Agent 001 goes on a hunt for an inexpensive phone—and stumbles across some good alternatives
There was a time when your beloved agent dropped his beloved cell phone, and then his beloved was no more. Thus began the hunt for a new beloved, but this time I couldn’t afford to spend a lot (no more than 5,000 bucks). So I began my hunt for a cheap, yet feature-rich cellphone (does it even exist?), and I was joined in this quest by my faithful sidekick… err friend, who to his credit dropped his phone into his shaving mug! Our adventures took us from shops in Nerul and Vashi (Navi Mumbai) to the dusty, teeming streets of the western suburbs of Mumbai.
Buying a cell phone isn’t easy, especially when money is a serious limiting factor, and manufacturers compete a lot in this segment—where features like expansion, Bluetooth, FM radio, MP3 support and decent cameras are key words, and one little omission may mean a product that is a market failure.
I’d heard of the new Chinese cell phone wave that has swept across the country. Manufactured on the cheap, these cell phones largely look alike (with a few exceptions), with number keys and a large four way directional keys and centre key all on the front facia. Their screens range from 2.2 to 3.0 inches, and nearly all of them have touch screens. These devices are based on their own proprietary firmware and I’m pleased to report that the menus are rather intuitive.
I was curious to know why exactly these devices are so cheap (Rs 5,000 to 7,500). If a Nokia or Sony Ericsson phone were to have all these features, the price would be no less than Rs 15,000. Well, Chinese manufacturing processes are much cheaper for one. Secondly, these phones don’t have any specific brands, and there are no advertising / marketing costs involved. Equally to blame for their cheap prices is our government—yes, for once our legislature has actually favourably affected prices! You see, such phones are carted over the border—smuggled in—and so no duties are paid on them. But this is a double-edged sword—with cheaper prices, you also lose out on a bill, and warranty. Oh yes—your warranty lapses as soon as you walk out of the shop door with one of these phones. Vendors of such phones are quick to point out that they’re repairable both on the software and hardware level. Of course, the quality of such a service is at best dubious.
We came across many such phones, the peculiarity being that the model number is only written on the box, and not printed on the device itself. Also, some phones don’t have any model numbers written anywhere! Infinity was one such branded device at Rs 4,500, with a touchscreen, FM radio, Bluetooth, MP3 playback and expansion. Other model names were downright weird like the 0078 priced at Rs 4,000. Yet another model the CT200 was priced at Rs 6,000, and seemed to have a better build quality. From chats with previous owners of such phones, we discovered some people who were very happy with their devices and happily reported trouble free service, but a few people have had problems.
Coming to the branded stuff, we came across a model called Bleu 151X for Rs 1,300. Nokia has a list of phones in this price bracket—the very basic Nokia 1200 (monochrome display, no FM radio) for Rs 1,350 and its colour equivalent, the Nokia 1208 (Rs 1,800), the 2630 (with MP3 support, FM radio) for Rs 3,200. A little higher up, the Nokia 3306 comes with MP3 playback, 1.3 MP camera, colour display and memory expansion for Rs 4,900. The basic Sony Ericsson J121i was quite popular, good music, and a nice screen for just Rs 1,800. All these phones come with a one-year warranty. From Motorola, we came across their F3, which is very basic at Rs 1,140, and the W205 priced at 1,650 bucks. The cute flap-based W220 was priced at Rs 2,600, while the W375 was priced at Rs 3,300—two screens but no expansion.
We were very tempted to throw caution to the wind and go Chinese—the features that their cell phones have are serious value for money. My only issue was warranties. Peace of mind makes a difference to me, so I ended up shelling out 4,800 bucks (bargained for a 100 buck discount) for the Nokia 3306—I gave up a number of features mainly because all I needed my phone for was to make calls and the odd SMS. My friend decided on the cute and compact Sony Ericsson J121i, and when I teased him about the Chinese phones and what he was giving up he simply told me that he’d buy one after I took the plunge. Which won’t be for a while now—I bought a rubber phone cover—so this time my beloved is well protected from the daily bustle of urban life.