Coolpad’s Legacy 5G phone will be the first 5G device in the US that we’ve heard of for under $400. That’s an achievement in itself. Listen to Coolpad CEO Steve Cistulli, though, and it’s just the tip of a wedge to get his company into developing a wider range of 5G devices.
The Coolpad Legacy 5G phone will run on Android 10 and have 48MP and 8MP main cameras, a 16MP front-facing camera, a 4,000mAh battery, a standard headphone jack, and a 6.53-inch, 1080p HDR screen. It will be available before the end of June “on the open market for under $400,” Coolpad said at CES.
Coolpad has made affordable smartphones for a while now. Its Legacy line has been successful at prepaid carriers Metro and Boost, according to Wave7 Research. Under Cistulli, it’s been trying to pivot into providing a range of family-friendly technology products, initially its Dyno smartwatch and a family internet-management app. From his perspective, that’s the real purpose of the Legacy 5G: to give his engineers expertise in working with 5G so they can develop new product ideas.
“We’re shifting our internal business model to services, connected things through IoT and other platforms. We’re getting the knowledge of how to work with 5G, and we can then put it into our other connected devices,” he said.
The Legacy 5G will run on exclusively low- and mid-band, “sub-6” 5G systems. Primarily, that means Sprint and T-Mobile, and especially a merged Sprint/T-Mobile network.
With the merger, T-Mobile/Sprint/Metro/Boost would be able to offer a mid-band 5G network for this phone that could have speeds in the 300-500Mbps range. Without the merger, a sub-6-only phone on Metro would work exclusively on T-Mobile’s nationwide low-band network, which has speeds that aren’t much faster than 4G.
At under $400, the Legacy will be able to put a big “5G” logo on something affordable in those prepaid stores (although it hasn’t been announced by those carriers, and Cistulli didn’t say outright that it would.) Cistulli says that whatever speed it comes at, the 5G label will be a strong selling point.
“By the middle of the year, it seems like the chief selling point when you walk into a shop, first and foremost, is going to be: how many Gs?” he said. “So to be able to put the 5G moniker on a box, I believe that’s going to be very, very good.”
Lots of Little Cars on the 5G Highway
The phone is fine and good. Along with TCL’s promised sub-$500 5G phone and other phones Sprint’s Ryan Sullivan hinted at when I talked to him last month, it’ll bring the price of entry to 5G down sharply, although it won’t include the fast millimeter-wave 5G. What really excites Cistulli, though, is 5G’s ability to support much higher numbers of devices with easier activation pathways. Building the Legacy 5G gives Coolpad the competency to build other 5G devices, Cistulli said.
“The infrastructure internally to support the development, testing, and certification of 5G is something that most of the public will never hear about, but it’s critical for OEMs to have that experience,” he said.
He compared 5G to a “superhighway” with many more lanes than 4G, so many more devices could join it without crowding things up.
“If I want to create a connected 5G pill case, then that’s one more car on that superhighway. If I want to put a 5G camera, two 5G cameras in the home, and still have them go through the cloud into your application, that’s two more cars on that lane.”
So the future of Coolpad may be more in its just-announced Dyno 2 smartwatch (shown above) than in its phones. Kids’ smartwatches have struggled in the US market for more than a decade. On the surface, they look like a great way to keep kids connected and safe without giving them smartphones. But carriers have had significant organizational trouble figuring out how to sell, activate, and support the product category, leaving the devices little-marketed and often confused.
The previous Dyno got by on glowing reviews, but as it was only sold directly from Coolpad with service from an obscure virtual carrier, it didn’t make much of a mark in the carrier-dominated US market. On the other hand, Sprint’s Safe & Found Tracker, which is made by Coolpad, has been a success, according to the company.
“Certain carriers are getting [how to sell IoT service plans], and one of those carriers is Sprint, which is allowing them to sell so many of our trackers. Other carriers do not have the same back-end provisioning and are not having the same success because of it. We are educating and now giving them options,” Cistulli said.
The new Dyno 2 will have an “upgraded chipset and new application platform” and will be available in April 2020 for $190, the company said.