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Android Wear watches ready for prime time? ZTE thinks so

ZTE plans to release its own Android Wear watch this year, the head of its US division tells CNET.

Samsung's sports smartwatch with LTE aims to do it all.
Sarah Tew/CNET

ZTE, a company best-known for making budget phones, is finally throwing a smartwatch into the ring.

The Chinese telecommunications equipment company plans to release a smartwatch running Google's Android Wear software later this year, Lixin Cheng, the chief executive officer of ZTE USA, said in an interview Tuesday before CES officially kicks off. It already has a US carrier partner lined up to sell the watch, which has its own LTE connection and can run independent of a phone, he said.

ZTE's betting that you're ready to buy a smartwatch, but those hopes fly in the face of a muted marketplace. Companies have struggled to get consumers excited about full-blown smartwatches, once heralded as the next big thing. Instead, many are opting for simpler -- and cheaper -- activity trackers. A wide range of Android Wear companies pulled back their efforts last year, and Lenovo's Moto said it was unlikely to build another watch in 2017.

How bad is it? In the third quarter, the market fell by 51 percent from the same period a year earlier.

Cheng (no relation to the author) did not disclose any other details about ZTE's smartwatch or its partners. But he appeared excited about its prospects.

"Others did the experimentation for us," he said.

He said there were too many issues -- battery life being a chief complaint -- to get into the market with a me-too product. But he said that many of those issues have been resolved. Battery life, the lack of an LTE connection and proper carrier service plans all added up to troubles for early efforts. That's no longer the case.

ZTE sees good things ahead for something that is thinner, lasts longer and can connect to the LTE network.

"All the issues are behind us," Cheng said.