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View more articles by Colin Zwirko
Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
A new smartphone under the “Pyongyang” brand appeared promoted in North Korean outlet Sogwang earlier this week, sporting features such as Wi-Fi, wireless charging, and face-recognition unlocking technology.
The article, dated April 8, reported the Pyongyang 2425 is a “newly-developed smartphone” which company officials said “represents a major leap in performance… compared to previous Pyongyang-series models.”
The Pyongyang 2425 includes the now-infamous “notch” cutout at the top of its screen, as well as other physical characteristics and technical specifications which suggest that it was likely manufactured by a Chinese company.
Images accompanying the article show that the device comes packaged in a larger box than other phones from the Pyongyang and Arirang brands, displayed alongside multiple phones and what appears to be a tablet.
Included in the box with the phone are some standard items such as a clear plastic case, headphones, a USB charger, and a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter — required as it does not feature a headphone jack.
It also includes a wireless charging dock and what appears to be a red keychain dongle that may serve as a security device.
Given its features and the number of items included in the package, the phone is likely targeted towards consumers seeking a more expensive, higher-end device.
The store shown selling the new smartphone is not named in the latest article, though previous promotions in Sogwang suggest it may be the Central Information Communications Equipment Shop (중앙정보통신 기재판매소) on Pyongyang’s Ryomyong Street.
Only partial technical specifications were visible in one image, revealing that the phone features fingerprint unlocking technology, a 6.2-inch screen boasting 1080 x 2246px resolution, and a 3050 mAh battery.
It also comes loaded with the Android 8.1 “Oreo” operating system, which is one version behind the latest 9.0 “Pie” edition.
The Sogwang article listed other features, such as an “8-core CPU … with input reaction speeds 1.5 times faster” than previous Pyongyang models.
“Face recognition through infrared technology means you don’t need fingerprints or a password and can easily get past the lockscreen even in dark environments,” it said.
“New features such as wireless charging and a high-resolution camera are some of the reasons customers prefer this product.”
But it also described the phone as including a “Wi-Fi SIM” card, which one consumer reportedly told the news organization they “enjoy using to view and save sci-tech materials from any location.”
The description may be in reference to the “Mirae (future) public free wireless data network” promoted late last year in coverage of the 2018 National Exhibition of IT Successes aired on Korean Central Television (KCTV).
The Mirae network was characterized in the report as allowing users to “browse and access news and materials on science and technology by accessing homepages… at any place and time in the vicinity of ‘Mirae’ public free wireless data networks.”
Twitter user @coldnoodlefan, which NK News revealed last month is an account working closely with the North Korean state outlet Sogwang, claimed on Sunday that North Korea is set to “expand Wi-fi service nationwide” and that the “new #smartphone ‘Pyongyang 2425’ is known to have a Wi-Fi function.”
Notably, following a pattern consistently shown in the past, the @coldnoodlefan account posted the same images of the new phone a day before the Sogwang article appeared online.
Apps displayed on the home screen in one image include dictionaries and other learning programs for multiple languages including Chinese, Hanja (Chinese characters), and English.
Also available is the “Kwangmyong Encyclopedia,” an “Office Management” app, the “Weather 2.0” app featured on KCTV in February and reportedly affiliated with the national Hydro-meteorological Service (기상수문국).
An icon for the “Gold Bell 1.0” (금방울 1.0) app, which was described by a source inside North Korea to RFA late last year as an anti-theft security app, also appears on the new Pyongyang 2425.
The app reportedly sends an alert to central authorities when a security dongle attached to the phone by Bluetooth – likely the red device shown included with the new phone on Sogwang – is separated from the phone by a certain distance and amount of time.
Other photos in the article focused on the Kwangmyong virtual library app, which appears to allow users to view state-sanctioned education materials.
MANUFACTURED IN CHINA?
While the absence of a full specification list makes it difficult to determine the precise source of the phone, it is almost certain that it was not developed or produced in North Korea.
Visible clues and a partial specification list suggest the Pyongyang 2425 was instead manufactured by a company out of China which likely produced at least one other Pyongyang-brand model.
According to North Korea media and tech specialist Martyn Williams, the Pyongyang 2423, reportedly released in North Korea last year, was almost certainly made by the Shenzhen Chenyee Technology Co. Ltd. and rebranded as a locally-made DPRK product.
Though the company reportedly went out of business last year, with its CEO Lu Weibing moving on to head Xiaomi sub-brand Redmi, its phones are still being sold rebranded under a number of companies worldwide such as the Nigeria-based Soda Mobile and U.S. company Blu.
Those two companies sold similar models to the Pyongyang 2423, Williams found, with the subsequent Pyongyang 2425 showing a strong resemblance to the Soda S2 and the Blu VIVO XI+.
The Blu VIVO XI+, which sells in the U.S. for around $330, boasts the same specs as seen on the Pyongyang 2425 box and mentioned in the article.
These include the Octa-core (8-core) CPU, a 6.2-inch screen, 1080 x 2246px resolution, a 3050 mAh battery, and wireless charging and fingerprint technologies.
The text on the Pyongyang model’s box describing its memory specifications is not completely legible, but the VIVO XI+ is available in 128 GB storage/6 GB RAM or 64 GB storage/4 GB RAM models.
Blu also describes their model as including “infrared detection” and “iris scan” to provide a facial-recognition unlocking feature, using the “built in AI by the Mediatek P60” chipset.
The phone’s release comes amid rapid growth in smartphone use in the North Korean capital, with a spate of new models — and related apps — appearing on the market in recent years.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Sogwang