ZTE, the world's fourth-largest smartphone maker, isn't exactly a household name in many parts of the English-speaking world, but that could be changing very quickly. ZTE unveiled the top flight Grand S II with a few nifty features and novel voice unlock at CES 2014 where I had a chance to go hands-on, and next up the Chinese company will be showing its 6-inch Grand Memo II LTE and the Firefox OS-powered ZTE Open C at Mobile World Congress.
Two years ago, at CES 2012, I visited the ZTE booth in the basement of the Las Vegas Convention Center and was largely unimpressed by the array of entry-level and low-budget Android phones that were on display. The friendly company representatives struggled to find someone fluent enough in English to answer my questions, and eventually just shoved a business card into my hand with some profuse apologies.
What a difference a few years can make.
This year in Las Vegas, ZTE's booth was dressed to impress, with a focus on the company's latest smartphone offerings. Although the featured offering at the show, the Grand S II, seemed to be playing catch up to the likes of Samsung's Galaxy S4, it was doing so in a very respectable fashion.
The Grand S II features a 1920x1080 5.5-inch display, 2 GB of RAM, a 13 megapixel camera, and a quad-core Snapdragon 800 2.3 GHz processor, putting it right on par with the Galaxy S4.
Unique to the Grand S II is its powerful voice control, which – unlike most other similar software offerings such as those seen on the Moto X – can recognize multiple voices and unlock the phone completely hands-free. It also has some nice split-screen multitasking capability and a "glove mode" for the touch screen.
It remains to be seen exactly when the Grand S II could become available, but we'll probably know more after Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this month. That's also where ZTE will unveil its bigger Grand Memo II LTE, according to an early press release.
Details remain sparse on this new phablet-style device, except that the company says it will be "ultra slim."
ZTE still seems to be a half-step behind leaders like Samsung, HTC and Apple in terms of churning out buzz-worthy devices that can make consumers in major markets in North America, Europe, Australia and elsewhere drool, but the company is catching on quickly and could be in a very different place in another two years.