By Sandeep Budki
Two days back, an unknown company – Ringing Bells, shocked the world by launching a phone at throwaway price of just Rs 251 for which you can’t even afford a medium pizza these days. Even multiplexes charge more than that for 3D movies! Naturally the phone, which is named as Freedom 251, caught the attention of all, both in India and abroad.
Freedom 251’s features were even more shocking for the price it is being offered. To start with, the phone offers Android 5.1 Lollipop operating system and is powered by a 1.3 GHz quad-core processor. The phone has a 4 inch IPS touchscreen and WVGA (800×480 pixels) resolution. It has 8 GB of internal memory, 1 GB RAM, a 1450 mAh battery, 3.2-megapixel rear camera and a 0.3-megapixel front camera, and supports dual SIMs.
Strangely, even before the commencement of its full-fledged operation in India, Ringing Bells’s President Ashok Chadha has claimed that by the end of this year they will be able to capture 30 percent smartphone market share in India. But before I dwell into all the announcements made by the Ringing Bell’s top management lets me share my first impression of the device.
What I Liked
Freedom 251 is lightweight. Being a 4 inch device, the phone is quite compact and feels comfortable to use. Even though the device is made of plastic, the build quality is good. In the back panel, Indian Flag is imprinted which aims to highlight the fact that this smartphone has been made is line with Make in India imitative of Government of India (or is it to evoke the nationalists spirit which is in vogue these days?).
The Freedom 251 has a 4-inch qHD (960 x 540 pixels) IPS display that is better than the display of most of the entry-level feature phones. It felt quite bright and didn’t show any sign of bleeding.
The design of icons and home button, which are borrowed from iOS, looks good. On the lighter side, if Apple ever comes out with a Rs 5000 iPhone we can imagine what their prototype device might look like. I also liked the stock Android 5.1 experience provided by the device. There were no lags either while switching between the apps and scrolling across different windows.
What I didn’t like
The camera of Freedom 251 is not even satisfactory. It takes a long time to capture and in low lighting picture quality is pathetic. In decent lighting, the output is below average. But again one shouldn’t expect miracles from a sub-Rs 300 device. Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar’s dialogue, Bacche ki jaan lega kya, sums it up.
The national flag was also poorly printed on the back of Freedom 251 and it will surely fade off completely within a few days of usage.
What left me confused
The Freedom 251 shown to the media was just a prototype. It was not even assembled in India. It was simply a Chinese device with an Adcom logo above the display covered by a white fluid and a Freedom 251 logo imprinted on the back panel. There was nothing ‘Made in India’ about it. So, when the final product lands up in the market, if it does, what will it like be? Will it perform similarly to the prototype device and will it actually be assembled in India?
So many questions like this are bothering me and in spite of repeated questioning. I never got the direct and straightforward answers to my questions from the spokesperson of Ringing Bells.
Questions which were left answered
The real cost of the device is Rs 2,500, which will be recovered through tie up with startups, innovative marketing, reduction in duties, economies of scale, and selling the device using the online media, according to Ashok Chadda. But there doesn’t seem to be any logic in it because the reduction in duties have not been announced so far, selling through an online portal doesn’t reduce the cost the components and even the names of the partners who will supply components at throw away price for this device has not been shared.
Mohit Goel, director, Ringing bells said, “ We are in the final stage of discussion with the vendors and will let you know about them quite soon.”
The company is not aware of the copyrights that Apple has for its design such as its round home button and app icon’s design and they have simply copied it which means if Apple presses charges for copyright infringements the complete design of the smartphone has to be reworked which may escalate the cost of the device, and in that case, how will Ringing Bells sell the device for Rs 251? And how will it take care of expected delay in delivery as a result of it?
Chadda, claims that the partnership with startups will help in reducing the cost of the device. But didn’t answer how? The thing that is bothering me that a partnership between startup /app player and OEM is nothing new but they usually have revenue sharing arrangement or a flat fee which is not so great that it will cover 50 percent price of any device.
Yes, Ringing Bells has come out with an announcement which has created more buzz than Make In India initiative of Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi on the day of its announcement. People who are below the poverty line and even those who pay taxes in crores each year are discussing Freedom 251. The device seems to be too good for a price tag of Rs 251. But, the device is still in its prototype form. It has nothing Indian about it except the National Flag imprinted on the back panel which was wearing out.
Sandeep Budki is Managing Editor, The Mobile Indian, afaqs.