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BW Businessworld

Budget Is The New Beautiful

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Lately flipkart has been having quite a time with everyone scrambling to get at the budget phones available exclusively on the online store. There have even been crashes and glitches experienced by eager buyers of the Mi3, the newest budget delight to hit town via Flipkart. Of course, there’s been a gold rush before: The three Motorola phones generated quite a storm of interest, specially the Rs 6,999 Moto E in May when it kept going out of stock and back to available, frustrating potential buyers. Then there were Asus’ ZenFones, a series of three nice looking smarties that the Taiwanese tech company said it sold 40,000 units of in just four days. And now it’s the turn of the Xiaomi Mil which sold out in just over 30 minutes and is sure to keep going in and out of stock for the foreseeable future. All this action on Flipkart, which has become one easy way to launch gadgets and let everyone see what’s happening at the same time. Although, the phones don’t yet reach the real audience everyone’s after — the totally non-connected first time user of technology in places rural — they do come within easy reach of India’s young aspirationals. So, there’s a mad scramble for low-cost phones because they’re well built and loaded with specs and features. The Moto phones, the G, X, and E, have had the first mover advantage, changing the landscape somewhat even though there have been many low-cost phones around, including the beautifully built Nokias. The Moto phones haven’t offered raw specs but instead have both build and performance and an all-Google experience, including the most recent Android, working butter-smooth.

Asus’ ZenFones, particularly the ZenFone  5, reminds people of Nokia’s solidly built devices, in their wonderful colours. On the ZenFone  5, you have a pretty good set of specs —  a 1.6GHz Intel Atom Z2560 dual-core processor, 2GB RAM and PowerVR SGX544MP2 graphics, 8  megapixel camera that isn’t bad at all and even does well in low light. There’s an 8 and 16 GB internal storage variant with expansion to 64. It has a 5-inch IPS display with resolution of 1280 x 720 and a 2119mAh battery. There are a lot of apps with a clean interface over Android 4.3. On benchmark tests, it’s close to the Samsung Galaxy Note 2. It’s a dual SIM to boot.

Xiaomi, the top Chinese phone manufacturer, marked its entry into India with global VP Hugo Barra, ex-Google Android executive, launching the Mi3 their Rs 13,999 Android smartphone. According to the company, 100,000 registered to buy the Mi3 in its very first week on Flipkart. The Mi3 too has a nice premium build. I only had to show it to one person for a mere minute to find he decided to buy it. Also a 5-inch LCD IPS display, the Mi3 is a Full HD 1080 x 1920  with a pixel density of 449. Its processor is of the level flagship phones have been coming with — a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 8274AB 2.3GHz with Adreno 330 graphics and 2 GB RAM. There’s 16GB storage and  a 13 megapixel camera with dual LED flash. Also a 3050mAh battery.

Frankly, all of these more affordable phones give the staggeringly extensive offerings from the top phone makers a  run for their money. No wonder there’s a beeline for them.  But if there isn’t a proper go at improving marketing, distribution, and service, potential buyers will as easily lose the tenuous trust they have in Chinese companies, Motorola included as it’s now owned by Lenovo. All three people to whom I recommended Moto phones have come back to me with big troubles such as a phone that went super hot and froze, not responding to reset, a dead-on-arrival, and a phone that didn’t like SIM cards. Of course, there are dozens of people around me whose Moto phones are doing fine but I can’t help but note the problems in trying to get these issues resolved. Also, to scale up in this country as these companies want, you can’t break trust by having the product unavailable. It’s also important to market these affordable devices with trust building messages that the company then must live up to. That’s what would be the true test of budget being beautiful.

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 25-08-2014)