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Gongkai Phone is a $12 cellphone from China, not Android but could inspire DIY smartphone designs

Smartphones aren't the cheapest to own. But a mobile phone in China could break the mold: the $12 Gongkai Phone, which could inspire cheap DIY smartphones.

Published onApril 22, 2013

Gongkai phone
As much as we all love having the latest smartphones in our hands, they aren’t the cheapest things to own. However, a mobile phone in China is breaking the mould with a retail value of just $12.

Known as the Gongkai, the device is a low-end mobile phone that has just a little bit more than basic features like calling and texting. Whilst the Gongkai phone doesn’t have the specs of the HTC One or Sony Xperia Z, the system comes equipped with perks such as Bluetooth, OLED screen and USB ports. As an added feature, it seems the Gongkai phone has a music player.

Gongkai Phone

Inside, the device is powered by two main computing processors: a MediaTek MT6250DA and a Vanchip VC5296. These are at a bare minimum compared to today’s cutting edge specs: 256MHz system speed with 8MB of RAM.

The display is also abysmal compared with today’s five-inchers common in smartphones. It uses an OLED display, but only showing two colors. The screen is very small and is only really good for the basic stuff.

Seeing inside the Gongkai phone
Seeing inside the Gongkai phone

Keeping costs down

The idea behind the Gongkai phone is that it is a device that has been made and meant to be sold as cheaply as possible. To help achieve this, some of its actual components aren’t exactly at cutting edge technology. For example, the shell is a plastic case that snaps together to form the body. On top of that, the MediaTek and Vanchip processors are much less powerful than the likes of Snapdragon or Tegra processors found in more advanced phones and electronic devices.

Additionally, the Gongkai phone does not come with the usual subsidy common among American carriers. As with most devices sold in emerging markets, the phone is unlocked when purchased, and it does not come with a contract with any specific provider.

What’s the point here? Even though the Gongkai phone won’t send heads spinning with its performance, the pricing shows possibilities in creating an inexpensive device. Judging from the cost estimates for SoC chips, displays and other parts that analysts like IHS iSuppli and iFixIt provide, could it be possible to come up with a cheap but functional smartphone under $20? If Raspberry Pi enthusiasts can build their own DIY casings for the cheap $25 computer, then smartphone enthusiasts can probably do the same thing for a barebones Android device.

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