It started off on Twitter, a typical mashup sentence that asked which phone under twenty thousand rupees is the best. While #bestphoneunder20k would typically be dismissed as ad-campaign hype, this one took on a life of its own. Suddenly everyone wanted to know which phone was the best performer in that category.
Why? Because there’s a new battleground for top-of-the-line, no compromise, everything-including-the-kitchen-sink: flagship phones. Yes, you read that right. Flagship phones under Rs 20,000, but with the best of everything, good looks, materials like metal and glass, fantastic camera, cutting-edge hardware, top-notch OS and software. Plus enough add-ons and gimmicks to make all your nerves tingle.
Aggressive marketing, a drop in hardware pricing and the economics of online-only launches have combined to revolutionise the mobile-phone market in India. This war started off at a price drop to about Rs 13,000 (with Xiaomi; followed by a dozen others) and then dropped below Rs 10,000 (with Lenovo, Motorola, Acer, Coolpad and more).
But the top-of-the-line flagship phone market remained untouched by this fast and furious action. Samsung, HTC and LG’s flagship phones remained above Rs 50,000. Apple actually increased prices with the 6S series. The war continued at the under-10K price point mainly because those phones were good but still lacked certain features. So for those who wanted the absolute best, no compromise, there was no option but to shell out a princely sum.
Until now. The price for flagships has dropped from 50K to a staggeringly low 20K. Four companies made it happen.
Qiku Q Terra
The name is tough to pronounce, until you realise that its the same as the fruit: Chikoo. But that’s where the similarity ends. This is one beast of a machine. An all-metal body engineered to near-perfection, a bezel-less front that makes the best of its full-HD 6-inch screen, top-level processor with 3GB of RAM, a fingerprint sensor and a whopping 3700 mAh battery with extreme fast charging.
The Q Terra also pulls out all the stops in the optics department. A DuoScopic (technical jargon for two separate camera sensors) 13-MP rear camera combines features like Extreme Fast Focus and 4K video recording. One sensor captures a normal colour image, the second captures a black-and-white image, and the phone instantly combines them to give you the most incredible pictures even in the dark.
Qiku is a Chinese giant and the Q Terra has been sold out everywhere it has been released. With a price of Rs 19,900 (with an easy-to-get invite), it sits on top of this new flagship fruit basket.
Micromax started off the buzz around this phone months ago; they called it the ‘Most Powerful Phone on the Planet’! An all-metal body, fantastic screen, oodles of RAM, great camera, a super powerful processor along with the famous Cyanogen OS made that claim pretty reasonable. The ad campaign has been making fun of Apple iPhone, One Plus Two and many phones that are priced higher.
But Yu has had a few setbacks. The launch has been delayed several times. While rumours say the processor heats up and there were legal trouble with patents, all seems fine now. Yu is now in a different league.
One Plus X
They came to India and rewrote the marketing rules with a previously unheard of invitation system for sales. They called their phone the “flagship killer” and actually pulled it off. That’s how the the One Plus One conquered India, at a price point slightly above the 23K mark. Then came the One Plus Two, priced even higher.
Now, the brains behind One Plus has introduced the One Plus X in two variants. It’s a good-looking phone with metal and glass, a 13-MP camera, the 801 processor and 3GB RAM. It may not have the chops like the Q Terra and Yutopia, but it does come from the house of the flagship killer. Of late though, the invitation system and the fact that One Plus phones are now available without an invitation have led to speculation that sales may be poorer than expected. Maybe the One Plus X at Rs16,999 can bring all of that back.
For the fourth player in this field, you have to wait a month. Smarton is an American company made up of an army of engineers and super geniuses. They are world leaders in the processor-and-chips field and will come out with a Super Smart Phone in India in January 2016. Once again priced at Rs 19,900, this is a phone on steroids. My non-disclosure agreement doesn’t permit me to say more but I will, closer to the launch date. Smartron may just pull off a serious coup in the country and within the price band.
There you have it. Four phones that can make any 50K flagship phone start to tremble with fear. Should you abandon the thought of buying phones that are priced in the Rs 50,000 to Rs 70,000 bracket when you have all this magic available at one third the price? No, I’m not saying that at all! I’m just hinting towards it.
Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3
From HT Brunch, December 20
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