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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
A “new” North Korean smartphone boasting high-tech features and a design resembling an older model from South Korea’s Samsung is gaining in popularity domestically, the DPRK external-focused outlet Arirang Meari reported.
An article promoting the “Kiltongmu” (길동무) brand phone, released on the outlet’s website on Monday, described features such as face recognition and fingerprint unlocking, and included an image showing the phone’s resemblance to the Samsung Note 8.
The phone, the article reported, was designed and manufactured completely in-house by the Kwangya Trading Company (광야무역회사) — a company which has not previously been named in North Korean media.
Only a single image was included with the article, appearing to include text indicating the model is the Kiltongmu 1041 or 1061, though the text is blurred by the low resolution of the image.
The phone, Arirang said, is “a new type of intelligent mobile phone with a refined appearance, high resolution liquid crystal displays, and distinctive feature.”
Among its features, it continued, are “fingerprint and face recognition function, address book search function, and fast and continuous handwriting input function.”
It also comes preinstalled with “30 dictionaries, programs, entertainment, and [other] media that are popular among users,” the Arirang Meari article said.
“The ‘Kiltongmu’ smartphone, which is designed to suit users’ tastes, is now receiving great reviews.”
But while the article also claims that scientists and engineers of the Kwangya Trading Company “realized and manufactured with their own technologies all elements” of the Kiltongmu-brand phone, it is likely a Samsung Note 8 clone or fake produced in China.
The image shows a design similar in appearance to the Samsung Note 8, a phone first released in summer 2017, complete with a large horizontally-oriented rectangular cutout on the back housing dual cameras and a fingerprint sensor.
The size and placement of buttons along the phone’s edge visible in the photo of the Kiltongmu model also resemble those of the Samsung Note 8 and Chinese knock-offs.
It is also unclear if the phone is actually being sold in North Korea as the image is only an advertisement, but if it is, its Chinese origin may also be difficult to discern given the number of fake Note 8 models available on the market since the Samsung model’s release in 2017.
Some are marketed with the Samsung brand name attached, while others, such as the Meiigoo Note 8 produced by the Shenzhen Meiigoo Fashion International Technology Co., Ltd, attach their own brand name to the device.
North Korean brands attaching their names to phones of Chinese origin is understood to be common practice when it comes to smartphones sold in the DPRK, according to investigations into other models in recent years.
Most recently, NK News revealed this spring that a new model from the Pyongyang brand resembled a phone rebranded by various other companies worldwide but which may have been originally manufactured by a Shenzhen-based company.
That phone also boasted face recognition and other modern technological features in addition to wireless charging, and was seen in images in North Korean state media to have also included an anti-theft security device in the box.
The name of the new brand, “Kiltongmu” — meaning “traveling companion” or just “companion” — has also been used in the names of at least two pieces of smartphone software produced by the Samhung IT Exchange Center.
One is the interactive map application for Pyongyang by the same name “Kiltongmu,” said last month also in Arirang Meari to have recently received a new version 2.0 release.
The other is the “Naui Kiltongmu” (나의 길동무, My Companion) 4.0 app, a “comprehensive” app through which users can read E-books, watch recorded broadcasts and videos, and play games.
The actual Samsung Note 8 was, notably, almost introduced to North Korea in early 2018 when the company gifted thousands of units of the phone to athletes participating in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea.
North Korean athletes ultimately were not allowed to receive the phones, however, when the organizing committee for the games decided the gifts would constitute a sanctions violation.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Arirang Meari