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JioPhone first impressions: Loaded with goodies and high speed internet, at lowest of prices

We spent some time with Reliance’s much talked-about JioPhone and here are our first impressions of the smart feature phone.

By: KUL BHUSHAN
Updated on: Sep 23 2017, 12:55 IST
Will the Reliance JioPhone be another gamechanger? (HT Photo)

Almost a month after it went up for pre-orders in August, the Reliance JioPhone is reaching customers. Unlike other feature phones, this smart-feature-phone comes with 4G and supports VoLTE (lifetime free) technology and is priced at 1,500 that is refundable after three years.

Unsurprisingly, it drew a lot of attention as Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Jio claimed it registered a whopping 6 million bookings in the three-day pre-order period.

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I, too, was able to lay my hands on the popular phone, and here are my first impressions. Unlike the Freedom 251, the Reliance JioPhone is fortunately not a gimmick. It's real, makes sense and works. Of course, it's not perfect yet, but we should keep our expectations realistic considering the price tag.

Also read: Looking for a smartphone? To check mobile finder click here.
The Reliance JioPhone has a standard candybar design. (HT Photo)
The Reliance JioPhone has a standard candybar design. (HT Photo)

It features a 2-megapixel rear camera and a VGA front-facing camera. It is a single-SIM phone, and supports additional storage up to 128GB via a microSD card. It has a removable battery, which the company claims delivers up to 15 days of backup.

The Reliance JioPhone has backlit keypad. (HT Photo)
The Reliance JioPhone has backlit keypad. (HT Photo)

There's also an app store for games, optimised for the feature phone. I saw a few racing games on the app store. I am hoping there's a classic Snake game, but to be honest, I didn't spot it.

The JioPhone runs on KaiOS, which is based on Linux operating system. During my brief encounter with the phone, the navigation seemed fairly easy to get started and good enough for a 1,500 phone. I did try out the voice commands, which can be accessed by long pressing the centre button in the trackpad. Besides making calls to a contact, the voice recognition didn't really work well. But, I will give it the benefit of doubt as it might not be the final device.

The camera quality is pretty much what you'd expect from a basic feature phone. That being said, it's fast, and can clean selfies in good light conditions. But don't expect the quality of a smartphone.

During my live video, a lot of you asked whether the JioPhone is a dual-SIM phone. Well, it's not. And you will need a nano-SIM. There's a microSD slot next to the SIM slot, beneath the rear back panel. The phone does support Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and USB for connectivity, but it does not have a mobile hotspot feature. I really don't think Jio will allow us to use the phone as a voice-calling dongle, which otherwise would cannibalise the JioFi devices.

JioPhone does not have WhatsApp and Facebook apps. So, you're dependant on the preloaded Jio apps for video calling and instant messaging. But what's there - a browser for surfing the internet. Yes, addition of WhatsApp or Facebook would have been great, but I think, for 1,500, that's not a bad bargain. We are hoping Jio does work with Facebook to roll out a feature phone version of the apps. Let's not forget, Facebook used to have a feature phone app, called Every Phone, in the past.

So, what do I derive from the time spent with JioPhone? It looks like a promising smart feature phone with tones of complimentary features. Bundled with Jio's attractive data plans and free voice calls, the 1,500 price tag doesn't seem a lot to me. But I cannot be thinking from the perspective of an urban consumer who uses a smartphone that costs 10 or 20 times the JioPhone.

For the segment it's targeted, it's definitely a major upgrade over the 2G feature phones they've been using over the years. Features such as Indian languages support, voice-based browsing and navigation, access to smartphone-level multimedia content and a long-lasting battery life give the JioPhone a definite edge.

Not that smartphones haven't become more affordable over the years, but still a good smartphone with durability will cost you somewhere around 7,000. A feature phone with basic voice calling and FM radio is available for less than 1,000 — clearly, the gap between feature phones and smartphones is significantly high.

This is where I think Reliance Jio's JioPhone can truly be a gamechanger. The bottomline, however, remains that a consumer in a small town of this country is getting access to high-speed internet, free voice calls at a price much lesser than a smartphone, something we cannot complain about.

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First Published Date: 23 Sep, 12:55 IST