Chinese users love cheap phones made by vendors like Xiaomi, Vivo and Oppo. But one smartphone vendor says they’re not cheap enough. 

After launching three phones that all cost less than 3000 yuan (US$435), Lenovo said to Chinese media that it will start a “price war” in China to strip away what it says are huge margins from other vendors. It also claimed that in the next 6 months, they don’t see a competitor for its newly unveiled Z5 Pro, which runs the latest Snapdragon 855 chipset but costs only 2698 yuan (US$390).

The seriousness (desperation?) of Lenovo’s plan might become obvious when you hear its reported codename: “Normandy Plan”. While it doesn’t signal Lenovo’s plans to invade the beaches of France (not yet, anyway), it aims to “completely defeat” Xiaomi and Honor in the 2,000 yuan (US$289) range. But as good as that sounds, Lenovo’s track record has led netizens to take its claims with a grain of salt.

The new Lenovo Z5 Pro is a slider phone similar to the Mi MIX 3. (Picture: Lenovo)

In May, Lenovo repeatedly teased its upcoming Z5 model on Weibo, with multiple pictures hinting that it will have nothing but a screen on the front. Lenovo claimed that it will be much better than Xiaomi’s Mi 8 and will have “an extreme design that even Apple doesn’t have”.

Except… the real phone is not even close to that. Instead of being “all screen”, it has a big notch and a big chin -- like virtually every other phone out there, leaving people baffled by Lenovo’s claims of an “extreme design”. After the phone was unveiled, users flooded the Weibo account of Chang Cheng, Lenovo’s VP and head of mobile business, calling out the excessive marketing and saying the phone “successfully steered clear of all user needs”.

Marketing photos for Lenovo Z5 (left and middle photos) and the real phone (the one on the right). (Pictures: Lenovo)

Some of Lenovo’s other marketing approaches have also made users question its claims. 

In March, the company launched what it said was “the first blockchain phone”... except it didn’t reveal any information about the phone or how it’d use blockchain, leaving some with the impression that they just tried to capitalise on a hot buzzword.

But netizens say they have another reason to be mad at Lenovo, because they say that they don’t want to support an “unpatriotic” company. In May, Lenovo faced public backlash after it was revealed that the company sided with American firm Qualcomm instead of Huawei in a 5G universal standard vote back in 2016.

Criticism of Lenovo being unpatriotic was so strong that Lenovo founder Liu Chuanzhi made a strong-worded public statement saying that it is organized slander. He argued that Lenovo is a “national brand” and that Chinese companies must unify so that they won’t be alienated from each other by “outsiders”. 

But the statement wasn’t enough to turn sentiment around, partially because of another long-standing suspicion over the last few years that Lenovo sells certain laptop models with a higher price tag in China than in the US. We can’t confirm the price differential, but netizens have given Lenovo a nickname: “Company with American conscience”.

Under the news about Lenovo’s pledge to cut smartphone prices one top comment says, “Even if you give me a Lenovo phone for free, I’ll need to consider if I’ll be judged for using a traitor’s product!”

Lenovo’s VP and head of mobile business Chang Cheng said to Chinese media that its smartphone shipments have been growing continuously in the past four months, and its smartphone sales between April and September grew 85%.
But the PC giant is still tiny compared to its rivals in the smartphone sector vendor. In the first quarter, its smartphone market share globally shrank to 2.4% from 3.1% last year, and it only accounted for 1.8 million of the 360 million smartphones sold in China last year.