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Huawei reboots its image with new Honor brand

We asked an industry watcher why the Chinese manufacturer is playing the name game.

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Honor is a new mobile phone brand from Chinese manufacturer Huawei. Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Shall we do the honours? Huawei has launched a brand new brand of mobile phones, called Honor, starting with the Honor 6 smartphone . But why does the Chinese manufacturer need a new name? It's all about convincing phone fans to feel the quality, says one industry expert.

Huawei makes devices like the Ascend Mate 7 and TalkBand fitness tracker , as well as building own-brand devices for others such as the Kestrel for UK network EE . The manufacturer announced its new Honor brand for Europe in Berlin, Germany today.

Huawei describes Honor as "a brand that's not afraid to do things differently, to be brave and bring about change." The new brand is a direct-to-consumer operation; in other words, you buy Honor phones directly from the company instead of from other shops or mobile phone networks. Except Amazon, anyway.

So why the new name? We're probably past the point when no-one knows how to say "Huawei" -- apparently it's "wah-way". Industry analyst Daniel Gleeson of IHS points out the company is working hard to establish a name for itself with consumers: "Huawei's sales are improving in Europe," he says, "and the company recently embarked on a high-profile marketing campaign in partnership with several football clubs, as well as investing in outdoor advertising across several major cities."

Because of those moves to make Huawei a more recognisable name, Gleeson reckons this isn't an attempt to replace or disguise the name: "It's highly unlikely that Huawei would abandon its efforts to build its own brand."

One reason Huawei might want to disguise itself is that the Huawei name has unfortunate connotations in the West, with rumours of connections to the Chinese government prompting security concerns here and in the US. But Gleeson believes these alternative names are a move to take on a particular part of the market rather than a bid to disguise the provenance of the phone.

"Rather than concerns over privacy," he argues, "the key concern is actually the perception of poor quality in cheap Chinese products."

Gleeson sees the Honor rebrand as part of a trend by Chinese manufacturers. "If Huawei believes there is a weakness in their brand," he says, "it is not something uniquely associated with Huawei. Other Chinese manufacturers have "hidden" behind brands, particularly in the low-cost segment of the market: TCL owns the Alcatel brand, and Tinno owns the Wiko brand, which is one of the largest smartphone brands in France."

Gleeson believes that this trend for sub-brands will continue "at least until Huawei, Lenovo and Xiaomi establish Chinese brands as quality manufacturers in the minds of Western consumers."

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The first device released under the new brand is the 5-inch Honor 6, a 4G smartphone with extra-fast Cat 6 connection. It's basically the mightily impressive Huawei Honor 6 launched earlier this year in China, but with the new logo on the back -- and an honourable price tag: the Honor 6 goes on sale on 29 October for £250.

To see the new brand for yourself, check out the hihonor.com website. Leaving us with just one question: seeing as Honor is not launching in the US, why has Huawei spelt "honour" the American way?