With the entry of China-based manufacturers in India, the smartphone market today is widely divided as online-only, online-offline, and offline-only. While the first category works on the flash-sale and exclusive online retailer concepts and the online-offline model gets a healthy mix of consumer response, but it is the offline-only segment which resonates with the majority of first-time non-urban smartphone buyers.
Adding to the latter, the Itel S42 has been launched in India this week at a price of Rs 8,499. The smartphone is claimed by the company as its ‘flagship smartphone’. Is it a true flagship smartphone and whether it justifies the price (and availability), we review the Itel S42 to find out.
Itel S42 Design
The Itel S42 is not a design marvel, but that doesn’t disqualify it from being an otherwise decently built device. The body is crafted out of polycarbonate with a slightly patterned finish on the rear panel. At the back, the camera sensor and flash are placed in a vertical fashion which one can mistake for a dual-camera setup.
Now, while the rear panel is otherwise mundane, the display at the front is what draws attention. The 5.65-inch display with 18:9 aspect ratio is in line with the current industry trend. It will be incorrect to say it is an edge-to-edge display, but in its price range and category, narrower bezels on the sides is an achievement.
Talking about the display, the resolution on offer is a meager HD+ or 740X1440p which is low when compared to competing devices such as the Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 which features a 5.99-inch display offering full HD+ resolution. Today, manufacturers are not only aiming at offering an edge-to-edge display, but also packing more pixels per inch to make the experience more enhanced for users. Nonetheless, the display on the Itel S42 is bright, the touch response, on the other hand, is slightly laggy. Given the narrow bezels, the fingerprint sensor is located at the back, while the Android buttons are on-screen.
If one is to score the Itel S42 purely on the basis of appearance, the phone is likely to stand at the lower end of the graph. In terms of ergonomics, it is a compact smartphone which is slim and pocketable. But what we need to look at is that the targeted market for the smartphone is the offline segment, which also includes first-time users as a significant chunk. Again, it is not an exceptionally designed phone, but practical enough to offer both a narrow bezel display and a fingerprint sensor for new-age security.
Itel S42 Performance
The S42 is equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 425 SoC with 3GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage. There’s a dedicated slot for storage expansion, so it fits in just right for those looking at a having a device that offers more while ensuring the dual-SIM capabilities are not compromised.
Going by the specs sheet, the chipset is old and designed for entry-level devices from 2016 or 2017. One might argue that at the given price, there are certainly better specced smartphones available in the market. But the defence here is that not all of them are available offline, and given the kind of use first-time smartphone owners have, the combination of the SoC with the average storage and memory is decent.
The 3,000mAh battery inside the Itel S42 supports Quick Charge and is sufficient for a day for those having light to average use with a mix of social media, business apps, minimal calling, and casual photography.
It is now to be noted that the review unit we received is not a complete product – it’s a pre-sale unit. So if we say there were app crashing issues and certain bugs, chances are these will be resolved by the company before consumers get their hands on the device. I found the device working just the way a low-specced entry-level phone might work; with bugs and performance glitches here and there, but with nothing that would fall in the category of unresolvable.
Irrespective of which segment the smartphone is targeted at, camera is one of the elements no consumer would choose to compromise upon. The relief here is the Itel S42 offers an average camera with dedicated flash on either ends. It is equipped with a 13-megapixel camera on the front and the back.
During the review, the smartphone did well when it came to the camera output. The color reproduction is good and details are also visible in the shots taken in natural light. You can also choose to add Snapchat-like filters when taking portraits.
In terms of selfies, the phone packs the much-hyped Bokeh effect. It’s a wise addition to the marketing strategy as with increased consumer awareness, these features become a mandate. Using the bokeh effect with the beauty mode will get you social media worthy shots. The camera UI, however, needs a bit of a fixing as you might not immediately locate the Bokeh feature, the icon should have been placed in the top row, instead of misplaced in a corner.
Here are the some of the sample shots taken with the Itel S42.
As I pointed out earlier, the Itel S42 unit we received is not an updated product but the consumer unit has been promised to come with the Face Unlock feature which will allow users to authenticate using their face data as password.
Face Unlock, popularized by the iPhone X is fast becoming an industry standard and manufacturers are trying to inject the feature in their newer modes. However, getting the algorithm right while ensuring the system works as it should – which is – should authenticate only the user’s face and recognize even if they wear glasses or a hat, is something which still needs finishing.
For the Itel S42, the feature will prove as another selling point in the offline market where devices with such features are limited. As the unit we received does not have the feature, we will not be commenting on its functionality and accuracy. But we promise to bring out a comparison with other rival devices as soon as the feature is rolled out.
The Indian offline market is huge; consisting of about 70 percent of the total market. The offline medium offers scale and reach that is unmatched; this is why more manufacturers are adopting the mixed channel strategy.
We have had large screen phones, massive battery phones, selfie phones in the market, but with Itel S42, the combination of the price and premium-line features is something to look forward to. Itel decided to venture into the smartphone business only last year and with the S42, it is looking at graduating with better-specced phones. In the coming months, the company plans to introduce more of such 18:9, Face Unlock-based smartphones and the Itel S42 is the first milestone.
On the whole, the Itel S42 brings a decent mix of features such as latest Android, average battery backup, 18:9 display and bokeh front camera, albeit with an old processor. Yes, one can easily get a Xiaomi or Vivo phone in the same price bracket, with a more refined design and possibly a newer processor, but it will be limited to a few stocks and available through offline-online model.
While it won’t be incorrect to compare the Itel S42 against contemporaries in the online segment, it stands in competition with brands including Micromax, Karbonn, and other including Motorola, Samsung, and Nokia which have a significant presence in the offline retail. Some of these have also entered into partnerships with telecom operators to sell their devices at an ‘effectively’ lower price along with calling and data benefits. A similar tie-up with operators, especially Jio, will help the company drive further sales of the smartphone.