.

Apple was briefly on the backfoot after the launch of its new iPhones left the market a little cool it had to cut back production of its ‚”low cost‚” 5C due to disappointing orders but it restored the faith with a dazzling new iPad a few weeks later.

Last week, BlackBerry brought the new Z30 to South Africa, launching a competitive new phone even as it was losing the battle to convince investors it had a future.

Sony has released a string of compelling Xperia handsets that compete feature-for-feature with Samsung. The latest, the Z1, is expected to be one of the phones of the year.

Huwaei’s Ascend P6, the thinnest smartphone in the world at 6,18mm, and the runner up, Alcatel’s 6,45mm One Touch Idol Ultra, have brought new respect to those brands, too.

This week, it was the turn of HTC. Already acknowledged to have produced one of the best phones in the world in the HTC One, the company has nevertheless imploded as a global force. In South Africa, its market share vanished even more swiftly.

In response, HTC closed the local office, and appointed Ingram Micro, a world leader in technology distribution, as its local distributor.

This week, the company introduced its new team, a new strategy and a new device.

Peter Blantanis, Ingram Micro’s head of sales and marketing for HTC in South Africa, insisted that they would not dwell on the past.

‚”What happened happened, but we are focused on the future. We do know it’s going to take some time, and our job is to rebuild the brand in South Africa,‚” he said at a media briefing. ‚”We’ve got to take the great devices and move forward from that.‚”

The device that will lead the new HTC charge is not the One, but rather its scaled down little brother, the One Mini. Clearly a response to Samsung’s release of Mini versions of the Galaxy S3 and S4, it is nevertheless a sleek, powerful and appealing handset. However, it will retail at a high R5500, which positions it alongside the flagship devices from Huawei and Alcatel, and Sony’s mid-range, large-screen Xperias. And, for that matter, alongside the ‚”cheaper‚” iPhone 5C.

Its advantage is that it looks and feels uncannily like the HTC One, with an aluminium ‚”unibody‚” and tapered edges that make for one of the most comfortable grips of any phone in the world.

The downside is a 4.3‚” display instead of 5‚”, but it makes up for this with dual frontal stereo speakers with the Beats Audio integration that gave the One a real edge. It comes standard with 16GB of storage, but has no expandable MicroSD slot another disadvantage compared to rivals. More than 13 hours battery life makes up for this.

The One and One Mini will be the sole focus of HTC in this country, at least until the second quarter of next year.

‚”HTC has never given up on SA,‚” Blantanis insists.

The more important question, however, is whether South Africa gave up on HTC. Die-hard fans who still swear by HTC’s early Android devices will set out to prove it didn’t.

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