Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Enduring Impressions is a series where we try to look at the impact, usefulness and other factors that involve owning a device for six or more months. We take a look at devices that The Indian Geek has reviewed previously, which we have an opportunity to gain feedback on after six months.

When we reviewed the Spice Mi-300 way back in September 2010, the landscape of the mid-range Android market was very different in India. We did not have much choice in the HVGA segment, and big players like HTC, Sony Ericsson and Samsung were content to keep cranking out either very high-end devices, or low-end budget devices with QVGA or WQVGA resolutions. Into such a world, Spice Mobility unleashed the Mi-300. Although it sold a few handsets of this model, overall, you could say that the phone did not sell very well. For its time, though, the phone was an unmatched mix of features and price (It is currently discontinued). To kick off our Enduring Impressions series, we thought we could use the Spice Mi-300 and note down our thoughts and impressions on using it after a little over six months. Basically, the questions we would be trying to answer are – Does Spice make good handsets? Are low-end or mid-range Android phones worth it? Is it utterly necessary to spring for a high-end phone? We try to answer these and more, with our long-term impressions of the phone. Just go ahead and click that “Read More” button to find out.

Hardware & Software

The biggest apprehension anyone (including the owner of this phone) has in purchasing a Spice mobile phone – is just that. It’s a Spice mobile phone. It’s not a Nokia, or a Sony Ericsson, or a Samsung or an HTC mobile phone. Such thoughts were set aside to buy an Android phone. People all around keep asking, “Spice?!?!?” but yes, this phone has been good. Not once in the past six months has the owner ever regretted purchasing a Spice mobile phone. The phone has had several falls, one of which was a horrible fall from about four-feet height to a uneven tar road, but it has survived with nothing more than a few scratches on the plastic corners. You seriously cannot fault the phone for this. The last nasty fall made us thankful that the phone does not sport Gorilla Glass; all said and done, Gorilla Glass is glass. It shatters, if you drop the phone hard enough.

As far as software is concerned, there isn’t much apart from the Android experience. Frankly, for geeks like us who tend to prefer Google’s stock User Interface over a heavily customized interface like HTC Sense or Samsung TouchWiz, going in for a low-cost phone such as the Spice Mi-300 is a boon, since the manufacturer does not apply any UI skin/layer on top. There isn’t too much customization of the standard Google experience. Add to that the fact that this is just a re-badged Commtiva Z71, which has been widely adopted by manufacturers the world over (Motorola’s Quench series) and you instantly have several options for customizing the ROM, gaining root access and all those other little things that make a geek’s eyes bulge. This may not matter too much to non-geeks, but it still is an important part to the experience that Android delivers.

Features

Feature-wise, the phone is well-packed. Apart from a high-end CPU+GPU combination, the phone has all the features that most Android phones possess. This makes you wonder if spending extra cash on a higher-end phone is really worth it, if all you want is a simple, basic Android experience with a few goodies thrown in. With 3G, we’ve been able to test out 3G speeds to our hearts’ content – it’s pretty spectacular to speeds ranging from 1 Mbps to 3.6 Mbps on a phone in a country where “Broadband” means 256 Kbps. If you get a hacked custom ROM of Android 2.2 on it, you get the jaw-dropping feature of making the phone a Wi-Fi hotspot; we were able to literally stun friends and colleagues by setting up a Wi-Fi network on the phone, and getting them to access it using their Notebook computers or Wi-Fi enabled phones. Feature-wise, we have definitely not been let down by this phone.

True, the camera could have been better, and the screen could have been better – but in day-to-day usage (atleast for us), we did not find these to be major drawbacks. They are big drawbacks, sure; but they don’t stop you from enjoying your phone, or from enjoying the world through your phone.

What to look for next

A few months after you own this phone, you start wanting to go to the next level (If you’re a performance-hungry geek like us). So we decided to pen down what we think are the most important things for performance-hungry geeks like us (in order of priority):

  1. RAM. More and more RAM. Lots of it. Android’s crazy multi-tasking (akin to a PC) needs it.
  2. Faster and more capable CPU. This comes a close second. When you’re downloading away like crazy over 3G, and trying to listen to music from the micro-SDHC card, and also trying to play a decent game – 600 Mhz just doesn’t cut it.
  3. More built-in Apps Storage capacity. Apps2SD is a great feature of Android 2.2, but it’s not as quick and efficient as storing all your Apps on the main phone ROM.
  4. Battery life. Sadly, we would have to sacrifice this in most instances, unless you’re springing for something like the iPhone 4 which has more than 2 days of standard-use battery life. If you can find something that can give you better battery life, go for it.

What is unique

With the things that the Spice Mi-300 misses out on due to its budget nature, there are a few features that it has which other Android phones (especially the high-end ones) don’t have, which could lead to minor niggles and inconveniences if you plan on moving from this to another phone.

  • Answer/End Call buttons. These are a boon, especially to disconnect calls from anywhere in the OS.
  • Near-stock Google User Interface
  • Trackball (for Navigation)

Final thoughts

Would we recommend this phone? Yes. If we could go back in time, would we buy the same phone all over again? Yes, yes, yes! Alas, this phone is discontinued, and phones with better features have started entering the budget HVGA Android phone market segment. Our point is simple – don’t do the mistake of writing off a phone based on a company or a brand name; it’s the Operating System that counts. An N-Series of X-Series high-end Nokia phone could have excellent hardware, but fail miserably in the day-to-day experience and modern-level user functions. A Spice Mi-300 may not be able to compete with such high-end Nokia devices in hardware build, construction and quality – but it puts modern features in the palm of your hand that enable you to shame those same high-end phones time and again. We know you will have thoughts on the Spice Mi-300; why don’t you chip in below?

3 comments:

Dattatray Jadhav said...

Just discovered this website on josh topolsky's website comments. Its good to know there are indian websites like engadget, gizmodo, etc. that i could follow for indian market.

What do u guys think about the spice popkorn M 9000 (projector phone)?

The Indian Geek said...

Hi Dattatray,

Good to see an Engadget reader. Thank you for your appreciative comments.

With regard to feature phones from Spice Mobility, we really can't say much as we have only basic hands-on knowledge. From that basic knowledge, the User Interface seems too clunky and non-intuitive. The only reason why we like the Spice Mi-300 is that it runs Android.

If you want a superbly-customizable phone, get an Android phone. If your budget does not allow for a Smartphone, then you may have to scout around for something that best fits your requirements. There are simply way too many feature phones for us to suggest specific models.

The highly-touted "projector" feature of this phone may not be worth anything more than sharing a few low-resolution pictures with friends and family, now and then. Think twice before going in for something like that.

Cheers.

Dattatray Jadhav said...

Thanks, IG. I was just curious about that feature but have no intentions to buy one. I love my iPhone.

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