By Rob Triggs
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.