ZTE and Huawei surprise with quad-core smartphones, but will they achieve mainstream success?

ZTE Era Press ShotEven if you’re knowledgeable about the smartphone market, there’s a chance you’ve never heard of ZTE or Huawei, two Chinese companies determined to make it big in the West. Both of them have been producing international handsets for some time. The problem is, when their phones are released, they are usually branded under a wireless carrier or someone else. Their devices rarely carry the Huawei or ZTE name.

By now, both manufacturers know that international success won’t come from simply having one’s own brand on the phone: That brand needs to be front and center and be synonymous with top-quality tech, which in turn needs something — be it a feature or a unique design — to earn it some cache.

Both companies have arrived at Mobile World Congress this year with a clutch of new devices, from smartphones to tablets, and each has come baring the latest tech darling to grab all the headlines: a quad-core Android mobile phone.

ZTE Era.

In its press release for the new Era phone, ZTE boldly asserts that its ambition is “to become a top three handset provider by 2015.” That goal isn’t beyond the realms of possibility either. According to research specialists Gartner, last year ZTE sat in fifth position after selling 56.9 million handsets, including12 million smartphones, around the world. This year, it hopes to sell 30 million.

It’s leading the charge with the Era, an Android 4.0 device powered by the exciting 1.3GHz Nvidia Tegra 3 processor and 1GB of RAM. The phone also has a 4.3-inch screen with a 960×540 pixel resolution, and an 8-megapixel camera with the ability to record 1080p video.

The Era’s chassis is just 7.8mm thick, and other features include 8GB of internal storage, a microSD card slot, Dolby Mobile audio enhancement, Wi-Fi, and GPS.

Huawei Ascend D Quad Press ShotHuawei Ascend D Quad.

Huawei has a problem with names. Quite aside from its problematic company moniker, “Ascend D Quad” doesn’t trip off the tongue in the same way as “Era” does. (Unless it’s pronounced like “error,” which would make it just as much of a problem.) Names aside, Huawei hasn’t played safe with the Ascend D Quad’s spec sheet in the same way ZTE has with the Era, and it’s all the more exciting for it.

Instead of going for Nvidia, Qualcomm, or another established chip manufacturer’s quad-core processor, Huawei has developed its own processor and popped it inside the Ascend D Quad. Called the K3V2, Huawei say it’s “the world’s most powerful,” or something like that, but the 1.5Ghz chip appears to mostly match the LG Optimus 4X HD.

Then we’ve got the screen, which is a 4.5-inch panel with a 1280 x 720 pixel resolution (720p) providing a pixel density of 330ppi, which ever-so-slightly trumps the density of the iPhone 4’s Retina Display. Add in an 8-megapixel camera, 1080p video recording, GPS, Android 4.0, and a slim 8.9mm thick chassis, and the Ascend D Quad’s name suddenly becomes less of an issue.

Success comes at a small price

Apple can (just about) get away with charging top price for its hardware. People are happy to pay it for that illusion of exclusivity, but it’s highly unlikely — no matter how impressive the spec sheet — that anyone will pay a similar amount for the Era or Ascend D Quad.

Try as they may, their brand names don’t have the same attraction, however both ZTE and Huawei usually price their devices very competitively.

Huawei could win through here, as its own quad-core chip may be cheaper to produce than the costs ZTE may face by using Nvidia’s Tegra 3. If the Ascend D Quad retails for less than the Era, and don’t forget it has a higher resolution screen too. Huawei could win the inter-company battle for supremacy.

But “winning” in the Charlie Sheen sense of the word may not be enough, and it’ll be down to consumers (you and me) to ensure either company’s success by buying one of these two handsets.  On paper, the Ascend D Quad has it, but ZTE’s design and build quality can sometimes surpass Huawei’s.

Official pricing hasn’t been announced yet, and neither phone is expected to go on sale before the second or third quarter of this year. Given the choice, which would you go for, and how much would you pay, SIM-free, for one of these two new quad-core monsters?