The much awaited JioPhone Next will be in the market from Diwali. But what is it like in the real world? Will it really cost you Rs 1,999? Is there a catch? I've been using the phone for a couple of days and here are my initial impressions.
It's easy to get distracted with a typical technology review. However, for this device, there's so much more happening on the branding, sales and supply side of things that it would be unjust to view it with a jaundiced eye. It's imperative to remember that this is a device that is intended to bridge the digital divide and its target audience isn't necessarily found in Mumbai or Bangalore. Instead, it is built for a customer using a feature phone in Jharkhand's Dhoker Jhara village or Maharashtra's Lakh village who's looking to upgrade to a 4G experience.
The price conundrum
That's why the cost of such a device becomes a crucial detail that we must address first. At a one-time payment of Rs 6,500 for an unlocked device, the phone seems a tad bit expensive. However, purchasing the device at the much-publicised financing plan for Rs 1,999 had me all ears. But again, there's a catch. A Rs 500 processing fee is also applied to this offer, taking the initial payment amount to Rs 2,500. That's not all. The remaining amount is to be paid in the form of EMIs ranging from Rs 300-600 over a period of 18-24 months. The good news here is the fact that this monthly payment will give the customers free data and calling benefits. This sort of bundling is common with carriers in the US, but is novel in the budget smartphone space in India.
While this might lure a lot of customers in smaller towns and villages who aspire to own a 4G smartphone, it would also lock them onto the Jio network for a minimum period of 18 months as the dual SIM slots would compulsorily require a Jio SIM in slot 1 for the customer to enjoy data services. The second SIM slot can house the SIM of any carrier but only works for voice calls.
"Made In India" vs "Made In China"
So the price conundrum is nuanced one and while there's no yardstick to compare the financing plans for this device, a lot of the media reportage has covered the Rs 6,500 price tag. At that price, it's easy to point out that the Redmi 9A and the Realme C11 cost less than Rs 7,000, pack in better batteries and advanced processors in comparison to the JioPhone Next. In fact, by shelling out an extra few bucks, at Rs 7,999, one could purchase the Samsung Galaxy M02, a formidable budget smartphone. But what none of these manufacturers are offering (at the time of writing this piece) is a financing bundle similar to the one Jio is offering with its device. Besides, JioPhone Next is manufactured in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh and the Google team has worked on Pragati OS at the Reliance Jio headquarters in Mumbai.
While the hardware on the phone is absolutely entry level, the software is where this phone becomes an interesting proposition. In order to reach the masses who are largely unconnected, the device offers useful voice-first capabilities. The "Read Aloud" and "Translate Now" features in ten different Indian languages are evidently Google pulling a rabbit out of their hat. Some of Google's unique optimisations to Pragati OS, an Indian version of Android Go, literally save the day when it comes to an efficient user experience. It's not all smooth sailing though as the lack of hardware capabilities often mean the phone's performance is sluggish while multitasking, and certainly not to be used for gaming. But, then again, it was built for a different use case and I think it can do a potentially decent job in that department.
As for the hardware, the phone houses a 5.45 inch HD+ display with Corning Gorilla Glass 3. At the heart of the device is a Qualcomm Snapdragon QM-215 processor, which is a couple of years old. The JioPhone Next comes with 2 GB of Ram and 32 GB of internal storage which is expandable up to 512 GB.
Camera: Google Saves The Day?
The camera system is quite simple with a 13 MP rear camera and an 8 MP selfie camera, but it seems like Google has worked on the optimisation here and, I must say, the photos are quite decent for a phone at this price point. The Google touch is clear when a single lens camera like this one can take a fairly accurate portrait shot.
The camera also comes with Snapchat lenses integrated in the app, although I'm not sure how that integration would work given the target audience for the phone. The camera really comes alive with the "Translate" feature, which is an obvious (and welcome) addition given how Google has perfected text recognition with Google Lens. In fact, the lack of bloatware and largely clean Android experience on Pragati OS comes like a breath of fresh air, given the needless customisations offered on some of the rivals of JioPhone Next.
This is not a typical tech review because this phone offers a unique proposition. It's an experiment which could go either way and this device is definitely not gunning for an industry leading Geekbench score. JioPhone Next is a budget smartphone with entry level hardware and utilitarian software. It's a device which strives to democratise digital connectivity for millions of Indians and we can only hope that this is the beginning of the much-needed innovation in this segment.
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