Back in December 2015, an unknown company called Ringing Bells took the nation and world by storm by announcing the world s cheapest smartphone, the Freedom 251. Cheaper than many users data plans, the smartphone was promised at Rs 251. What started as nationwide curiosity, turned into spate of controversies, ranging from the company s own credibility, suspicious pricing strategy and ultimately not being able to deliver a single Freedom 251 unit to anyone. Also Read - World's cheapest smartphone 'Freedom 251' maker Mohit Goel arrested by Delhi policeAlso Read - Ringing Bells Freedom 251 headlines again, MD claims can still deliver phones by early 2018
Cut to August 2016, the company announced delivery of 65,000 Freedom 251 smartphones, out of the two lakh units it had planned to deliver. But enough of the history of Ringing Bells, controversies and pricing strategy. Let s talk about the real deal, the Freedom 251. The company has sent out a review unit of the device, and I spent some time with it. Here s my first impressions of the world s cheapest smartphone. Also Read - Freedom 251 maker resurfaces, still upbeat on delivering handsets
Last time around when I had used the Freedom 251 (the company called it later prototype) , it was a shoddy copy of an iPhone and was in fact a rebadged Adcom smartphone. Worse, the Adcom logo was covered by a whitener. But you can always win with that price tag, no matter how mediocre the smartphone felt.
Fortunately, the final version of the Freedom 251 looks much different, refined and better than the prototype shown to the media last year. I hid the Freedom 251 branding on the back panel, and asked a few people to guess the price of the smartphone, on the basis of its looks. Mostly people guessed the price to be between Rs 4,000 and Rs 7,000. Well, I assume a lot of people estimated it to be an entry-level smartphone, but no one could think it was a Rs 251 smartphone.
The exercise helped me realize that that the general idea for price of an entry-level smartphone is to start at Rs 4,000 approximately. And another important takeaway was that Ringing Bells had succeeded in keeping the look and feel like contemporary entry-level smartphones.
On the front, the smartphone has a 4-inch display along with front camera on the top panel and navigation buttons on the bottom panel. The power/lock/unlock button is on the right edge while the volume buttons reside on the left edge. The micro-USB and 3.5mm audio port are located on the top. It has a removable back panel underneath which is slots for SIMs (two mini-SIMs),a microSD card slot and a 1,450mAh removable battery. The back panel has rear camera sensor along with flash, and Freedom 251 branding and speakers on the bottom.
The smartphone is a bit thick, but pretty lightweight and compact. Edges are curved while the removable back panel doesn t really feel very cheap. It fits well in your pocket, and is easy to carry around. And as I said earlier, at that price point, you cannot expect more and cannot complain.
The Freedom 251 has a 4-inch WVGA display with 800×480 pixel resolution. It is worth pointing out that Ringing Bells on its website incorrectly lists the display as qHD (960 x 540) resolution. The display doesn t give you great viewing angles, and is quite reflective and gets smudged easily. The display is based on a MiraVision that supposedly helps deliver better quality images. There s no ambient light sensor, so you have to manually adjust the display’s brightness all the time. The touch experience almost reminds you of the era of resistive touchscreens. Besides customized icons for apps, the UI experience is closer to stock Android, though it s overly colorful.
Under the hood, the smartphone runs on MediaTek’s MT6850 quad-core processor with 1GB of RAM. It comes with 8GB of internal storage and can be expanded up to 32GB via a microSD card. The combination is closer to what you get from entry-level smartphones, which nowadays start as low as Rs 3,000 approximately. But the Freedom 251 is still less than a tenth of that price.
The Freedom 251 has 3.2-megapixel camera with LED Flash and a 0.3-megapixel front camera. The camera comes with a smile mode, which captures photo when a smile is detected. There s also Face Beauty mode and Panorama mode. Users can customize the camera by personalizing the exposure and choosing from color presets and white balance. The image processing is a bit slow, and only gets slower in HDR mode or using other modes.
In the end, you cannot really say much for a smartphone priced at Rs 251, considering even some of the components used in the phone would be more expensive than the price of the phone. You cannot buy this phone. And it is clear the company is selling these at a massive loss, which would be in multiples of the Rs 251 that it charges the lucky ones that are getting the phone.
Over 70 million people registered for the Freedom 251 when it first went on sale. And we are only talking about those who had access to the internet. Out of that Ringing Bells claims it will deliver two lakh units. The first lot had 5,000 units and the second 60,000. But there is no way to confirm how many units have been really delivered. But it is also bewildering why we do not hear about people talking about receiving a Rs 251 smartphone. I would and most probably you would too if you got it.
Yes, the Freedom 251 exists. It is real. It works. But it is also the biggest marketing gimmicks the industry has ever seen. Reams have been written about the smartphone and the company. And a company that didn’t exist a few months ago is now globally known.