The world's cheapest smartphone, Freedom 251, is back in the limelight. Ever since its February launch
, this handset has been the talk of the tech world and has received criticism
from consumers and media for overbooking
as well as potentially over-promising features
. The astonishing price came as a surprise to many as getting a smartphone at just Rs. 251 (approximately $4), a level at which no company has even been able to offer a feature phone, was something not many could digest.
Ringing Bells, a Noida-based company, formally launched the final, commercial version of Freedom 251 at an event on Thursday. The company stressed that it will deliver what it promised to consumers. Mohit Goel, Director, Ringing Bells, also announced that the first batch of 5,000 Freedom 251 units will begin shipping from Friday.
At the launch event, we spent some time with the final Freedom 251 unit, which will be given out to consumers based on a state-wise lucky draw, and here are our first impressions.
At first glance, the Freedom 251 seemed like a new device altogether and was totally different from the prototype showcased and handed out to media previously. To recall, the prototype Freedom 251 units were rebadged Adcom devices, for which Adcom threatened to sue Ringing Bells.
In terms of design, the Freedom 251 no doubt looks like many other budget Android smartphones. The unit we used was the Grey and Black variant. The smartphone will be also available in White and Black. The power button is on the right of the phone while the volume rocker is on the left. The Micro-USB port for charging and transferring data is on the top, accompanied by the 3.5mm jack.
Ringing Bells has decided to use capacitive buttons for navigation instead of on-screen buttons. The rear shell of the Freedom 251 is easy to pry open, and under it lies a 1450mAh battery, two SIM card slots (GSM/WCDMA), and a microSD card slot. A 4-inch screen dominates the front panel while the rear packs the primary camera with LED flash and a speaker grille.
We found the WVGA screen on the Freedom 251 to be slightly dull when compared to other budget smartphones such as those from Lava, Micromax, and Intex, which are generally priced in the range of Rs. 1,599 to Rs. 3,000. We shouldn't forget that the Ringing Bells Freedom 251 is priced way below that level. The screen size makes the Freedom 251 easy to use and play around with. The rear sports a textured pattern that gives good grip. The rear also includes the 'Freedom 251' branding embossed at the bottom.
The phone runs stock Android 5.1 Lollipop and the interface was vanilla without much customisation. The icons however were slightly different and we couldn't find a way to change them. The homescreen had four apps pinned to the bottom for messaging, calling, Web browsing, and the camera, and also included the app drawer. There were no third-party apps apart from the standard Google ones and the stock Clock, Calendar, and Email apps. We were also surprised not to find any of the apps that were pre-loaded on the prototype, such as Women Safety, Swachh Bharat, Fisherman, Farmer, Medical, WhatsApp, Facebook, and YouTube. Goel promised that the commercial units being shipped will come with Hike preinstalled .
The Freedom 251 is powered by a 1.3GHz quad-core processor paired with 1GB of RAM. In our limited time spent with the handset, the phone did lag a bit when switching between apps. Connectivity options on the handset include GPRS/ EDGE, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Micro-USB, and 3G.
It sports a 3.2-megapixel rear camera and a 0.3-megapixel front camera. Both cameras took images that were not worth getting excited about. We certainly cannot compare the cameras on the Freedom 251 with any of the budget smartphones available in the market right now.
Overall, the Freedom 251's amazing price could be reason enough for users to overlook all of its drawbacks. It looks as though the dream of owning a smartphone for so little will become reality, at least for a handful of the users who registered for the sale in February.
At launch on Thursday, Ringing Bells confirmed that it will start delivering the Rs. 251 phone to 5,000 of the users who had registered. However, there will be a charge of Rs. 40 for delivery, which didn't come as a surprise. The company Director Mohit Goel at the launch added that it will decide how to manage the the next batch based on the "first lot's feedback." Goel however added that the company is capable of delivering 2,00,000 units to consumers and is seeking the government's help in delivering more units to consumers. Despite several questions about what will happen to the rest of the 7.5 crore users who registered for a Freedom 251, the company didn't have any specific details to share.
Ringing Bells, with such limited numbers, will certainly not be able to deliver so many $4 phones anytime soon, leading to disappointment for many who were excited about the launch.