It seems like it's hard to find a non-Nexus device that uses anything close to stock Android. Samsung, HTC, LG, Sony, Asus, Acer - everywhere you look there are customizations to a greater or lesser extent. Even Motorola, formerly Google's own subsidiary, uses a custom launcher. Chinese manufacturer ZTE is looking to break that trend, however. The company is planning to launch new smartphones that use the Google Now Launcher (AKA the Google Experience Launcher) by default.

nexusae0_Screenshot_2013-11-13-16-01-101 nexusae0_Screenshot_2013-11-13-16-02-351 nexusae0_Screenshot_2013-11-13-16-02-471

The first ZTE phone to use the Now Launcher by default, complete with its "OK Google" voice command integration, will be the Blade Vec 4G. This budget phone has already launched in Europe and China, but the Hong Kong version of the phone being announced on July 24th will be pre-loaded with Google's launcher. (Google, and by extension Google Now, operates in Hong Kong, but has severe restrictions on the Chinese mainland.) ZTE also says that "one other ZTE premium device" will be announced at the same time, and that "several ZTE devices" will use the Google Now Launcher. Whether the European customers who already own the Blade Vec 4G will get an update wasn't addressed, but they should be able to download an updated version of Google Search from the Play Store and enable it anyway.

blade vec

The Blade Vec 4G is currently on sale in Europe and China without the Google Now Launcher preinstalled.

The global players like Samsung, HTC, and LG have been beating the drum for "differentiation" for years, which is why their Android software builds are startlingly different from both each other and AOSP. But for a company like ZTE, which makes most of its money on low-cost, high-volume devices, it makes sense to use the tools that Google already provides for consumers.

It's worth noting that the Google Now Launcher is still pretty limited when compared with other options on the Play Store. Its primary feature, the "OK Google" voice command, was heavily promoted for the Nexus 5. But now that this is available across Android on compatible devices, not to mention in other launchers like Nova and Apex, the only real reason to use GEL is the integration with Google Now's dynamic cards.

SHENZHEN, China--(BUSINESS WIRE)--ZTE, one of the top global handset manufacturers, today announces one of the first few pre-loaded Google Now Launcher smartphones among non-Nexus and non-Google Play Experience devices worldwide to offer improved user experience and better value. The ZTE Blade Vec 4G smartphone with Google Now Launcher incorporates the Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 400 processor and furthers ZTE’s strong relationship with Google and Qualcomm Technologies in growing the LTE market.

ZTE has worked closely with Google to pre-load Google Now Launcher onto several ZTE devices. The ZTE’s Blade Vec 4G smartphone on Android 4.4 and Snapdragon 400 processor with integrated multi-mode 3G/4G LTE is designed to deliver a better user experience that is supported by 3 modes (4G LTE-FDD, 3G UMGS/TD-SCDMA) and 9 radio frequency bands.

The ZTE Blade Vec 4G smartphone along with one other ZTE premium device will be officially presented at a ZTE press conference held in Hong Kong on July 24, 2014. ZTE has launched the Blade Vec 4G and other premium devices in Europe and in China, and now will make them available in Hong Kong with the added benefits of Google Now Launcher pre-loaded.

ZTE plans to pre-load Google Now Launcher on all Android 4.4 and above smartphones that have Google Mobile Services and Google Play enabled. Having Google Now Launcher pre-loaded onto the ZTE Blade Vec 4G, the new device becomes the first systemic terminal voice control solution in the industry. Mr. Zeng Xuezhong, CEO of ZTE Mobile Devices, and Executive Vice President of ZTE Corporation, commented, “ZTE’s strong relationship with Google and Qualcomm Technologies is in line with our focus on developing affordable premium devices that has rich voice control function as well as multimedia solutions. ZTE is continuing to push the boundaries and brings its customers the very latest experience that mobile technology can offer.”

On the ZTE Blade Vec 4G smartphone, Google Now Launcher is complimentary to ZTE flagship devices’ voice recognition and control function. ZTE Blade Vec 4G strongly features voice command functionality, including phone unlocking, dialing / answering calls, playing music, navigational controls, taking photos, etc.

Visually appealing UI

The Google Now Launcher UI lets users add as many home screens as they like, and helps them quickly get to their favorite apps. Another feature is the method for user to add widgets. To personalize and embellish ones smartphone, a user can select any images stored in the device or in the cloud or adjust the position of the image and preview before saving the setting.

Quick and easy access to Google Now

Google Now gives users just the right information at just the right time. For example, if you've booked a flight on selected airlines Google Now can give you your boarding pass, or tell you if the flight is delayed.

Free hands with a hotword

Ok Google allows hand free voice command triggered by just saying “Ok Google” at standby mode. Tell the phone what to do, not only limited to search query, text a message, get directions, or play a song, but even setting reminders and alarms, opening apps. Google Now Launcher supports multiple languages without presetting language in phone. Google Now Launcher gives users a clean and simple user interface, and keeps Google Now and search just a swipe or a tap away.

Key benefits

•A visually appealing UI.

•Quick and easy access to Google Now.

•Fast and snappy.

•The “Ok Google” hotword for opening quickly accessing Google Search

Michael Crider
Michael is a native Texan and a former graphic designer. He's been covering technology in general and Android in particular since 2011. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order.

  • pego

    ZTE Nexus 6 confirmed.

    • Bob G

      ZTE = 3 letters = Half Life 3 confirmed!

      • http://twitter.com/anishbhalerao Anish Bhalerao

        This reply makes this the THIRD comment on this comment thread.
        Half Life 3 confirmed and ratified.

        • abqnm

          And this being the 4th comment also confirms Half Life 4.

          • Tomáš Petrík


          • Chris

            You sir, lost the internet for the entire day.

  • Alex Boro

    Lol it's good to finally see OEMs trying to make better software

  • blindexecutioner

    Other than the toddler sized icons (or maybe they are so big for the older people who can't see very well?) I like the GEL launcher.

    • Godspoken

      The icons are HUUUUUGE on my Note 3. It's a little ridiculous, but I love that Google Now is just a left swipe away.

  • SVem26

    Hey ZTE, you were just added to list of approved companies on r/androidcirclejerk

    • A Skylit [S]unjΔy

      Praise be to Duarte.

      • mk

        LoRD DuARTeee

      • shlk7

        Welcome ZTE to #duartepartay

  • Fakhri Ahmad

    Does that mean it will receive new Google updates just as fast as nexus phones/tablets?

    • https://plus.google.com/u/0/108482452903817442299/posts Andrew Bone

      No, faster I'm sure, but not nexus speed. Google won't be making android specifically for these devices meaning ZTE will have to wait for a new version of Android to be released before they can start making it work on their hardware.

      • joser116

        Or 3 months before release.

    • Stoyan Angelow’

      ZTE hardly ever updates phones.

      • awaaas

        ZTE updates N986(D) -a mediatek-based device- 6 times now, including internal memori repartition (newer version uses the '/data/media/' layout). No android version bump tho (mediatek's fault?)

        Also, they released an incomplete kernel source for it after I asked for 5 months.

        • Stoyan Angelow’

          Im talking about android versions. Most ZTE phones in my country are still runing ICS

          • Fakhri Ahmad

            are those phones already running GEL or their own skin like the HTCs and Samsungs?

          • Stoyan Angelow’

            Skinned, but not a lot. They use the stock launcher with changed icons and they have added quick toggles in the notifications.

          • TDN

            Yeah, I have only seen one ZTE running anything but ICS and it was running 4.1, so it was still behind the times.

          • Stoyan Angelow’

            To be honest I've seen only 3 ZTEs and all of them were ICS with bugged GPS making it practically useless.

  • Nevi_me

    If it ain't broken, don't try to fix it. Kudos ZTE

  • Brad

    Wish this'd start happening here. #nexuslyfe

  • Thomas Steinbrüchel

    Kudos to ZTE, continue the way to gain more respect :)

  • bpcooper14

    Maybe the first step to wider availability.

  • Brian

    "Even Motorola, formerly Google's own subsidiary"

    It still is. The deal has not been approved by regulators yet. AP writers should know that.

    • dude

      Then they better make that Cast screen to Chromecast work right now.

  • omniuni

    Actually, I'm quite certain that Motorola is using the Android stock launcher on their 4.4.x devices. GEL is NOT a stock launcher. It is Google's launcher, and is great in many respects, but it is not stock.

    • dickhead


  • black

    That's Lazy.

  • Daniel McDermott

    Love my Nubia from ZTE, their phones in China are pretty damn good, with frequent updates and their own website allows people to upload ROM's for their phones. They have a really good Chinese community.

  • charlesrlee

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    themselves a Chrysler from having made $5060 thiss month and-in excess of, 10/k
    last-month . it's realy the easiest-work I have ever done . I started this 4
    months ago and pretty much straight away was bringin in at least $78 per-hour .
    why not look here C­a­s­h­f­i­g­.­C­O­M­

  • Android 4.4.x

    #upd8 -- let the transparent bar Googlatering begin.