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IT & Systems Management

Hands-on with the ZTE Grand S II, a voice-activated phone

With all the smartphones on the market, Chinese company ZTE is hoping to set its phones apart by bringing voice-assistant technology to its newest flagship device, the Grand S II.

ZTE unveiled the new Android handset at the International CES show in Las Vegas this week, and will start selling it in its home market of China in March or April. But the company wants to bring the phone to other markets, including the U.S., later in the year.

The phone will be priced between 2000 yuan (US$327) and 3000 yuan without carrier subsidies, and comes with some high-end specs, including a 2.3Ghz quad-core processor from Qualcomm and support for 4G LTE networks. It has a 5.5-inch 1080p screen, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage, along with a 3000mAh battery.

On Monday, ZTE's head of mobile devices Zeng Xuezhong showed off the phone, including some of its voice-assistant functions. When speaking "Hello ZTE" into the phone, the device will automatically reply and ask the user what tasks to perform. In a demo, Zeng showed that the device can respond to requests to make phone calls and play music tracks.

The voice features can also turn the phone into a hands-free navigation system for driving. But the catch is that the Grand S II currently only understands Chinese. Other languages will be incorporated in the future, Zeng said.

ZTE, however, may still need some time to iron out the voice functions. When a display unit of the device was tested, the Grand S II didn't always respond when asked "Hello ZTE," or comprehend the voice commands. Often, the phone had to be placed close to the mouth in order for it to understand the voice instructions.

The phone weighs 150 grams, and comes with a metal-like casing and silver border. The power button is oddly placed on the side of the phone, rather than the top, making it a little uncomfortable to turn on. Applications on the phone ran fast, and the device felt sturdy and easy to hold.

The Grand S II also features a 13-megapixel camera in the rear, and a front-facing 2-megapixel camera. But when taking pictures, shots from the camera often came out of focus. Another issue is the small speaker in the back of the phone, which may contribute to making audio sometimes hard to hear.

The Grand S II is just the latest higher-end handset from ZTE, which has been trying to move away from primarily selling lower-end phones. In the future, the company's voice assistant will become a major feature in all its upcoming flagship phones, according to Zeng.

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