Not long ago, smartphones were universally expensive and not at all suitable for the developing world. What a difference a few years can make. A new smartphone has been announced in India, which is not unusual by itself. However, this Android phone will only cost INR 251. That works out to less than four bucks. Oh, you’ll make some compromises to get a $4 smartphone, but it looks like a surprisingly capable device.
The appropriately named Freedom 251 has specs that place it well behind most of the budget offerings you’d get from major OEMs like Samsung and Motorola, but not reallyterribly far behind. The screen is 4-inches and qHD (960×540) in resolution. Some people even prefer smaller devices like this. The front-facing camera is VGA resolution and the rear one is 3.2MP, a fraction of what you get with flagship phones.
Inside is 1GB of RAM, 8GB of storage, a 1,450mAh battery, and a 1.3GHz quad-core processor of unknown make. Considering the price, it’s almost certainly a MediaTek chip. It also only supports 3G data. With just 8GB of storage, there won’t be much space left over when you get the phone in your hands, but there’s a microSD card slot that supports up to 32GB of additional space. The card will cost more than the entire phone, though.
This is an Android phone running 5.1 Lollipop with all the usual Google services. It also includes a few more bundled apps that entry level buyers in India might find useful. Even if it’s not the fastest phone out there, having access to the software selection in the Play Store could totally change someone’s life if they’re coming from a dumb phone and have no other computing devices.
You might notice some of the coverage for this device appears to use images of a completely different phone. Indeed, when the Freedom 251 was announced, the landing page had different device renders. That phone had what appeared to be a larger screen and a row of capacitive buttons. The images were replaced a few hours later with a device that appears to be the real deal.
The chipset will be imported from Taiwan, but the goal is to make and assemble 75% of the device in India to keep costs down. There was speculation at first that the low cost was a result of government subsidies, and the announcement was hosted by MP Murli Manohar Joshi. However, the company behind Freedom 251, Ringing Bells, says it’s not getting any direct financial support from the government.
You could be forgiven for skepticism here — Ringing Bells is basically giving this phone away. There’s no way it could make any money on a $4 device, and it’s almost certainly taking a loss. Despite the earlier strangeness with the device renders, the actual device, complete with iPhone-ish home button, has shown up on video now. It looks like a real piece of hardware, which is more than you can say for many Kickstarter smartphones. The company is set to start taking reservations for this phone in the next day or so, but it seems likely it will be in very short supply.