Can a one- year-old Chinese brand be competition for Samsung?
William stood on stage and pronounced with delightful glee to more than 1,500 people that his company (Gionee) would soon overtake Samsung in a few years and become the number one mobile phone brand in India. While I had come to expect bombastic statements from the company's CEO, even I was stunned. On stage, I asked him if Samsung would sit around and not fight back. His answer: they couldn't, as they were a "greedy" company that wanted premium prices for phones that were made for people that loved "cheap plastic", and thus couldn't compete anymore on price or build quality.
This statement was from a man whose company has been in India for barely a year. A Chinese brand that no one had heard of, a few months ago. Somehow the claim sounded a little far-fetched. The confidence though seemed to be emitting from the phone that had just been launched here. This was the world's thinnest phone and was called the S5.5 (Almost the same as Samsung's flagship phone. Coincidence?) and was being launched within days (intentionally?) of Samsung launching its Galaxy S5 in India. Thus a battle of the two S5s is in order.
Samsung Galaxy S5
This is the series that truly catapulted Samsung into the big league, made them the number one phone brand in the world, made them a formidable force in Android phones, put them in a position to take on Apple's iPhone, and helped to launch more than 70 different Galaxy sub-branded phones down the price chain. Galaxy S series is a very serious wheel that churns profits in their smartphone division. The S5 needed to be a true leap forward in mobile phone innovation to keep that flag flying high.
Unfortunately, the design story doesn't start well. They've continued with the almost four-generations-old 'soap bar' styling on this one too. After the middling sales of the S4 and the fact that almost every Samsung phone looks the same (people have issues with the fact that a Rs 5,000 and a Rs 50,000 phone have the same design philosophy), it was critical for Samsung to make this a showcase design. Also, the materials used are still predominantly 'plasticky' with a perforated leather look at the back.
The Big Features
It's now a 5.1-inch full-HD screen, is certified waterproof and dust resistant like Sony's Xperia series and much like the iPhone 5S, the home button works as a fingerprint scanner. Swipe to unlock or even to make payments using PayPal.
Then there's the ultra power saving mode. If you are low on battery (even 10 per cent), enable this mode and you can get almost another day of power. How? The phone switches to a black-and-white display and runs only critical pre-chosen apps. Download booster combines your 3G/LTE and Wi-Fi speeds for faster downloads.
Then there's the kids' mode, where the camera interface looks 'cuter' with colourful icons and different picture effects, and apps that can be restricted. There is a 16.0-megapixel camera and a virtual shot feature than can give you a 360-degree view of an image.
The big deal is that this phone can also record 4K ultraHD video. It runs Android 4.4 Kitkat OS, has a 2.5GHz quad-core processor, 2GB RAM, supports a micro SD card slot and has a 2800mAh battery.
The other draw is that it comes with a heart rate monitor, a sensor I found to be gimmicky. You have to stand absolutely still to measure it and it cannot track heart rate on the go. Totally defeats the purpose.
The S5 is priced at about Rs 51K.
The Gionee S5.5
The world's thinnest phone has an impressive history of how it has been crafted. From a solid aluminium slab, the metal body of the phone has been crafted with CNC milling and metal crafting technology. Then the Corning Gorilla Glass 3 sheet gets embedded onto the body and goes through eight hours of 420 degree heat strengthening. For Gionee, this is a phone that is being produced to become a testament to its design and production prowess.
Gionee obviously wants to prove to the world that it is ready to break out from its 'cheap n Chinese' lineage.
The screen is dazzling and has a lot of colour because of its 5-inch full-HD display. Its razor blade-like sides and thin silhouette is obvious as it only measures 5.5mm. The phone is very light, at 130grams with a surreal feel. The size totally doesn't match what you think it should weigh. Materials are metal and glass on the front and back, and it comes in multiple metallic hues.
The Big Features
Surprisingly, the sleek body packs in a beast of a processor. This has a 1.7GHz octa-core chipset within its petite innards. The phone runs on Android Jellybean 4.2 OS and is layered with Gionee's self-developed Amigo UI, one I am not a fan of. A 13.0-megapixel camera at the back showcases some of the advancements the company has made with its optics. This is coupled with an interface and camera UI that is very easy to use and gives it a slight DSLR feel. It has a 2300mAh battery, 16GB in-built storage with no memory card slot and is priced at about 22K.
That Gionee S5.5 blows the Samsung S5 out of the water in terms of design and materials, and the craftsmanship will be obvious to anyone who holds the two phones together. The specs are pretty much at par too.
But the Samsung flagship steals a big march in the big features department.
Will that be enough to counter the 'greedy, cheap plastic' taunt is something only time and future market share can tell.
Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3
From HT Brunch, April 13
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