budget android smartphones in India

Like any enthusiast geek, I drool over the latest hardware, but what I will buy are budget smartphones. By budget phones, I mean something that comes in a Rs.10,000-15,000 range. This represents the limit of what I would spend on a phone because I carry and use my laptop almost everywhere so a phone is almost always a secondary screen. And it's less preferred because of the small size, except when I am on the move. I prefer to use a dedicated camera and DAP/MP3 player, so it will not really swap out either device except on the fly.

But I do find myself using my phone more often to browse at home on wi-fi when I feel too lazy to take out my laptop, in a mall when I suddenly want to check a product review, when I am in a coffee shop and planning a trip and I want to check flight schedules. It's fun to check a weather widget on my phone and see the latest weather forecast for the place I am flying to tomorrow. And it is indispensable to see and answer mail on the fly and to get notifications of updates to my FB/Twitter on my phone's homescreen. For easier access to the Net, apps and a better UI, I think upto Rs. 15,000 is a fair price to pay.

Today what you get in this range are called smart feature-phones (similar to my Samsung Wave running BADA OS). How will these be different from top-end smartphones like Samsung Galaxy S, Nokia N8 or HTC Desire? In two basic ways:

1) Hardware will be less sophisticated. You will not get the fastest latest processor (It will be less than 1 Ghz  as you go down the price ladder). You will get a TFT/ WVGA display of lower resolution and smaller size compared to the top end SLCD or SAMOLED displays. You will get a smaller battery. You will not get HD recording, high megapixel camera and a few other bells and whistles
2) Hardware will also limit you to an earlier version of Android. For instance Android 2.1 or 2.2 but not Gingerbread, the latest Android update that should be live by end of the year. The low-res screen will also create problems with certain apps, and it would be a trial and error to figure out which ones.

None of this should prevent you from getting a great experience from a budget phone, as long as it offers 3G and a wi-fi and a good user interface, and lets you access basic apps and widgets.

1. LG Optimus One P500

(Image from GSMArena)
LG has just launched the Optimus One P500, which is officially only the second phone to run Android 2.2 in India according to this Economic Times Review.  It also comes in at just Rs.13,000, which is a sweet price point. You can head over to GSM Arena for the full spec list and Tech Radar for the full review.

With Android 2.2 ironing out a lot of kinks in the Android OS, it can overcome most of the hardware limitations of the phone. If you mainly plan to use push mail, Google products and browse the net on your phone, you should have a good experience. It also offers the nifty Android 2.2 option to convert your phone into a mobile wi-fi spot so that you can share the internet connection with a PC (that will make more sense when we get 3G)

I also like that this phone offers a capacative touchscreen, and pinch and zoom functionality. It also features a very respectable 800 MHz processor and a 1500 MaH battery with a decent life according to the reviews.

The bad news for me is the 3.2 inch screen. I use a 3.3 inch one and as I have said in an earlier post, smaller touchscreens can suck, especially if you have larger fingers or are clumsy with your hands (I am!) So be sure to try this out before buying.

2.  HTC Wildfire

(Image from GSMArena)
It comes in at Rs.15000 in India and it's not widely available with big retailers, but it's worth taking a look at if you are searching for a budget Android phone. HTC has already confirmed that an update to Android 2.2 (FroYo) is due for the device very soon, and you might want to wait till it is out. But even with the older version of Android 2.1 the Wildfire was rated one of the top 20 phones of 2010 by Tech Radar, comparing favorably as a cheaper sibling of the HTC Desire.

Here is the spec list from GSM Arena. It's broadly similar to the LG Optimus One, except that the Wildfire has a smaller battery and a slightly slower 528 MHz processor.

You can read the full review of the phone on Tech Radar. The USP for the Wildfire is the HTC Sense UI experience, which optimises the performance and user interface, and provides a great stock keyboard. Another bonus is the optical track pad which aids navigation. If you do use a phone camera, this one comes with a flash and some basic image editing software. What you will need to watch out for is a low battery life and overloading that processor.

3. Motorola FlipOut

(Image from GSMArena)
Recently launched in India at a price point of approximately Rs. 16,000, this one caught my eye firstly because of the QWERTY keypad which is rare on most Android handsets and especially low-priced ones. I am not really a fan of the toy-like looks but I have to admit that with the interchangeable colors and the shape, it's a cute looking thing. Maybe someone younger than me will appreciate it more :) And in fact, it is targeted at an under20 demographic like the ill-fated Microsoft Kin

Here are the specs from GSM Arena. A 600MHz processor is OK, but smaller 1130 mAH battery sounds like bad news. Android can be a power hog, to be fair so is constant surfing and twittering over Wi-Fi and so is Angry Birds.

This phone does not get great reviews, the small screen size being the main complaint. 2.8 inches is way too small for a touch screen and restricts the browsing and viewing experience. But for those who want a budget QWERTY Android the only other option is the more expensive Sony Xperia X10 Mini Pro with  2.5 inch touch screen + QWERTY keypad which seems to be priced at Rs. 17,000 plus based on my last check in Croma. Overall, it offers a better, faster user experience than the FlipOut. I do not recommend this phone purely because it is has been running Android 1.6 for ages and the 2.1 update still does not seem to have come to India though it is available through Android developer forums. Also it is priced beyond the budget range in this review and once you cross Rs. 15,000, my benchmark of expectations would include a bigger screen + QWERTY keypad.


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