Midrange smartphones 2015-1

Samsung, LG, HTC, and a few others have long been the staple brands leading in the way in the Android smartphone industry. However, the falling costs of technology and the growth of new marketplaces has opened up opportunities for new blood to challenge the status quo, with new innovations, software, and prices. Here’s my list of six smartphone brands that are hoping to shake up the smartphone industry.

Nextbit

nextbit robin review aa (2 of 20)

Google’s Photos and Docs apps might already have sold some people on the virtues of cloud data, but Nextbit took the whole idea to a new level with the Robin. Not only are documents and photos held primarily in online storage, but entire applications are backed up online if they were seldom used on the phone. The company may not be huge, but it’s certainly one of the most unique brands on the market right now.

Nextbit has continued to update its smartphone with software improvements, ranging from camera tweaks to miraculous battery improvements. The company also recently introduced a new Web Client Beta to help users more easily get ahold of their online data from other devices.

The Robin may still be a little ahead of its time, as not everyone has access to the fast data speeds and consistent network coverage that online software demands, but this situation will only improve in the future. There’s clearly a bit more work to do to make cloud app and data usage feel flawless, but the company’s next piece of hardware and future software is certainly going to be interesting.

LeEco

LeEco Title

LeEco is no small fry like some of the other companies in this list, but it’s still a relative newcomer to the market, having only released its first smartphones back in early 2015. Even so, LeEco is probably the company best placed to shake up the smartphone market, at least in Asia.

Although we have already seen the rise of Lenovo, Huawei, and Xiaomi in the Chinese market in the past couple of years, LeEco is offering something more than just competitively priced smartphones.

LeEco already oversees a huge media empire in China, including television, film, and sports broadcasting. Not only that, but LeEco is actively working in the self-driving and electric car markets, putting it up against Google and Tesla too. Unifying all of this with a single software platform looks to be the company’s end goal, which would certainly shaking up the way that Chinese customers consume their media. LeEco has some rather big plans that are well worth keeping an eye on.

Fairphone

fairphone (5) Fairphone

If you’re concerned about the effects that smartphone manufacturing has on the environment and social justice, then Fairphone is one small company worth following. The business keeps a close eye on where all of its parts and labor comes from, which costs a little more, but ensures an ethically produced piece of hardware. The company’s mission statement is to “bring a fair smartphone to the market – one designed and produced with minimal harm to people and planet”.

As part of its mission, Fairphone sets aside $5 into a worker welfare fund for each smartphone that it sells. Fairphone only runs limited batches of production, but sold enough of its phones to design a handset in mid-2015 known as the Fairphone 2.

The company has only produced two Android smartphones so far and sold just over 100,000 units, which isn’t going to worry the market share of today’s big players. Although the company did win an award for the fastest-growing European tech startup back in 2015. However, Fairphone’s message about ethical business will hopefully keep the major manufacturers on their toes.

Silent Circle / Geeksphone

Blackphone 2 flat

Data security leaks and NSA spying documents don’t seems to have made much of an impact on data collection practices or the purchasing preferences of customers, but at least one company is fighting to protect its consumer’s data. Geeksphone and now Silent Circle are the brains behind the security focused Blackphone series.

As well as running a customized version of Android without the “backdoors,” the Blackphone comes packed with enhanced control over app permission (before those introduced by Marshmallow), secure encryption voice and text messaging, and the disconnect VPN to help keep customer’s internet traffic anonymous.

Unfortunately, the company’s latest Blackphone 2 model appears to have been a bit of a financial disaster for the company. After paying $30 million for Geeksphone’s stake in the company, 2015 revenue only amounted to $10 million and Silent Circle had apparently been looking into filing bankruptcy before a new investment came along. It’s not clear if the company will survive long enough for us to actually see a Blackphone 3, but the idea of taking consumer security seriously is certainly a noble one.

Wileyfox

WileyFox Storm

Besides ARM, few associations spring to mind between the UK and smartphone manufacturing industry. However, a couple of new handset designers have popped up in recent years, including Wileyfox. Interestingly, these companies aren’t after the high-end segment, they’re very much focusing on low cost smartphones. A couple of years ago a company called Kazam, which was started by ex-HTC employees, gave a similar idea ago, but it’s Wileyfox that seems to be carrying the banner these days.

Wileyfox was only founded back in 2015, but quickly enjoyed some success thanks to the decent mid-range hardware, Cyanogen OS software, and highly competitive price point of its Swift and Storm model. Both were released in the final quarter of 2015 and also come with a 2 year warranty.

More recently, Wileyfox announced its new Spark range of handsets, which starts at just £90 for the basic Spark0 model. Of course, these handsets aren’t going to win awards for high performance, and you’re probably better off plumping down money for the slightly more powerful Spark+ or Spark X models. Even so, the company is certainly challenging the perception that Western markets are interested in high-end flagships.

Who says Europeans can’t enjoy inexpensive smartphones too?

Obi Worldwide

Obi Worldwide

The UK isn’t the only Western country to see a number of low cost manufacturers crop up lately. The USA has BLU and Obi Worldwide, the latter of which was formed just back in 2014 by former Apple CEO John Sculley. Unlike Wileyfox though, Obi is aiming its products straight at emerging markets such as Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

The company tested the waters with two models in the UAE last year and also sold two new in-house designed smartphones, the 4G-LTE SF1 priced at $199 and $129 3G SJ1.5. The company has a new MV1 model this year, priced at just $149 while also offering LTE data speeds.

What makes Obi a particularly interesting company to watch is that it’s taking a keen eye to design and hardware specifications, rather than opting for the no-frills approach of other low-cost manufacturers. The company has also been keeping tabs on Xiaomi’s successful business model, with an eye to potentially growing the business through higher margin accessories further down the line. With plenty of experience at the helm, Obi Worldwide might just be able to cut through the swarm of low cost competitors.

We can’t say that all of the new low cost manufacturers are onto a winner though, as the $4 smartphone fiasco has revealed.

There you have it, six highly ambitious technology companies that might just have enough of an edge to stir up the smartphone status quo. Do you think any of them has what it takes, and are there any other up and coming smartphone brands that you’re keeping an eye on?