The first real salvo from the bows of the seemingly hundreds of Chinese smartphone makers has finally been fired in India. Oppo, an electronics manufacturer based out of Guangdong, China, long known for its success in making MP3 devices, Blu-ray players, and feature phones, has launched the N1 here. It is, from all accounts, a slick and attractive device that keeps pace with many of the world's best smartphones in the premium range.
However, what makes the N1 a standout is its novel 13-megapixel camera, which swivels 207 degrees to double up as both the front- and rear-facing shooter. This could be a big attraction for camera-crazy users who are used to generally terrible front-facing lenses that deliver blurry selfies. In general, reviews indicate that the images produced by this camera far surpass those generated by your mid- or high-end Android device.
As far as the rest of the specs are concerned, the Oppo N1 is powered by 1.7GHz Snapdragon 600 quad-core processor backed by Adreno 320 GPU and 2GB of RAM, and a similar chipset that arms the HTC One. The internal storage is 16GB/32GB in two variants. The storage is not expandable. It also remains the only phone to officially ship with the popular Android ROM, CyanogenMod.
The N1 also has a touch panel on the back, which allows hand gestures to operate music controls and the camera, although these were reviewed as being not as efficient as you may think.
The company has gone on an all-out marketing campaign to woo the Indian user by recruiting popular Bollywood stars Hrithik Roshan and Sonam Kapoor as brand ambassadors. It has also previously shown that it is unafraid to spend serious cash in its marketing campaigns, reportedly paying Leonardo Di Caprio $5 million so that it could plaster his image all over the roads of Chinese cities.
So how will the phone do in India? Brands like Samsung, the most respected here, will be hard to dislodge in the premium category. They are also very price conscious, much like the Chinese, which explains the success of Micromax. However, Micromax has quickly become a favorite amongst Indian consumers, because it has improved its after-sales service as well.
For any newbie to do well in the market, it has to convince the Indian phone buyer that if anything goes wrong with their phone, it can be repaired expeditiously and under warranty. This is something that many players fail to do.
Another problem is that despite the laudable specs of the phone, the fastest-growing category in India is in the Rs 5,000 to Rs 15,000 (approximately $80 to $240) category. Launching in the premium segment means going head-to-head with well-established stars such as the Samsung Galaxy S4, the HTC One, or the Google Nexus 5, to name just a few.
However, Oppo's opportunity could potentially be women in the 18-40 age group, which it has successfully targeted in China. Its ads there feature Chinese women travelling in exotic locations, or chatting with friends. The styling of the phone includes pearl button keys and sleek lines.
If Oppo gets traction, it could be the first wave of a new generation of Chinese phone makers such as Xiaomi and Gionee, which could quickly become the next Samsung killers here. But for that, it needs to convince the Indian user that its sales strategy is not simply a hit-and-run one, and that it's here to stay.