Sprint May Join Leap in Offering Kyocera’s Android Phone

Handset vendor Kyocera is positioning its first Android smartphone as a mass-market device intended for first-time smartphone buyers. The company also confirmed Leap Wireless will launch the Android phone, the Zio M6000.

Kyocera spokesman John Chier said that after a five-year hiatus from smartphones, the company felt that it could make a comeback by taking advantage of the open-source nature of Android. “That made development quite a bit more streamlined,” he told FierceWireless on the closing day of the CTIA Wireless 2010 conference here. The company also made use of the 1,700 engineers it took on when it acquired Sanyo’s handset business in 2008.

Interestingly, Chier hinted that Sprint Nextel may be in line to join Leap in offering the Zio (a move that would dovetail with Sprint’s longtime association with Sanyo). Specifically, Chier said a nationwide CDMA carrier that is not Verizon Wireless will offer the gadget, though he declined to name the carrier. Sprint is the only other nationwide carrier that runs a CDMA network. Chier said Leap will be one of many carriers to launch the device (Kyocera works with the likes of Virgin, MetroPCS and others).

“We’re taking this (phone) to people who were either priced out or intimidated” by the smartphone market, Chier said. He said the device is being positioned as an entry-level smartphone, and will likely sell for between $169 and $219 without a contract and before promotions. Chier said he envisions the device at $99 with a postpaid carrier, but noted pricing for the gadget has not yet been finalized.

Chier said Kyocera’s goal is to offer the Android gadget via a nationwide carrier by the end of the third quarter. Chier hinted Kyocera may offer additional Android devices in the future, but declined to provide specifics.

And how has the Zio been received by analysts? “While re-entering the smartphone market is a huge step in the right direction, the device Kyocera unveiled is at best on par with the first-generation Android smartphones on the market,” wrote Current Analysis’ Brad Akyuz in a note to clients. “The Zio runs an older version of Android, and Kyocera has done little to differentiate the device from the existing offerings in the marketplace. While this strategy is perfectly fine in complementing Tier-2 carriers’ smartphone segments, more sophistication will be required if Kyocera wants to penetrate nationwide carriers’ smartphone portfolios.”

The EVDO Rev. A Zio runs Android 1.6 and features a 3.5-inch touchscreen display, WiFi, trackball, 3.2-megapixel camera, a 32 GB microSD slot and other bells and whistles that have become standard for smartphones. The phone will be able to be upgraded to Android 2.1. later this year.

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