You don’t often see two devices representing opposite sides of a market released within the same week. So when Lenovo unleashed the K3 Note and Sony took the wraps off the Xperia Z3 Plus last week, it provided one of those rare occasions when one could actually sit back and savour the glorious contrasts of the market. The K3 Note was a value for money large display smartphone at Rs 9,999, while the Xperia Z3 Plus is an unabashed premium product, at Rs 55,999. But the difference between them runs far deeper than just those price tags – in many ways this was a clash between tradition and fashion as far as the Indian market went.
Ye olde guard…
The Sony Xperia Z3 Plus is the quintessential old order Android flagship – great design (glass front and back, water and dust resistant, classic metal frame), terrific hardware (Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, 3GB RAM, 32GB storage, 20.7-megapixel camera), and the latest Android with an overlay,all of this topped off with the water and dust resistance that many have come to expect from the Xperia Z series. And of course, it is charging a pretty penny for all this, drawing on its brand equity (“it’s a Sony” still means a lot to many consumers in India) – at Rs 55,990, it is more expensive than the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S6 and the LG G4, but like those two worthies, it claims to be scoring not just on hardware but on that beast which many established brands are calling upon to justify high price tags: “premium experience”. It will be sold through retail channels along with Sony showrooms.
…and the new upstart
The Lenovo K3 Note is a very contrary beast. It too comes with good hardware, but there’s an important qualification here – unlike Sony, it does not fight on the premium stakes or about cutting edge design, but instead stresses on how much it is giving in terms of hardware (a full HD display, an octa-core MediaTek processor, 2 GB RAM, 16 GB storage, 4G support, 13.0-megapixel camera and so on) for a price that is far from premium – a relatively humble Rs 9,999. Unlike the Xperia Z3 Plus, it won’t be sold from showrooms or conventional retail but will be available on the ‘flash sale’ model online. It also means that, unlike Sony, it will be able to make claims of having sold out its stock in a certain amount of minutes, or even seconds.
And the state of the market
Those two devices represent two sides of the Indian smartphone market right now. On the one hand, you have the old guard (represented by Sony) sticking to well-worn principles of premium pricing for a premium experience and selling through retail, while on the other is the pretender to the throne, taking the online route and hollering “value for money.” On the surface, they might seem as different as chalk and cheese but they are jostling for mind space, and crucially only one of them has territory to lose. As a media colleague remarked, “Anyone who has a tight budget will not consider the Xperia Z3 Plus, but some of those going for a high end device will wonder what extra they are getting from them, when they factor in what devices like the K3 Note deliver.”
And it is that seed of doubt that could hurt the ‘established’ players in the market like Sony who have been charging premiums for build and ‘experience.’ Its offline model also means that Sony cannot call on the “gone in sixty seconds” kind of announcements that Lenovo is almost bound to make after the first flash sale of the K3 Note (curiosity about the device is VERY high, judging by the feedback we are getting). The result: barring something going wrong, Lenovo will have claimed a successful sale within minutes of placing the device on sale, making a positive impact on the minds of many consumers (“why would it sell out so fast if it was not good?”), while the Xperia Z3 Plus is unlikely to release sales figures for a while – anything less than a million units sold in conventional retail does not sound impressive, and selling that large a number takes time. It might be the older, better established brand, but Sony has its work cut out justifying the price of the Xperia Z3 Plus, while Lenovo has no such challenge.
Last week, two sides of the Indian smartphone market clashed. They were totally dissimilar, were targeted at different audiences, and would be sold through different media. But the impact each has on the other was summed up by a query at the Sony event, when one of our colleagues asked the Sony spokesperson if the Xperia Z3 Plus was not “too expensive” when Lenovo too had launched a ‘full HD phone” for less than Rs 10,000!