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Oppo's next flagship phone will launch in February in Barcelona

In an exclusive interview with CNET, Oppo's Western Europe president talks foldable phones and aiming for the top spot.

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Oppo can be experimental with design, like this pop-up camera on the Reno 2. 

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Chinese phone maker Oppo brought its Reno 2 and Reno 2Z phones to Europe on Wednesday, after unveiling them in Asia back in August. Like Honor, HMD (Nokia), Xiaomi and OnePlus, Oppo sees a massive opportunity to challenge dominant forces Apple and Samsung. To do so, it's willing to take some risks.

That's why it plans to launch its next flagship phone in Europe in 2020, rather than follow its usual routine of a launch in Asia. Maggie Xue, president of Oppo's Western Europe business, said an early "mistake" that the company made when coming to Europe was not using the continent as the launchpad for new devices.

"In the future for the global flagship product launch event, it should definitely be Europe first," Xue said in an exclusive interview Tuesday. When asked when to expect this European flagship phone launch, Xue said to look for it in late February at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona. "It is where the latest products and also the latest technology will be, and you can get all the information there," Xue said.

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Oppo's Reno 2Z also tries to stand out with its camera design.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Oppo is the fifth biggest phone manufacturer in the world and is now 14 months into its European expansion. Xue said the company is in the region for the long haul, striking up long-term sponsorship deals with the French Open and Wimbledon tennis championships, as well carrier partnerships with the likes of EE and O2 in the UK. 

It's Oppo's ambition, said Xue, "in the coming three to five years to become the top key player in the mobile phone industry." She said the company also aspires to become the "most loved brand by the consumer." For a company that few have heard of right now in Europe, that might sound like a stretch. But as the new era of 5G network technology arrives, there could be a reshuffle among the top players. Oppo is hoping to strike while the iron is hot.

You only need look at Oppo's homegrown rival Huawei to see that success in Asia and Europe -- even with little to no presence in the US -- can help catapult a brand to the very top of the phone industry. Although Oppo doesn't operate in the US, its sister company, OnePlus, is establishing a presence there through partnerships with carriers like T-Mobile and Sprint

Oppo's strength in this situation is that it carries none of Huawei's baggage (which has been caught up in the US-China trade war and concerns over security) and, according to Xue, that it maintains a strong relationship with Google. It also doesn't do the brand's identity any harm that its culture is centered around a Chinese character that roughly translates as "integrity," during a time at which Huawei's integrity is being constantly questioned.

When it comes to the phones themselves, Oppo is probably best known for its distinctive pop-up cameras. Clearly not averse to taking the odd risk in the design department, the company has also been working on its own foldable phone for two years, although it doesn't think the time has come to put that phone out into the world quite yet. The technology needs to "stable" and the price "acceptable to the user" before an Oppo foldable will hit the market, said Xue.