Summary:

With tough competition in the flagship phone market, HTC sees opportunity in less-expensive handsets. The sleek and slim Desire 8 looks to be the result, with HTC itself sharing early images.

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HTC isn’t waiting until next week’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) event to build buzz. The company posted images of its upcoming Desire 8 handset on China’s Weibo site, showing off a thin handset that’s likely aimed at budget or mid-range markets. Those segments have more sales growth potential than the high-priced flagship market, which could give HTC the sales boost it desperately needs.

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On the outside, the Desire 8 — which was spotted by Android Community — looks as nice as any flagship with a thin profile and rounded edges. The phone looks like a slimmed down version of the HTC One; a high-end Android device that is expected to see a refresh on March 25. Since the new HTC One won’t be launching at MWC, the Desire 8 could be the biggest news for the company next week unless it decides to publicly show off its reported Google Now smartwatch.

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Of course, what’s on the inside of a phone is pretty important too. The uncannily reliable @evleaks suggests that the Desire 8 won’t be a complete slouch in the performance department:

If accurate, these specs put the Desire 8 a step above currently available mid-range devices such as the Moto X, which currently sells for $399 off-contract. If HTC can price the Desire 8 at or under that price, it could be a big help to the company.

Why? Earlier this week, data from The NPD Group showed that the fastest growing smartphone sales segment in the U.S. is for people with income of $30,000 or less. As carriers move away from contracts and handset subsidies, the full price of a phone becomes an important factor in the purchase decision. And it’s no coincidence that HTC published photos of the Desire 8 on a Chinese website, given that there’s still huge opportunity in the country with the world’s largest population.

HTC knows that it hasn’t focused enough on the mid-range market, admitting to that earlier this month and saying it would take more interest in it. The Desire 8 could be the first product of such a refocusing effort; we’ll find out next week.

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