Buying Guides -> Hardware -> Mobile phones
Team CHIP | 25 April 2011
This roundup features 12 Android mobile handsets under Rs 20,000. Find out which ones are really worth their price tags.
By FRANCIS D'SA and ANAND TULIANI
An Android phone resembles (or in fact it is) a miniature tablet PC which can be easily carried in your pocket. It features hardware components quite similar to a notebook or PC - processor, RAM, storage, display, networking, etc. These are smartphones and use the Android operating system, which is being developed by Google since 2005. The Android operating system is based on a modified kernel of the open-source Linux operating system.
Unlike the other mobile phone operating systems such as Symbian (Nokia), BlackBerry OS (RIM), Windows Mobile and Windows CE (Microsoft), Bada OS (Samsung) or iOS (Apple), the Android OS is open-source and can be tweaked for individual handsets. Because the Android operating system can be easily tweaked to increase its overall performance and productivity, it has quickly become the world’s fast selling smartphone platform. The year 2010 saw a significant rise in the demand and sales of devices based on the Android OS, and the numbers have been sharply rising ever since.
Manufacturers started shipping the first Android OS-based phones with Cupcake (v1.5) and Donut (v1.6), and then released firmware v2.0/v2.1 (Eclair). These operating systems needed a basic processor speed of 500 MHz for operation. Budget or entry-level Android phones feature low-end hardware specs, such as a smaller screen size and resolution, resistive touch screens, lower RAM/ROM and low built-in memory.
The latest high-end handsets available today ship with Android v2.2 (Froyo) or Android v2.3 (Gingerbread). These handsets have processors clocked at 1 GHz (2 GHz CPU and the Tegra 2 GPU-based phones are presently in the pipeline), higher built-in memory, display screens with higher resolutions (even Super-AMOLED based displays), and several other cutting-edge components that make them price and feature-heavy.
With the Android versions constantly being developed to be better, faster and more productive, the demand for better hardware will always be high. As the latest handsets have price tags that are out of the reach of many consumers, most of us are unsure as to which phone meets the right balance between features and price.
In this roundup, we have brought together 12 top Android-based smartphones priced under Rs 20,000 to find out which one comes out on top. These phones are entry-level handsets built with processor speeds below 1 GHz and feature Android OS v2.2 or lower. Different Android phones from manufacturers such as Sony Ericsson, HTC, Motorola, LG, Micromax, Spice, Samsung and Asus have been featured here.We take a look at their overall hardware features, specifications, build quality, ergonomics and performance to help us arrive at the best of the lot, two of which will win our Best Performance and Best Value awards.
With the different form-factors and hardware specs, it was really difficult to gauge the best phone of the lot until I actually began using them. My first experience was with the LG Optimus One, and I loved it until the Sony Experia X8 arrived. The Optimus One is a rugged handset with great ergonomics, but the Sony Ericsson was a classy looking phone. Though the camera was not as impressive, the display was crisp and bright. The Spice Mi-300 was another one that grabbed my attention. With a crisp display, swift UI, an optical trackpad and the lowest price, the Mi-300 was destined to win the Best Value title. If you look closely at the tables, the Mi-300 would have won Best Performance too had it not been for the Motorola Defy. But overall, I would recommend the Defy. The only downside to this phone is that it will only get its FroYo update in late Q2 2011.
Most entry-level Android phones fall in the price range of Rs 12,000 to Rs 15,000. For me, a good phone is one that combines a good feature set, rugged build and good performance. It should look and feel tough and the UI should be fluid. Priced under Rs 10,000, the pice Mi-300 is the most affordable phone and it offers a good mix of features and performance. But the biggest drawback of this phone is its build quality, which I feel Spice has compromised on to lower the cost. For Rs 5,000 more, the LG Optimus One is a much better bargain. However, the camera lacks a flash and it feels slightly heavy. If your budget allows, go in for the Motorola Defy, which is a clear winner, with the fastest processor, largest screen, and rugged build. It has a few flaws, like the awkward placement of the memory card slot under the battery, but it’s forgivable considering its overall feature set and performance.
Dimensions: 59x107x13.4 mm; Weight: 118 g; Processor: 800 MHz; RAM: 476 MB; Built-in memory: 1.26 GB; Display: 3.7 in, 480x854; OS: AOS 2.1.1(Eclair); Camera: 5 megapixels (flash).
Contact: Motorola India
Te Motorola Defy leaves the rest of the pack behind thanks to its excellent display quality, speedy processor, superior build quality and awesome feature set. The Defy is the newest entrant into the Android mobile handset family, sporting an 800 MHz Cortex-A8 processor with a TI OMAP3610 chipset running the Android 2.1 (Eclair) operating system. The Defy has 476 MB of RAM and a generous 1.2 GB of internal storage space. Complimenting the superior hardware is a responsive 3.7-inch capacitive TFT display (480x854). The display is protected by a tough scratch-resistant Gorilla glass display and the entire shell is water-tight, with rubber port flaps for every interface. Additional features include Wi-Fi b/g/n networking, FM with RDS, and a 5 megapixel camera with LED flash. On the performance front, the Defy left the other contenders behind with almost a 25 percent lead in all sections. The Defy excelled in the features, build quality and performance sections, scoring the highest.
Verdict: A superb handset with a rugged build and excellent display.
For: Scratch resistant glass, high-resolution and crisp display, water-resistant body, built-in memory storage.
Against: With a Froyo update too far away, Gingerbread seems unlikely.
Dimensions: 56.8x114.9x12.6 mm; Weight: 114 g; Processor: 480 MHz; RAM: 179 MB; Built-in memory: 172 MB; Display: 3.2 in, 320x480; OS: AOS 2.1.1 (Eclair); Camera: 5 megapixels (flash).
Contact: Spice Mobility
The Spice Mi-300 handset won the Best Value title simply because of its well-balanced feature-set, build quality and performance compared to the low price tag. The Mi-300 sports an ARM 11 480 MHz processor coupled with 179 MB RAM. Sadly, it has a puny 172 MB of internal storage. The 3.2-inch 320x480 resolution display screen looks rich and crisp. Though the handset sports an average look, the overall build quality is pretty decent. The phone does not perform as good as the rest, because the processor and RAM were meant to host Android v1.6 (Donut). The feature-set did not offer too many extras, but a few features did attract our attention, like the optical trackball and individual buttons for answering and rejecting calls. The 5 megapixel camera and the onboard speakers do an average job. The Mi-300 handset ships with Android v2.1 (Eclair) and it isn’t clear if there will be an update to v2.2 (Froyo). Considering its large and crisp display, decent build quality, and good price, the Mi-300 seems like good value for money if you're looking for your first Android phone.
Verdict: A well balanced phone in terms of features, build and ergonomics.
For: Crisp and large display screen, Individual call and reject buttons.
Against: Below-average specs.