Monday, September 14, 2015

Xiaomi smartphones that have been sold in India

When Google launched Android with the T Mobile G1 in late 2008, the response in India was pretty mild. The biggest problem for adoption of the new smartphone Operating System in our price-conscious market was the high cost of devices. Testament to this was HTC launching the Tattoo in mid-2010 as a budget phone - which cost more than ₹16,000 in India, at a time when the top Android flagships were priced between  ₹25,000 - 30,000. There just was no way Android was going to be adopted by the masses, with those prices.

The Donut release of Android, version 1.6, changed that. With allowance for smaller screen sizes, etc. Android was now capable of going the budget route. By the end of 2010, we had decent phones from Spice, Videocon, LG and Samsung that were below or just about the price range of ₹10,000. From there, the rest was history.

Android is now found in most homes in India. At price points starting at around ₹3,000, Android phones scale all the way beyond ₹60,000 for the top phones from Samsung and LG. But herein lies another problem, one that isn't garnering enough concern - with every manufacturer trying to outbid each other on price, there has been a race to the bottom, or so to speak, which has lead to a rise in Android smartphones with great specs and barebones prices.

The question is : should you buy such a phone just for the specs?

Let's take a look at our current popular choices in the Indian market today.

Mi and Yu and OnePlus

Xiaomi Mi 3
2014 was the year that the Indian budget smartphone market just blew up. With Mi and OnePlus launching their flagships, Mi 3 and One, and Yu lurking on the horizon with its rumoured Yureka phone, Indian budget smartphones couldn't have looked better.

With every launch, there was something better to be had, and something greater to drool at. If the Mi3 (from Xiaomi, known as Mi, in India) surprised everyone by launching at ₹14,000, the YU Yureka surely shocked Xiaomi themselves when it launched at ₹8,999 - with better specs than the Redmi Note 4G (Snapdragon 615 processor vs the Snapdragon 400 in the Redmi Note 4G; 16 GB built-in storage vs 8 GB built-in storage in the Redmi Note 4G) and a full ₹1,000 cheaper.

OnePlus One
While this battle for the Android middle-ground was going on, OnePlus were pretty much ruling the budget flagship heap - with anyone who could get an invite, plonking down ₹22,000 for the One. There was just no way anyone was going to buy a Sony, HTC or a Motorola that cost a similar amount, with seemingly lesser features.

Why would they?

Yet, as people turned up in droves for the online flash sales, and these new companies started raking in the money, a couple of things became quite clear. The companies did not have the resources or the investments necessary for smooth after-sales services. The online world started to get crowded with plenty of people who were complaining of the service turnarounds, especially with the new service model adopted by YU (door pick-up), just as there were plenty of people who were happily singing the praises of their newly-purchased value-for-money products.

The budget-friendly phone buying consumer in India was left with trying to roll the die of chance to gauge if their budget-friendly phone may require service, or if they should settle for lesser specs and a more well-known manufacturer.

Micromax, Lava, Karbonn et al
While Mi and OnePlus were reaping their revenues, conventional Indian smartphone companies such as Micromax, Lava, Karbonn, etc. were left to watch by the sidelines (incidentally, this professional 'envy' is what prompted Micromax to launch YU - to combat Mi at their own game). Although they were never stellar companies with halo brand images, they did make cheap enough to be household names, and with decent-enough specs to enter the pocket of many a budget phone-buyer.

Micromax Canvas Sliver 5Not any more.

These Indian manufacturers were caught between a budget-friendly brand image and products that seemed to be much costlier than the ones made by the new manufacturers on the block. In trying to compete in this competitive climate, they seem to have tried all possible things.

Large marketing budgets.

Attempts to release well-designed, mid-range phones.

Nothing seemed to stem the onslaught that the newer entrants seemed to have unleashed on the Indian smartphone market and its pricing delicacies.

What about the big names - Samsung, LG, HTC, Motorola, Sony?
Motorola Moto G
The effect of these market factors was seen in the balance sheets reported by all the major smartphone manufacturers. Sony's slump turned into a much speedier downhill ride. Samsung started reporting lower-than-expected numbers, with sales declining, compared to the same quarter the previous year. HTC had already been plagued with low volume of sales, and this didn't help matters much. LG's launches received pretty lukewarm responses as well, with their smartphones failing to wow or impress most people.

The only manufacturer which was relatively unfazed by this onslaught was Motorola - mostly due to the fact that Google pared down Motorola's offerings to just 3 phones - the Moto X as a medium-high flagship, the Moto G as a mid-range offering and the Moto E as a budget-friendly option. With their phones considerably cheaper than offerings from Sony/Samsung/HTC (though still costlier than offerings from Mi/YU), Motorola were able to coast along comfortably on the stellar sales that they had already enjoyed in the first half of 2014, when they launched the first-gen Moto G and the first-gen Moto E.

While we know of several owners of Mi and OnePlus smartphones who have had no issues in their one year of ownership, we do know of others who've had some seriously disheartening issues. Low quality glass on the Redmi Note 4G, for example, or serious service issues with the YU Yureka (since YU will only perform a pickup replacement of the phone, they keep you running around in circles via phone/email support to ensure that there are no software issues - getting you to troubleshoot the phone numerous times, in the process) and other niggling, imperfections that come with the territory of 'budget' phones from Xiaomi, YU and OnePlus.

So our mantra currently is: if you're looking to change your Android smartphone every 6-12 months, then you'd do well to buy a budget smartphone from one of these newer entrants within the ₹5,000-15,000 range.

If, on the other hand, you want a hassle-free experience of owning a quality smartphone, or if you would like to hang on to your phone for longer than a year, we'd suggest that you steer clear of the budget-friendly options and go for one of the top manufacturers like Sony, HTC or Motorola even (when we did have issues with a Moto G, their service was acceptable).

They do say you get what you pay for; hopefully, everyone in India planning to buy a budget Android smartphone knows that.


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