It has been an interesting and at the same time volatile year for the telecom sector since the entry of Reliance Jio. After offering game changing 4G data tariff plans that started its own little war with competing offers from the likes of Airtel, Vodafone and Idea to name a few, Jio went on to launch the JioPhone, a smart feature phone that is priced at Rs 1,500. With the phone, Jio kicked off a new kind of war, one where telecom companies now compete in bringing dirt cheap phones.
To take on the JioPhone, Airtel in partnership with Karbonn this week launched the Karbonn A40 Indian, which is a 4G smartphone at an effective price of Rs 1,399. On paper, Airtel's 4G smartphone looks cheaper than the JioPhone, and also edges out the latter in one key point - the Karbonn A40 Indian is a proper smartphone, while the JioPhone is a smart feature phone.
In our previous story, we compared the Karbonn A40 Indian and the JioPhone to get an idea on what the two have to offer in terms of specifications and price. Of course, both the phones aren't as Black and White as they appear. There are some fine prints when it comes to pricing that will make you stop and think about which phone actually provides more benefits. But largely, one will have to also consider which phone works in the long run, considering both Airtel and Jio expect you to keep their respective phones for at least three years.
Smart feature phone in the age of smartphones
Feature phones have enjoyed their time in the sun for many years before the smartphone entered the playing field. We are now spoiled with the countless number of apps that are out there and countless more that are constantly being developed. Even if you happen to be a user who isn't into downloading a lot of apps, one can safely assume that there are a few staple apps out there that every phone user has grown dependent on. Take WhatsApp and Facebook, for example. In India alone, the number of WhatsApp users is above 200 million as of February this year, while those using Facebook in the country is around 240 million as of July.
These are no small numbers. It shows that when it comes to social media and messaging apps, Indian users are right up there on the list. All of this boils down to the fact that apps have become important to us whether we like it or not. For this fact alone, the Karbonn A40 Indian wins over the JioPhone, since the latter does not support either WhatsApp or Facebook, at least for now. That's a large chunk of the Indian population that Jio misses out on.
Meanwhile, Airtel has played its cards right going for a 4G smartphone that not only competes with feature phones at this price point, but also takes on other entry-level smartphones. For consumers who find it necessary today to interact through apps, the Karbonn A40 Indian has a little more to offer than the JioPhone.
A cheap smartphone comes with its own issues
The flipside to this coin is that given the cheap price tag, the Karbonn A40 Indian comes with extremely basic specifications that may see performance issues over time. The smartphone comes with 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage, which is expandable up to 32GB. It is powered by a 1.3GHz processor, runs on Android Nougat and is backed by a 1400mAh battery. For a Rs 1,399 smartphone, that's the best you can get.
With basic hardware for a smartphones comes basic usability. While as a smartphone, the Karbonn A40 lets you download apps and games, don't expect graphic heavy games to perform well, and don't expect multi-tasking to be a breeze. Basic apps like WhatsApp and Facebook should work fine, but given the specs, it will be interesting to see how well the smartphone ages.
It really boils down to how long you're willing to stick with a mobile phone before you trade it in
Airtel expects buyers of the Karbonn A40 Indian to hold on to the smartphone for at least three years if they want to be eligible for refunds, but asking an entry-level smartphone to work well for that long is a challenge in itself.
On the other hand, the JioPhone is a basic feature phone with some smart functionality. The phone doesn't promise much, and only looks to give users a slightly better experience from a traditional feature phone. You won't find basic apps like WhatsApp here, but for users who aren't into such apps the JioPhone looks to offer a simpler user interface and a phone that is likely to perform a lot smoother over the course of three years than the Karbonn A40 Indian.
Which one should you buy?
Keeping the data benefits that Jio and Airtel provide aside, when looking purely from the point of view of a mobile phone consumer, both the Karbonn A40 Indian and the JioPhone have something to offer. The JioPhone is a step up from the traditional feature phone. It promises a smart UI with voice, the ability to make video calls, stream live TV via apps like JioTV, browse the web, and a basic 2-megapixel rear camera and a 0.3-megapixel front facing camera, to name a few. For entry level feature phone users, the JioPhone indeed has a lot to offer.
On the other hand, the Karbonn A40 Indian is a smartphone in all sense of the word. You will be able to download apps like WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter, make video calls, stream movies and TV shows on a 4-inch touchscreen display, and connect to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS, among other things. But the smartphone can only be availed at a down payment of Rs 2,899, with promise of Rs 1,500 as cash refund after 36 months provided you make monthly recharges of Rs 169. Considering the initial amount one will need to pay, there are a number of other entry-level smartphones in the market today that are priced around Rs 3,000 that one can look at as an alternative. The JioPhone, on the other hand, falls under a relatively less populated segment, giving it an edge and more potential buyers, especially a large chunk of feature phone users who have been waiting for an upgrade.
For those looking to invest in a phone, it really boils down to how long you're willing to stick with a mobile phone before you trade it in. Smartphones have a small life cycle, and expecting one to stay with the Karbonn A40 Indian for three years (if you want your partial cash refund that is) can be a task, as the phone may just give up much before its term ends.
The JioPhone, on the other hand, is likely to last all the way, and also gives users an added benefit of getting their cash refund in full. Ultimately, this is what will likely decide which phone wins, unless a third telecom operator joins the game that is.