Chinese startup Realme launches $649 smartphone it says can be fully charged in just over 9 minutes

Chinese smartphone upstart Realme has looked to push into international markets with its flagship phones. But it is playing in the mid-priced segment of the market where it faces intense competition from rivals like Xiaomi.

BARCELONA, Spain — Chinese smartphone maker Realme wants stand out in a crowded space of mid-tier devices. So on Tuesday, it launched a smartphone it claims can be fully charged in 9 minutes and 30 seconds.

The company took the wraps off of its GT3 smartphone at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the largest mobile trade show in the world. It’s looking to grow its business outside of China, and joins a flurry of Chinese vendors looking to target overseas markets.

The GT3 starts at $649, putting it in an extremely competitive segment where Realme will compete with Chinese rivals like Xiaomi and Oppo, which offer low-cost devices with high specs.

“Realme is chasing the low margin segment of the market by offering extremely competitively priced products aimed at value seekers,” Ben Wood, chief of research at CCS Insight, told CNBC via email.

“However, this is an extremely difficult part of the market to play in. Low single digit margins can evaporate if the dollar moves quickly, component prices rise or shipping cost soar – all headwinds Realme has had to face.”

In a bid to expand overseas, the company launched its flagship phone the GT2 and GT2 Pro in Europe last year. But the timing has been tough, with the global smartphone market in 2022 suffering its worst year since 2013 in terms of shipments.

Sky Li, the CEO of Realme, told CNBC last year that the company is looking to sell 85 million phones globally in 2022. The company has not released updated numbers. Strategy Analytics, a market research firm, estimates the company shipped 52 million smartphones, a 20% year-on-year decline. Shipment numbers indicate the number of devices Realme sends to retailers to sell and does not equal sales, but it is an indication of demand for the company’s phones.

Realme’s shipments in Europe, the key region it is targeting for international expansion, dropped 44% year on year in the fourth quarter of 2022, according to Counterpoint Research. Its market share in Europe fell to 4% from 6% in the same period the year before.

“Realme’s biggest challenges across Europe and the U.S. in 2023 include a lack of retail presence at powerful operators like Vodafone” and a “brand perception that is less prestigious than Apple or Samsung,” Neil Mawston, executive director at Strategy Analytics, told CNBC via email.