Google yesterday unveiled its first Android One smartphones in India. The idea behind Android One project was a powerful one — 80 percent of smartphones sold in India are priced below Rs 10,000 but none of these smartphones provide a great user experience. If Google could spearhead a coalition of manufacturers, device vendors and carriers, it could provide a pure Android experience at a great price achieved by economies of scale. I have been using the Spice Dream Uno Android One smartphone for a few days now to see whether Google achieved its objectives.
From the front, the Dream Uno looks and feels like any other Android smartphone. The nondescript front has no markings whatsoever and is dominated by the 4.5-inch display, thick bezels and an earpiece that seems to be missing the mesh cover that usually covers the speaker. This is consistent with all the three Android One smartphones that share the same hardware and for all practical purposes the same device too.
It is the only on the back that we see some markings which include the Spice and Android One branding. The 5-megapixel camera with flash is on the top left edge and the speaker at the bottom. Just like the earpiece, even the speaker doesn’t seem to have any mesh cover on it. The back panel simply has a circular hole in it where the speaker lies. Essentially, the only thing different between the three Android One smartphones is the removable back panel. Under the back panel lies a removable 1,700mAh battery along with two micro-SIM card slots and a microSD card slot.
In terms of hardware specifications, we are looking at a FWGA display that is as crisp as a display of its resolution can be and is legible under direct sunlight as well though the display is too reflective. I doubt it has any screen protection like Corning’s Gorilla Glass or Asahi’s Dragontail, so a screen protector becomes a necessity. I must say that the color reproduction on the display took me by surprise and I wasn’t expecting it to be this good at this price point.
The 5-megapixel camera on the rear can also surprise especially outdoors during the day. Otherwise there’s not much worth writing home about and shots are generally noisy and lack sharpness. The front-facing 2-megapixel camera has a very narrow angle lens, which makes it slightly difficult to take selfies with multiple people or when you want to show the background as well.
But the beauty of Android One is not in how the device looks or its specifications. Instead it is about how it works. The magic is in getting the pure Android experience and the promise of timely Android updates as soon as they come. While I cannot judge the latter, I can vouch for the former.
I have always had a gripe with custom skins that companies put on top of Android that do nothing but make the interface worse for users. They also pre-install third-party crapware that you might never end up using with no option to delete them. But worst of all, most of these vendors don’t have any inclination to provide any software updates to these smartphones considering they sell them only for a quarter or two before launching an updated version. The logic is something like — why should we spend resources on updating phones we have already sold when we can launch a new model running on the new OS and sell even more phones?
Android One changes that mindset. I have been using the Spice Uno Android One smartphone as my primary smartphone for a few days and I didn’t have to alter my usage just because I was using a Rs 6,000 device. I get the same look and feel of stock Android that I would on a Nexus smartphone (or for that matter a Motorola smartphone). I can use the ‘Ok Google’ hotword directly from the homescreen and can access Google Now by a simple swipe to the right. But the thing is now you can get the stock Android launcher on any Android smartphone running on Android Jelly Bean 4.1 and upwards.
The real deal would be the ability to get Android updates as soon as they arrive and Google says that these Android One smartphones would be among the first to get the Android L release when it is rolled out sometime later this year.
In terms of performance, the Spice Dream Uno Android One smartphone performed as well as I had expected for a smartphone at this price range. The Mediatek MT6582 quad-core processor performed well during most tasks without showing any signs of fatigue. Simple games like Temple Run run just fine while more graphic intensive ones struggle under highest settings.
The one thing that disappointed me the most is the battery. With about an hour of calls, an hour of web browsing and two Gmail accounts set to push, the battery would die on me by 4PM every day from 100 percent at 8AM. With the same usage, the Motorola Moto E lasted me for the entire day and then some more.
Another point to note is that with Android One smartphones, having a microSD card is important, even though these phones come with 4GB internal storage out of which about 2.27GB is available to users. This storage is reserved only for storing apps and system updates while any other thing including photos and other files have to be stored in a microSD card even if you have space available in the internal storage.
Out of the three Android One smartphones, the Spice Dream Uno is the most affordable one at Rs 6,299 and it comes with an 8GB microSD card apart from other offers from Flipkart. Considering all three Android One smartphones are essentially the same device, the Spice Dream Uno makes the most sense.
Android One is a great beginning for making smartphones with the latest software features and security updates to the masses. However, the general sentiment suggests that Google did not do enough to get the pricing right. If Google really wants to cater to masses with Android One, these smartphones should be priced at around Rs 5,000 and that would have been a big deal.