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Cheap Smartphones: Are they really cheap ?

We all love smartphones but we have a special place in our hearts when get a great phone for a great bargain, but then if you consider your finances and go buy a super cheap phone then you might be in for a shock of your life as those cheap phones can turn out to be the most expensive thing you ever bought.

The thing about cheap smartphones is that corners have to be cut before the product hits the shelves at a sub GHC500-400 price tag. Production costs, shipping costs, marketing costs and others have to be factored in. The companies making them and those distributing them also have to take their cut.

I am going to take you through the corners device manufacturers take to give you that extremely cheap smartphone.

1. Processors

They are all Mediatek. End of story. Not that there is anything wrong about Mediatek chips but they happen to be the cheapest hence their prevalence of the smartphone entry level category. Qualcomm had an arrangement with quite a number of players that saw the American chip company provide reference design to the OEMs for budget devices. There are other players like troubled Broadcom which Samsung has a liking for in its cheap devices but they are not as prevalent.While Mediatek is making inroads it still has a lot of ground to cover.

2. Build Quality and Design

A lot of these cheap phones will have every piece falling apart in under a year. Ever been in a situation where your phone’s screen just cracked while in your pants pocket and there’s no possible explanation as to what actually happened? Then there is colour peeling off. Yes the device was gunmetal gray when you walked away from the shop with it but now it looks like some clay toy. Blame no one. You get what you pay for.

Traditional big name smartphone brands fair well here as their phones tend to be very durable no matter the price. They only miss the point when it comes to the design. Most of the cheap phones the likes of Samsung or Htc make aren’t what you’ll exactly call good-looking. They’re just there. Bland. White, black or cyan plastic pieces that can also call and take photos.

On the other hand, the no-name brand cheap smartphones from Nanjing and Shenzhen are quite the lookers. Well designed and appealing to the eye. However, your perception of them changes when that chromium-looking bezel starts turning black and some pixels on the display start burning out leaving you with huge black spots on your 5 inch display which look like potholes And here you thinking that potholes are only found on roads.

3. Sensors

Proximity sensors,Gyroscopes,Accelerometers those are probably the only sensors you’ll get on those cheap smartphones. Even some of those are missing on some of the cheap devices.  You want humidity and temperature sensors? A barometer? You need to spend more. No question about it.

4. Gorilla Glass

Corning’s Gorilla Glass is an industry standard. It adds an extra layer of protection to your smartphone’s display panel. It doesn’t come cheap and as a result, you won’t find it on those cheap smartphones. Ever!

5. Display

Washed up displays are pretty much a feature of dirt cheap smartphones. The resolution is neither here nor there. I really admire the fact that we have some budget smartphones that pack HD displays. Like the Infinix Zero 5.

Want a decent display? Add a few bucks and buy a mid-range device like the Tecno Phantom 8 And Infinix Zero 5.

6. Camera

If you need a smartphone with a good camera then be prepared to spend. More often than not, I get enquiries from friends and even strangers who happen to know me by virtue of writing pieces like this.

“Techlifee, which phone has a good camera at GHC 400 or below?” “I want a nice phone that has a very good camera. My budget is GHC 300.” Most of the time, this is usually my reaction:

Seriously speaking, there are no cheap android devices at that GHC400 price point capable of taking really awesome instagram like photos with just one attempt. I guess guys who struggle to get good instagram or facebook shots on such devices give up halfway and end up being the ones stealing the amazing works of dedicated and hardworking professional photographers and other hobbyist shutterbugs on Instagram.

There are several decent new Tecno and Infinix devices just a few cedis up  that will still do some great justice to your photo shoot and not make it look like combination of dumsor and a flood.

7. Battery

While things like how a smartphone performs and at what level have a direct bearing on a smartphone’s battery life, the capacity matters. Most cheap smartphones have a battery capacity as low as 1500 mAh but advertised as 3500mAh or 4500mAh. There are exceptions to this “rule” like the Infinix Note series and some Tecno devices.

8. Operating system and updates

If you buy a smartphone at just GHC 500 full price then don’t expect anything else regarding the operating system after that. Updates? What updates? You’re stuck with the Android 6.0,7.0 if you are lucky 8.0 that your cheap phone shipped with. Even hitting the forums like XDA won’t be of great help. Your Mediatek processor hardly has any developer love thanks to proprietary sources and there are no ROMs for you to flash and remove all the cartoon stuff somebody thought would be of great help to you.

The best thing about this part is that most buyers of cheap smartphones are oblivious of such facts and appreciate their devices for what they are which is a good thing because if you want more, you have no choice but to spend more. Else every time you need to update your cheap smartphone there is only one alternative: buy the newest no-name smartphone that already comes with the new version of Android. Then do the same next time. And the time after that. It’s a never-ending cycle!

Updates are one of the reasons Google is pushing Android One. How I wish it really gets aggressive and guides all the no-name brands in the market. It would be a win-win for all of us.

9. After-sales service

You’re unlikely to get any software updates on your X-TIGI,VIWA,HOTWAV,M-NET  smartphone but what about the warranty terms? Most of the time you’re on your own if you buy these  cheap  smartphones. More mature brands like Samsung,Infinix, Huawei and Tecno have established structures to assist you incase you have issues after you buy your smartphone and you can as well walk into any of their shops or care centres for assistance. Also depending on where you bought the phone, the retailer may be of great assistance.

While it is expected that a budget smartphone will definitely cut corners, after-sales service is very important. Make sure that GHC300 smartphone you’re buying has a valid locally-enforceable warranty. A warranty whose terms can only be honoured in Dubai is of little help to you.

10. RAM and ROM

In the cheap smartphone category, established brands tend to overprice their entry level smartphones and going overboard with their corner cutting. Seriously, we shouldn’t be having those 512 MB RAM  and 1GB RAM devices from respected brands. With Android being Android, what do you want your customers to do with that 512 MB and 1GB RAM? Sketch doodles all day long or play Zuma? I am actually glad that Google has introduced AndroidGO and  is making it possible to get a decent working cheap smartphone which will work well Previously, that has been unheard of.

Sometimes, if not all the times, as you have been told before, cheap is very expensive.

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