The last two years (2014 and 2015) have seen drastic changes in the smartphone industry that has changed phone discussions in countries like Kenya, Nigeria, India and others from being about Samsung vs Apple debate nor about LG, Sony, Nokia (Microsoft) or Blackberry to names like Infinix, XTIGI, Xiaomi, Innjoo and Wiko. Interestingly, the top selling brands in Jumia Kenya are lead by Infinix, Innjoo and Lenovo, with Samsung being the only renowned mobile brand appearing in the top 15 list. New or hitherto unknown brands like XTIGI and Wiko sit comfortably at position six and fifteen respectively.
What these new entrants have done is to redefine the meaning of high end smartphones. Starting with Infinix Hot Note x551 that was launched in February/March this year, these new entrants in the mobile phone business have ensured that top notch phone specs like large screens with at least 720p resolution, more than average processor power, sufficient memory (both RAM and ROM), extra huge battery capacity, and improved cameras are brought to consumers at extremely affordable price points.
For example the Infinix Hot Note features a HD 5.5 inches screen with 720 x 1280 pixels, 4000 mAh battery, 8 MP rear camera and 2 MP selfie camera but was launched at only Kshs 10,000 – a price that has steadily risen over the months to now stand at Kshs 11,725 at Jumia Kenya.
So now that these new smartphone players have changed the definition of smartphones, and that they have made available hundreds and thousands of budget and mid range devices yearning for your attention, what should you as a buyer be on the lookout for before you decide to purchase a budget or mid range smartphone? Here I have compiled a list of five important parameters to checkout when buying a budget or mid range smartphone. I hope the list is exhaustive but if you have a parameter you would like fellow readers to evaluate when buying a budget or mid range smartphone, please feel free to add it at the comment section below.
Check out this similar article: Top Ten Smartphones In Kenya Quarter 3 – July To September 2015
Processor is at number 5 not because it is the least important, but because by and large most smartphones today offer no less than sufficient processor capabilities for the average smartphone use; and by average smartphone use I mean making and receiving calls and text messages, accessing basic Internet based Apps like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (for the ladies), WhatsApp, and at least one online game e.g. those where you rearrange some ball like bubbles (is it the candy crush?).
When checking the processor, what’s important to note are things like the processor maker (e.g. Qualcomm, ARM, NEC, nVIDIA, Exynos-Samsung, or Mediatek. Today I also saw a new name called Spreadtrum). In most budget smartphones by renowned brands like Microsoft, LG or Samsung, you are highly likely to see a Qualcomm chipset, but almost all the new entrants use the popular chipset by Mediatek.
The other two things to consider are processor clock speeds and number of cores. No one nowadays includes a single core processor in a smartphone, but generally a quad core (four cores) each clocking at least 1 GHz should be able to power those simple tasks you want to do with a budget or mid range smartphone. Be ready to pay a little bit higher for a mid range phone that has 1.3 GHz Quad core in the specs sheet.
4. Screen size, resolution and built quality
There is a way a bigger screen looks more decent than a smaller screen, it doesn’t matter whether the smaller screen smartphone is twenty times more expensive than the bigger screen phablet. For example, despite giving my wife a Kshs 30K worth of 4.8 inches smartphone, she still insists that I give her the cheap 7 inches Neon smart tab from Safaricom yet the minitab goes for a mere Kshs 9K. This then means that you would probably want to buy the 5.5 inches phablets instead of settling for a lower 5 inches smartphone. The only thing you would want to ensure is that your 5.5 inc phablet doesn’t have a resolution worse than 720 by 1280 pixels. If you get a true 1080p HD, then wear a lively lovely broad smile; but be ready to cough a few thousand shillings extra. A word of caution though, an ordinary me won’t be able to distinguish between a 720p screen from a 1080p screen that easily.
One serious problem that budget and mid range smartphone users face is the low quality smartphone bodies, noticed particularly on the screen. It is on built quality that renowned brands like Microsoft and Samsung outperform the new Chinese manufactures. It is therefore worthwhile to pay close attention to body and screen quality when buying a budget or mid range smartphone. My former colleague Winfred Kuria dropped her Infinix x507 from table height, which was a normal drop, but the phone was rendered useless by that drop. My Safaricom smart tab has also dropped from bed height and that rendered the touch interface useless, forcing me to replace it with a screen of worse quality. The glass protection on these phones are mostly not scratch resistant so always ensure that you buy a glass screen protector (forget the transparent plastics) immediately after buying your smartphone.
3. Operating System
There is nothing really to say about the OS as almost all of these budget and mid range smartphones feature either Android or Windows OS but mostly Android. The budget phones that come with Windows won’t be price competitive as they are from Microsoft meaning there is a brand price attached to them, so let’s discuss Android.
The Android OS that’s popular with the budget phones is the Android Kitkat 4.4.1 but there are a few that still come with Jelly Bean 4.0. Avoid the lower Android as the OS wasn’t tweaked for low end RAMs and processors. Although Kitkat OS is good enough, opt for Android 5.1 (avoid 5.0 at all cost) if available for the same price. This is because most of these budget and mid range smartphones will not offer upgrades to newer Android versions. I am not sure if any of them will ever upgrade to Android 6 Marshmallow.
There is something Android knows how to do, and that is to drain a phone’s battery in as less time as practically possible. Even though most phones still come with battery saving options, it is hard to have an Android phone run for more than 12 hours when on average use. If you want to tweet for longer or WhatsApp forever, you need a phone with a larger battery capacity. Most of the budget phones come with batteries that have less than 2000mAh, but I would advise that no one should settle for a 5 inches screen smartphone running on less than 22000mAh battery. For the 5.5 inch versions, ensure that the phone is powered by no less than 3200mAh battery. A phone like Cubut H1 (available in Jumia Kenya for shillings 22K or Chinabuy.co.ke for Shs 18K) is powered by a 5200mAh battery.
1. Connectivity, RAM and ROM
This is something I never paid attention to until I got the Infinix Hot 2. In the specs sheet Infinix says the phone has 3G/WCDMA/HSPA connectivity but I can assure you the HSPA part is missing. To know that a phone has HSPA connectivity, insert your Internet enabled 3G sim card, power on the phone, set it to 3G network, and check if the data connection is displayed as H+. If data connectivity is displayed as 3G at all times, please don’t buy that phone, unless you want your internet experience to be worse than crap.
On RAM and ROM, it is important not to buy a phone with less than 1 GB RAM even though Android Kitkat and above promise to deliver at 512 MB RAM. My Safaricom Smart tab when used to multitask will do nothing other than hang. It runs on 512 MB RAM. On the ROM side, please avoid anything that has less than 8 GB, not even when it allows you to insert external memory. Most budget and mid range phones have tendencies to hang when fed with external SD storage – and those SD storage chips that you would easily find in back street shops have a very high failure rate.
In this article a budget phone is generally that phone that you would buy for Kshs 15,000 or less, mostly they sell for between Kshs 6,000 and Kshs 10,000. The cheaper it is, the worse it is in built and connectivity qualities. A budget phone near Kshs 10,000 should be decent enough. The mid range phones are those ones that sell for between Kshs 15,000 and Kshs 22,000 some of which like the Meizu m2 Note come with 4G connectivity, a connectivity inclusion that isn’t of any help to most Kenyans. That is, you may buy a 4G enabled smartphone like the Samsung Galaxy J1 and never get the chance to use it on a 4G network – at least not until towards the end of next year when we hope to have a widespread 4G connectivity around the country – and by that time, we will have better but cheaper budget and mid range smartphones.
For the latest smartphones by these new entrant manufacturers, check out the article Five latest budget and mid range smartphones at Jumia Kenya by Erick Vateta.