"China is the number one market with connected products."

That was how Intel's Senior Vice President Kirk Skaugen kicked off his keynote at IDF in Shenzhen, citing China's staggering 30 percent share of worldwide connected-device purchases in 2014. The country gobbled up 40 percent of the 46 million Intel-powered tablets shipped globally. Not bad, but 46 million is hardly anything compared to the 420.7 million smartphones shipped in China alone in the same year -- only a tiny percentage of which packed an Intel chip. Most others relied on Qualcomm, MediaTek and Samsung. Intel's smartphone market share is so small that it never dared to share the stats; it could be as low as 2.81 percent in the Android space, according to benchmark specialist AnTuTu.

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Yes, that's me holding a phone upside down while pretending to make a phone call. It may look silly, but that's exactly what the folks over at Alcatel OneTouch want to see going viral on the streets soon. What we have here is the new "orientation-free" Idol 3 smartphone series, which lets users quickly pick up phone calls without having to check whether they are holding the device -- either the 4.7-inch version or the larger 5.5-inch model -- the right way up. The trick? It's all down to the symmetrical design consisting of a speaker and a mic at each end of the phone; and yes, you do get to use the two front-facing speakers in stereo mode for entertainment purposes.

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Year of the Goat: 11 Chinese smartphone brands to watch

2014 had been a wonderful year for the ever-competitive Chinese smartphone market. We saw the birth of new brands, the record of world's thinnest phone broken three times, and a couple of companies entering India with great reception (although not without some struggle). So with MWC following right after Chinese New Year, what better way to celebrate both than to look at the top Chinese smartphone brands? Granted, not all of these companies will be on the show floor next week (not Xiaomi or Oppo, for instance), but there's no stopping us from saying "ni hao" to them, anyway.

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While CES isn't usually the kind of show that HTC would make a big deal out of, the company somehow decided to use this opportunity to throw out a new mid-range flagship device: the Desire 826. While it's positioned as a follow-up to the Desire 820 (which is only four months old, by the way), the new model has clearly taken a design cue from the Desire Eye: You get the same hidden BoomSound front-facing stereo speakers (now with Dolby Audio), the same anti-slip soft sides and the same overall look. But rather than using a 13-megapixel front-facing camera, the Desire 826 touts HTC's famed UltraPixel imager on the front, meaning you can take faster and brighter selfies even in poorly lit environments. Great idea, though we wish HTC had come up with this before someone else did it.

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How thin is too thin? Well, the Chinese smartphone makers are always pushing their limits on this end. Following Gionee's 5.1mm Elife S5.1 and Oppo's 4.85mm R5, today Vivo has set a new record with its X5Max, a 4.75mm-thick Android phone that still manages to pack a number of notable features. The slim aluminum mid-frame houses a vibrant 5.5-inch 1080p Super AMOLED screen, a 1.7mm-thick logic board and a 5-megapixel f/2.4 front camera. Flip to the back and you'll find a 13-megapixel f/2.0 main camera -- the inevitable bulge that goes beyond the phone's official thickness by almost 2mm -- and a loudspeaker towards the bottom. On the whole, the phone feels surprisingly light (Vivo has yet to list the official weight) but also solid and well-made.

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It wasn't all that long ago when China's Meizu unveiled its latest phone, the MX4, but the real flagship is actually what the company announced today. As you can tell from the name, the new MX4 Pro is a beefed-up version of the earlier model, yet it's still priced very competitively and is almost just as comfortable to hold. Most notably, it has a slightly larger 5.5-inch display with a stunning 2,560 x 1,536 resolution -- a tad more than the standard 2K resolution (hence the "2K+" label), thus making this the highest screen resolution for the current smartphone market. That said, this NEGA LCD panel is apparently very power efficient, sipping just 1.05 times the power consumed by the MX4's 1,920 x 1,152 screen. Underneath that lies a Samsung octa-core processor (2GHz A15 x 4 + 1.5GHz A7 x 4) which, according to Meizu, is 20 percent more efficient than the MX4's MediaTek offering.

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No, that's not a bulk purchasing price. According to the folks at Beijing chip designer NuFront, some Chinese retailers are now selling 7-inch 3G phablets -- powered by NuFront's TL7689 chipset -- to consumers for as low as CN¥330 or about $54 per piece (the prices pictured above are for distributors). That converts to a mere $6 profit for every device sold, which is apparently the norm in the affordable market. On paper, though, it's still a seemingly complete package: you get a 1,024 x 600 LCD screen, 1GB of RAM, 8GB of internal storage, 0.3MP/2MP cameras, a 1,800mAh battery and even HSPA+ connectivity.

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As you probably know, Huawei is one of the many Asian mobile companies that are obsessed with phablets due to local demand. As such, it's no surprise that there's a follow-up model to the 6.1-inch Ascend Mate 2. Announced at IFA just now is the slightly smaller 6-inch Ascend Mate 7 (yes, somehow it skipped four model numbers), which, as you've probably already seen in the leaks, features a fingerprint reader on the back. As it turns out, unlike the traditional swipe-style scanner on, say, the similar-looking HTC One Max, the Mate 7 uses a more convenient one-touch sensor similar to that of the iPhone 5s.

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Xiaomi may be the darling of tech publications when they look to the Chinese smartphone market, but let's not forget that Meizu is the real pioneer of community-centric phone brands. As such, Meizu is sparing no effort to one-up its arch rival with its latest flagship phone, the MX4, as announced in Beijing earlier today. Thanks to the MediaTek MT6595 SoC, we're looking at an octa-core (four 2.2GHz A17 and four 1.7GHz A7) device that can connect to both FDD-LTE and TD-LTE networks right out of the box, thus beating the Xiaomi Mi 4 whose LTE variants aren't due until end of this year. More importantly, the MX4 manages to undercut the 3G-only Mi 4 by about $16 to $33 off-contract, depending on the storage capacity.

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Xiaomi's regular channeling of Apple -- from its stage presentations all the way to disguising Aperture's icon as a phone's camera -- has earned its CEO Lei Jun the "Steve Jobs of China" nickname. Or rather, "Lei Bu Si," a Chinese combination of "Lei" and "Jobs." It's also a double entendre -- something along the lines of "endless shocks" -- that mocks Xiaomi's aggressive marketing. It's no wonder Lei hates the comparison. Fortunately for Lei there's another Chinese CEO gunning for that title. Meet Luo Yonghao, an English teacher turned founder and CEO of smartphone startup, Smartisan, with designs on being the next great tech visionary.

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HTC may have some problems behind closed doors, but outside, it's still widely regarded as one of the world's top phone makers. We already gave this year's One M8 flagship a rather jolly review, and now it's time to see if the same qualities are preserved in its mid-range counterpart, the Desire 816. Indeed, back at Mobile World Congress, HTC called this $390 LTE phablet the "flagship mid-range" to emphasize its competitiveness. But has it lived up to its name? Or is it too little, too late in a world full of affordable options? Let's find out.

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Vertu CEO Max Pogliani

Last month was a special one for Max Pogliani: Not only did it mark his first anniversary as Vertu's CEO, but it also saw the launch of his very own baby, the Android-powered Signature Touch. This new phone's up-to-date specs have already silenced critics; and despite the luxury market's slowdown, the Italian exec said his team's already ahead of budget in the first half of this year. Vertu's not stopping there, as it plans to expand its portfolio with an even more affordable smartphone, as well as new accessories like audio products and maybe even smart wearables.

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With Vertu finally offering an up-to-date luxury phone, we naturally had to check out the Signature Touch up close and personal. After all, it's not everyday that one gets to play with a $21,900 phone for free (though you can do so at any Vertu boutique, as long as you're nicely dressed). For those who haven't caught up with the announcement, we're looking at a 4.7-inch 1080p display, a 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 chip, 64GB of storage, 13MP/2.1MP cameras, a 2,275mAh battery, Qi wireless charging, NFC and a handful of LTE bands. With the exception of the battery (which, to be fair, is already much larger than those on previous models), these are all very decent for an Android 4.4 device.

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HTC's betting big on its recently unveiled E8 by pricing it almost half as much as the similarly-specced M8 in China, so naturally, we had to check it out for the sake of curiosity. To our surprise, the plastic body was quite solid -- more so than the Desire 816 -- and felt good thanks to the ergonomic curves on the back. The design also looked better in real life than in the official renders, though only time will tell how scratch-proof that glossy body is. Slower camera and lack of TV remote feature aside, the E8 is easily a steal given the near-identical guts as the M8 (Snapdragon 801, 5-inch 1080p screen, microSD expansion and more) plus the reassuring build quality; and there's even a hilariously large limited edition packaging that doubles as a mood light -- check it out in our video after the break.

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A little over a year ago, a fresh Chinese startup by the name of Smartisan ("smart" and "artisan" combined) showed off its first work: the Android-based Smartisan OS. What caught our attention was its truly unique UI and insanely thoughtful UX features, so naturally, we had very high expectations for the company's own hardware back then. At long last, the Smartisan T1 phone was unveiled in front of some 5,000 people -- along with 2.74 million online viewers -- at the two-hour long event earlier this week, and despite the usual flagship-level specs, it was still full of nice surprises. Don't be mistaken: unlike the low-cost, high-end devices from Xiaomi, OnePlus, Nubia and other young Chinese brands, the T1 isn't about affordability; it's positioned as a more premium smartphone with much more differentiation. How so? Read on to find out.

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