Micromax Bharat 1 first impressions: A worthy competitor to Reliance JioPhone
Since the debut of Reliance JioPhone in August, the interest in the entry-level mobile phone market has revived. This segment of phone users, long forgotten by smartphone makers, still account for a large chunk of the market. According to Counterpoint Research, close to 200 million 4G feature phones will be sold in India in the next five years. The estimate is not small by any standards and signifies the importance of India's untapped, under-₹2,000 mobile phone market.
Reliance Jio may have gained the first-mover advantage, but rivals are catching up fast. Airtel, earlier this month, responded with a sub-₹2,000 4G VoLTE Android smartphone made in partnership with Karbonn.
Domestic smartphone brand Micromax joined the bandwagon on Tuesday with its Bharat 1 4G VoLTE feature phone. Priced at ₹2,200, Bharat 1 comes bundled with a ₹97 monthly-plan from BSNL under which users get unlimited voice calls and data.
Micromax's Bharat 1 comes with almost same features as the JioPhone, except for the built-in voice assistant. The Bharat 1 comes in a candy bar design with alphanumeric keypad and a four-way navigation button at the centre. It has a removable back panel encasing a detachable battery, dual SIM slots and microSD slots. The base has a microUSB port and 3.5mm-audio jack, and the top an LED flash (torch).
The Bharat 1 has a fairly standard feature-phone design, which in our opinion is not bad. Considering the consumer base it's targeted at, the standard design brings a sense of familiarity. The stark contrast between the JioPhone and Bharat 1 is the software.
Running KAI operating system, the user interface on the JioPhone is quite similar to most Android smartphones. Micromax, however, has taken a simpler route by adding bigger app icons. While I felt the JioPhone was quite easy to use, the Bharat 1, with its minimalistic approach, seems easier to navigate. Though how you feel about its looks is purely subjective.
Running a tweaked version of Android, the Bharat 1 comes with a "Micromax Entertainment" application that gives access to Live TV, music, movies and videos. During our brief usage, we could play the popular kids channel, Pogo. The video streaming quality was pretty okay, though we were using a high-speed Wi-Fi network. We are yet to find out how consistent the mobile network experience is on the phone.
Facebook and WhatsApp apps will arrive on Bharat 1 in a month's time.
If you remember, one of the biggest criticisms that JioPhone faced was the absence of popular social applications such as Facebook and WhatsApp. The demo unit of Micromax Bharat 1 which we used at the launch event on Tuesday also did not have the two apps. But a senior company executive told us that Facebook and WhatsApp will arrive on Bharat 1 in a month's time.
That alone, in our opinion, will give the Bharat 1 a huge advantage over the JioPhone.
While Reliance JioPhone has its own merits, Bharat 1 does bring something more substantial to the table.
For instance, the Bharat 1 has a mobile hotspot feature, which means you can use the phone to create a WiFi network. Also, the Bharat 1 is a dual-SIM phone and is not locked to any carrier. If you don't want the BSNL offer, you can still use the phone with the operator of your choice.
Speaking of the BSNL offer, Micromax's association with the state-run telecom operator was a strange choice. The operator isn't really a popular choice in metro cities. According to subscription data from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) as on July 31, Airtel had the highest wireless subscribers with 23.7% market share. Airtel is followed by Vodafone, Idea and Reliance Jio with 17.74%, 16.34% and 10.83% share respectively. BSNL is a distant fifth with 8.81% market share.
But what works in BSNL's favour is its reach in rural and remote areas of the country. Besides an affordable data plan, the telco is also offering free access to its 10,000 Wi-Fi spots across the country.
On its website, BSNL boasts of big numbers to showcase its massive network capabilities that reach "646 districts, 4,519 cities/towns and 6.25 lakhs villages".
Summing up, Micromax's Bharat 1 seems like a worthy rival to Reliance JioPhone as it offers competitive features, price point and bundled data benefits. Extras like mobile hotspot capability and dual-SIM support certainly gives it an edge.
Looking beyond the competition, phones like JioPhone, Bharat 1 and even Airtel Karbonn A40 help pave way for achieving a larger objective - bridging the digital divide in India.