100 dollar Android One

Android One has finally arrived, with Indian manufacturers Karbonn, Micromax, and Spice all putting devices up for sale today. With a wallet friendly $100 price tag (Rs. 6200-6400 in India), the latest pure Android KitKat experience, and a guaranteed update to Android L later this year, the first batch of Android One handsets seem quite appealing.However, are they the best handsets that you can buy on a budget?

Interestingly, the three manufacturers are releasing handsets with identical hardware. Karbonn has the Sparkle V, Micromax has the Canvas A1, and Spice has named its the Dream Uno. Here’s what around $100 will get you in each of the Android One handsets:

  • 4.5” 854×480 display, with 217 ppi
  • 1.3 GHz quad-core Cortex A7 processor (MediaTek MT6582)
  • 1 GB RAM
  • 4 GB storage (expandable up to 32GB)
  • 2x micro SIM
  • 2MP front and 5MP rear facing cameras
  • Rechargeable lithium-ion, 1700mAh
  • Android™ 4.4 KitKat, with update to Android L coming soon

That’s some very reasonable hardware for the price, although with the budget SoC you’re stuck with ARM’s lower power CPU cores, the Cortex A7s. High-end flagships make use of ARM’s high performance Cortex-A15 designs or Qualcomm’s Krait spin-off, and are already moving towards the new 64-bit A53 and A57 designs. However, A7 cores offer excellent battery life, and four of them combined certainly have enough grunt for day to day smartphone tasks.

Android One 001621

On the GPU side of things, the Mali-400MP2 found in the MediaTek chip is a slightly more low-end affair, offering performance somewhere in the region of Nvidia’s older Tegra 3 and Qualcomm’s entry level Adreno 305 GPUs, depending on which benchmarks you look at. We’ve seen what the MediaTek SoC can do in our review of the more expensive Zopo ZP320, and it is quite reasonable. The multi-core MediaTek processor and 1GB of RAM should secure a mostly smooth multitasking experience on a clutter free stock Android OS, and the entry level GPU will be fine at the lower display resolution.

Speaking of which, the 4.5 inch display is on the larger size for this category, but the FWVGA resolution is clearly a choice aimed at keeping manufacturing costs down. As a result, the pixel density of the display falls somewhat below the average at just 217ppi. It is far from fuzzy, but individual pixels will be noticeable.

Other Android manufacturers aren’t strangers to the budget game either, and big brands like Motorola and Samsung has some compelling staples in this price range too. Let’s take a look at how these three stack up against the current competition.

Asus ZenFone

Back at the start of the year, Asus launched its budget ZenFone range of smartphones. The collection features 3 different display sizes; 4, 5, and 6 inch models; with increasing costs and tweaks to the internal components for each. The closest to our $100 (Rs. 6,000) budget is the 4 inch model, which unfortunately is the most cut down handset of the bunch.

Asus Zenfone 4 aa 1

  • 4.0” 800×480 display, 233 ppi
  • 1.2 GHz dual-core Intel Atom Z2520 processor
  • 1 GB RAM
  • 8 GB storage (expandable up to 64GB)
  • 2x SIM slots
  • 0.3 MP front camera and 5 MP rear camera
  • 1600 mAh battery
  • Android 4.3, upgradable to Android 4.4

If you can live with a slightly smaller 4 inch display and lack of decent front facing camera, the ZenFone 4 is quite a close competitor to the Android One smartphones, given the price. Don’t be put off by the dual-core processor, the Z2520 is hyper-threading enabled, meaning that it has four threads for heavier multitasking situations. Each core is a bit beefier than the Cortex-A7s and the SoC also comes with a decent PowerVR SGX 544MP2 GPU. The extra internal memory might also be helpful for those without a microSD card at hand.

If you can stretch your budget a little further, the 5 and 6 inch Asus ZenFones feature crisp 720p displays, slightly faster 2 GHz Intel Atom Z2680 processors, higher resolution cameras, and larger batteries. The ZenFone 5 is priced at around $149 (Rs. 12,999), whilst the 6 inch model costs $199 (Rs. 19,999). However, there’s no mention of future Android L updates for these phones though.

Moto G (second generation)

The Moto G is pretty much considered the go to mid-range / budget handset these days, and Motorola has recently launched the second generation version of this hugely popular handset. Although the Moto G (2014) retails for around double the price of these Android One devices ($179 or Rs. 12,999), you’ll see why a spec comparison is quite warranted.

  • 5.0” 1280×720 display, 294 ppi
  • 1.2 GHz quad-core Cortex A7 process (Snapdragon 400)
  • 1 GB RAM
  • 8/16 GB storage (with support for 32GB via microSD)
  • 2x micro SIM
  • 2MP front and 8MP rear cameras
  • Non-removable 2070 mAh battery
  • Android 4.4, with update to Android L coming soon

Whilst there are a couple of glaring hardware differences, such as the larger display and the better rear camera, the much cheaper Android One devices fare very well by comparison. Looking at the SoC package, the Android One MediaTek chip offers very similar core components as the Moto G’s Snapdragon 400, and so should not struggle when it comes to performance. If you opt for a microSD card, you can also close the storage gap for very little cost. However, the 1st Gen Moto G features roughly similar specs as the 2nd Gen, and can be found at much lower prices (when stock is actually available), making the choice a little tougher.

Moto E

As far as cost is concerned, the Moto E is Motorola’s closest competitor to the new Android One handsets – costing around £129 (Rs. 6,999). Let’s cut to the hardware.

moto e vs moto g (5 of 19)

  • 4.3” 960×540 display, 256 ppi
  • 1.2 GHz dual-core Cortex A7 processor (Snapdragon 200)
  • 1 GB RAM
  • 4 GB storage (expandable up to 32GB)
  • 2x micro SIM
  • 5MP rear facing camera, no front camera
  • Non-removable 1980mAh battery
  • Android 4.4 KitKat, with update to Android L coming soon

Whilst the Moto E’s display has a slightly crisper ppi of 256 and it has similar storage options as the Android One smartphones, the dual-core Cortex-A7 processor, weak Adreno 302 GPU, and lack of a front facing camera for video calls and pictures makes the Moto E a less attractive prospect, given the slightly larger price tag.

With budget phones it is probably best to avoid scrimping on a cheaper SoC, when savings could be made on other features like the display or camera, as the day to day running of apps can become bogged down with lag and slow load times. Despite the resource friendliness Motorola’s near-stock Android OS, I’d pick any of the Android One handsets over the Moto E at this price.

Samsung

Although Samsung is most well-known for its flagship Galaxy and Note smartphones, the company has a long history in the budget and mid-range markets too.

Falling in line with our low budget requirements, Samsung’s Galaxy Star Pro was released in October last year and can be found for sub Rs.6000. However, the handset features a lacklustre 1 GHz Cortex-A5 processor and 512 MB RAM, which is bound to result in depressingly slow system performance. The 2MP front facing camera also leaves a lot to be desired. This year’s Galaxy Trend II Duos fairs a little better in the hardware department, but again the specs are not up to scratch with the new Android One devices.

Samsung’s best effort close to this price bracket is the Galaxy S Duos 2, which costs around Rs.8000 ($125 on Amazon.com). It’s a little more expensive, but the specs are solid.

  • 4.0” 800×480 display, 233 ppi
  • 1.2 GHz dual-core Cortex A9 processor (Broadcom BCM21664T)
  • 768 MB GB RAM
  • 4 GB storage (expandable up to 64GB)
  • 2x micro SIM
  • 5MP rear facing camera, 0.3MP front camera
  • 1500mAh battery
  • Android 4.2 Jelly Bean

The Galaxy S Duos 2 falls very close to the first Android One smartphones, but the limited RAM and additional Samsung software could end up leaving the device feeling rather sluggish. The dual-core Cortex-A9, rather than quad A7s CPU cores will provide smoother performance in single threaded tasks, and effectively put this phone’s performance in the region of the renowned Galaxy S2. This is not a bad effort from Samsung, but it is unlikely that Samsung will be offering an Android L update for this device. Again, an Android One phone has slightly better hardware and a superior price point.

Xiaomi Redmi 1S

Xiaomi has been laying down a real challenge to the established manufacturers in the flagship market, and also has a budget defying offering in the $100 category too. The Redmi 1S, or Hongmi 1S as it is sometimes known, is the only 720p handset at this price, and has plenty of other mid-range features too.

  • 4.7” 1280×720 display, 312 ppi
  • 1.6 GHz quad-core Cortex A7 processor (Snapdragon 400)
  • 1 GB RAM
  • 8 GB storage (expandable up to 32GB)
  • 2x micro SIM
  • 8MP rear facing camera, 1.6MP front camera
  • 2000mAh battery
  • Android 4.3 Jelly Bean (MIUI 5.0)

Priced at around Rs. 6,000 ($100), the Xiaomi Redmi 1S is even a cut above the Android One devices on paper. However, the higher resolution display will place additional strain on the A7 CPU and low-end Adreno 305 GPU, and the high 1.6 GHz clock speed will lower the battery life and heat up the handset compared with the Indian manufacturers’ offerings. Additionally, the more feature rich MIUI software suite is not as lean as stock Android, and might not run as smoothly as it does on Xiaomi’s flagship smartphones.

That being said, there aren’t any rivals to Xiaomi in terms of display and camera clarity at this price range, and it also features twice the storage of some of the other handsets. Xiaomi’s Redmi has hardware capable of rivalling the 2nd Gen Moto G, and it costs half as much.

At a glance

Of course there are even more handsets that fall into this price bracket, many of which feature very similar hardware specifications to the above phones. To go through them all in the above fashion would take an age. Instead, the table below should give you a good idea, at a glance, about some of the best devices at this price range, and how they stack up against the first wave of Android One smartphones.

Android One Comparision Table 1

In the second table below you’ll find that Micromax already has a virtually identical handset to these Android One devices, in the form of the Unite 2. The much hyped Nokia X is not mentioned above as it’s really no competition for these new smartphones, due to its limited RAM and poor camera options.

Android One Comparision Table 2

Whilst usually it might be worth looking at older mid-range handsets that have come down in price, you can see from the Sony Xperia M that these budget manufacturers actually offer very similar hardware for a fraction of the price. Android One certainly keeps true to its promise of making handsets more affordable.

Android One: $100 worth of phone?

So, is the first range of Android One smartphones from Karbonn, Micromax, and Spice the best in their price bracket? Well it’s tough to tell without having tried one out yet, but the hardware/price proposition is slightly better than the vast majority of other manufacturers, even Motorola.

The Android One devices are often 25%+ cheaper than comparable handsets from the likes of ASUS, Motorola, and Sony, in USD. However, in India, where they are actually on sale, the Rs.6000 price bracket does have a small number of handsets that offer quite similar specifications.

The Karbonn Sparkle V, Micromax Canvas A1, and Spice Dream Uno offer up hardware that provide a strong balance of performance, display size, and cost. Importantly, the SoC and no frills stock Android setup should help avoid the lag and stuttering often associated with budget handsets. The Moto E and G are praised for this very reason, and Android One should do the same at a slightly lower price point. The promise of Android L also adds significant value to these three smartphones, as budget offerings are infamous for being the first to drop off OEM’s software support lists.

Whilst the 217 ppi display may not be a sharp as others, this is probably a better place to compromise in a smaller handset, rather than on cheap CPU parts or low resolution camera components. Their only real weakness is the limited 4GB of internal memory, but that is not uncommon in this bracket and the microSD card expansion makes this a problem that can be solved at minimal expense.

If you are interested, the Karbonn Sparkle V is available today on Snapdeal for Rs 6,399 (about $104), while the Micromax will land on Amazon India tomorrow for Rs 6,499. Spice is already selling the Dream Uno for Rs. 6,299 on Flipkart.