Smartisan's T2 phone is all about metal and minimalism

This is the first Chinese smartphone with a seamless metallic frame.

You may not have heard of Smartisan before, but this Chinese smartphone maker is already three-and-a-half years old and has released two devices so far: the premium T1 and the budget-friendly U1, both of which featuring an insanely long list of unique UI tricks that left us smiling. All good things take time: 19 months after its first flagship model, Smartisan is finally back with a fancy metallic upgrade, the T2, and this time it's less about specs, but more about refining the design in favor of minimalism. No power button, no exposed screws, no visible SIM tray and, most interestingly, no plastic bands on the smooth and subtly rounded aluminum frame. This seamless bezel alone is apparently the outcome of 588 days of research and development, so it's no wonder that this is also a first for Chinese smartphones.

While the T1 had a removable back cover for customization and for accessing the SIM tray, the slimmer and lighter T2 doesn't. But rather than tainting the T2's clean bezel, Smartisan has taken a page out of Motorola's book and turned the volume keys on the right as part of the new Nano SIM tray. Simply poke a pin into the nearby hole and the whole piece pops out. The other set of volume keys on the left remain unchanged, and as before, you can assign screen brightness to one side and volume to the other in system settings, depending on your hand preference.

As for the missing power button at the top, well, you'll now have to rely on the home key, which is one of the three customizable physical buttons as featured on the T1. If anything, the new 2.5D Gorilla Glass 3 panel (same on the back side) complements well with these buttons.

Smartisan T2 Promo Video

Spec-wise the T2 isn't all that exciting; it's more of a sensible combination rather than something mind-blowing. Beneath that 5-inch 1080p LCD you'll find a hexa-core Snapdragon 808 chipset (2x Cortex-A57 at 1.82 GHz + 4x Cortex-A53 at 1.44 GHz) which isn't as powerful as the octa-core 810 (two more A57 cores, and possibly clocked at higher speeds), but given the 2,670 mAh battery, this was no doubt intentional. On a more positive note, this Qualcomm chip also offers a generous range of bands for both LTE and 3G UMTS (both are US-friendly), along with VoLTE support on all three major carriers in China.

Other hidden components include a choice of either 16GB of 32GB of internal storage, 3GB of LPDDR3 RAM, Bluetooth 4.1, NFC and a pair of Texas Instrument OPA1612 chips for audio amplification. For photography, the 13-megapixel f/2.0 main camera has been upgraded with optical image stabilization and new video recording options: 4K at 30fps and 720p at 120fps. Alas, no dual-tone LED flash here. On the other side, not much has changed with the 5-megapixel selfie camera. To be picky, we would have liked to see either microSD expansion or at least a 64GB option at launch, and USB Type-C connection would have been a nice talking point.

On the software side, the T2 runs on the new Smartisan OS 2.5 based on Android 5.1, which is also made available to the U1 variants today and then the T1 on January 6th. You'll find the same big-tile launcher with slick animations, with the main update here being the frosted tile option, which finally lets users set a photo as the wallpaper without making a visual mess, plus you can take a peek at the original picture underneath when you drag a tile around. Better yet, you can even give this new launcher a spin on your very own Android device; just grab the APK from Smartisan's website and install it.

The new OS also offers some new handy tools. The Smartisan Drive app features a very simple interface -- just ginormous buttons for car navigation, music and phone -- for minimal distraction. We're also liking the seemingly foolproof remote assistance app co-developed by fellow Chinese company Cutecomm, which is good news for users who have to occasionally help their less tech-savvy elders; and it's smart enough to show a warning prompt when the remote user attempts to access payment apps on the host device. Last but not least, the T2 comes with built-in global data roaming service which not only supports 48 countries and regions, but also charges cheaply -- just 25 yuan or about $4 per day when roaming in the US or the UK, for example. But obviously, this service is only available to users based in China.

As with its previous flagship model, Smartisan has no intention to join the Chinese price war with the T2, but it's still relatively affordable for what it is: 2,499 yuan or about $385 for the 16GB version, and 2,599 yuan or about $400 for 32GB. The first lot has quickly sold out in China shortly after the launch event, so you'll just have to keep an eye on your favorite importers until more stock arrives. And who knows, this phone may eventually launch in the US, as Smartisan does plan on expanding beyond its home country later this year.