HTC CEO Peter Chou was in Tokyo today to unveil the company’s latest flagship smartphone for Japan, the new J Butterfly (HTL23) on KDDI. The phone has much in common with the excellent HTC One (M8) released in the rest of the world earlier this year: it features a 5-inch 1080p display, twin front-facing BoomSound speakers, a second camera lens to allow for Lytro-style refocusing after taking the shot (though the main sensor is 13 megapixels rather than the M8’s four-“ultrapixel” unit), and so on.
But the J Butterfly has a few tweaks that bring it in line with local expectations — it’s waterproof and dustproof, with features like a TV tuner, mobile wallet support, and infrared connectivity. It’s also housed in a plastic shell, rather than the M8’s sleek metal. HTC is emphasizing the quality of the glossy finishes, and the new J Butterfly does look quite attractive in person, but it definitely doesn’t feel as nice as its global counterpart.
Still, the M8 is the best Android phone available right now, and this is a solid iteration on the formula. It might even improve on the M8’s biggest weakness — its unreliable camera. And it’s notable that HTC is making a big deal of it in Japan today. Media from all over Asia were invited to Tokyo for the slick introduction event, despite the phone having been formally announced last month. The new J Butterfly is set to make it to other Asian countries as the Butterfly 2; no US launch has been revealed as of yet, but the original first J Butterfly came to the States as Verizon's Droid DNA.
HTC first launched a Japan-focused phone, the HTC J, just over two years ago. “We got tremendous momentum after that,” said Chou on stage. “And both the HTC J and [the original] HTC J Butterfly became the best selling phones at KDDI. Today I’m pleased to extend that momentum.” While HTC’s other products have met with acclaim around the world, the Taiwanese company has struggled to turn that into sales success. Its phones are only available on one carrier for now, but if HTC can perform well in the notoriously difficult — and potentially lucrative — Japanese market, the country could be a precious bright spot for the company’s fortunes.
- This is the indigo variant of the new J Butterfly.
- The back plastic is very much of the slippery, fingerprint-attracting variety — this doesn't feel as good as the plastic used in the iPhone 5C or Nokia's Lumia line.
- HTC CEO Peter Chou takes the stage.
- The new HTC J Butterfly in "rouge." HTC made an oddly big deal of the phone's wallpapers, saying it spent a long time designing decor that would stand out and match text well.
- For some reason, the HTC J Butterfly launch event also served as the launch event for the 10th single by Nogizaka46, the Japanese idol group conceived as the "official rival" of the ubiquitous, controversial AKB48.
- Members of Nogizaka46 demonstrate the dual-camera-powered refocusing feature of the HTC J Butterfly.
- The new HTC J Butterfly in white.
- The "ceramic" white version of the phone is by far the most attractive and appealing. Unlike the glossy rouge and indigo models, it features a soft-touch white plastic rear panel that is much more pleasant to hold. HTC also claims it's easy to wipe dirt and other marks off, which some found to be an issue with 2012's matte white One X.
- HTC CEO Peter Chou and KDDI president Takashi Tanaka sit for a staged interview.
- HTC Nippon's effusive Ryoji Murai talks about the new J Butterfly's design.
- Murai leaves the stage.
- The new J Butterfly features front-facing BoomSound speakers, as with the One M8, but HTC is keen to emphasize its audio credentials in other ways. The phone will come packaged with in-ear headphones from JBL, in a tie-up reminiscent of HTC's prior deal with Beats — now owned by Apple.
- HTC North Asia president Jack Tong, Chou, and Murai sit for questions toward the end of the conference. Chou deflected just about everything asked of him, including questions on Beats and wearables.
- The new J Butterfly rests on a table.