What’s the catch? We answer your 10 interesting questions on Freedom 251 | tech | Hindustan Times
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What’s the catch? We answer your 10 interesting questions on Freedom 251

The cheapest smartphone in the world -- the Freedom 251 -- costs just Rs. 251 and is apparently made by a Noida-based company called Ringing Bells. It was launched yesterday to more questions than answers.

Freedom 251 smartphone Updated: Feb 20, 2016 13:28 IST
HT Correspondent
Ringing Bells could possibly cut a deal with app makers to pre-install their apps on this device and make some money
Ringing Bells could possibly cut a deal with app makers to pre-install their apps on this device and make some money(Hindustan Times)

The cheapest smartphone in the world -- the Freedom 251 -- costs just Rs. 251 and is apparently made by a Noida-based company called Ringing Bells. It was launched Wednesday to more questions than answers.

The Hindustan Times was flooded with so many questions both on Twitter and on email that we decided to host a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) to answer the barrage of questions. Our technology editor Pranav Dixit who has been using Freedom 251 for a day answered most of them. Here are some of the most interesting questions we received.

saadakhtar: So.... What’s the catch?

pranav_dixit: Nothing, as far as I can tell. I’ve been using the phone for about a day and so far, everything works as it should on a low-end Android device running Android 5.1 Lollipop. There are absolutely no extra apps on here, including the promised government apps like Swacch Bharat, but that may just be because these were just some early units given to the media.

I think in the future, Ringing Bells could possibly cut a deal with app makers to pre-install their apps on this device and make some money. Oh, and according to a Gadgets 360 report, the phone is not certified by the Bureau of Indian standards (this is mandatory — and time-consuming and expensive), so it might possibly fail some radiation tests? We don’t know.

Read more: Fake In India: Freedom 251 makers justify copying Apple’s designs

Indianopolice: How do you think they can afford it to sell it@251? Bill of material cost is estimated to be 40 USD. So what are they hiding? Also, why don’t you get the phone’s hardware analysed?

pranav_dixit: It’s not possible. We have a letter from the Indian Cellular Association (ICA) written to telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad that estimates that this phone should cost at least USD 60 (approximnately Rs. 4,100). Here’s the official explanation given by Ringing Bells’ Ashok Chaddha at the event yesterday (I’m quoting from a Hindustan Times report):

The real cost of the device is Rs 2,500, which will be recovered through a raft of measures like economies of scale, innovative marketing, reduction in duties and creating an ecommerce marketplace, Chaddha said.

None of these exist right now. And Chaddha isn’t putting in any money. The phone will be manufactured in Noida— two plants will be set up for Rs 250 crore each. The money will come in the form of debt and equity (1.5:1). When Goel was asked if his family was investing the money, he said “No”.

Chaddha also rejected speculation of the handset being subsidised by the central government.

Something is fishy here.

Read more: Will Rs 251 smartphone bring joy to Ringing Bells founder ‘Cutemohit’?

altindian: Hi Pranav. This phone (which appears to be a scam) aside, is there a viable business model for selling a phone below cost? Printers have cartridges to sell, razors have blades to sell.

pranav_dixit: The only thing I can think of is if app-makers pay them to have their apps pre-installed.

puppuli: How credible are the people behind this? Are the guys at the top of the company related to tech industry with experience? Have you heard of these people before? Who’s spending cash for advertisements and all? Do they have good investors behind them?

pranav_dixit: There’s a Goel family behind this, but very little is known about them. As far as I know, they were into agricultural commodities for over 30 years are are new to the telecom game. Mohit Goel, who was there at the event, and is an Amity University alumnus, didn’t say much at the launch, and was mostly being directed by his wife Dhaarna, who, according a Hindustan Times report, is the CEO of Ringing Bells. Goel’s parents who were present at the event said he had been assisting his father at his grocery store in Uttar Pradesh’s Shamli district till recently. Information about funding and finances is very sketchy/non-existent and deserves to be looked into, imo.

Read more: Everything that is wrong with the world’s cheapest smartphone

southkasanta: Given that the UI is an iOS ripoff and the marketing content has been ripped off from Huawei and if this isn’t really a scam and people do really manage to get their hands on the phone four months from now, what do you think Apple/Huawei’s reaction is going to be?

That’s a lot of ifs, btw. I’m spending my money on Pizza.

EDIT: A word.

pranav_dixit: Yes. I’m surprised more people aren’t pointing this out. All the app icons on the built-in apps look exactly like iOS app icons. Mail is the same. Music is the same. Settings is the same. Heck, the browser has a Safari icon on it. It’s a clear violation of Apple’s copyright.

When we asked Ringing Bells about this at the event yesterday, their technical head Vikas Sharma told us: “We have used Apple’s icons because Apple hasn’t copyrighted their designs.” Which, of course, is ridiculous.

We have reached out to Apple for a comment. It will be interesting to see if the company goes after Ringing Bells.

Read more: No one can buy the Rs 251 smartphone because the site keeps crashing

InboxMeRandomPics: Hello Mr. Pranav thanks for the AMA.

I know this phone is only Rs251 but I would still want to know the answer to these questions.

1) How’s the UI, do you see any noticeable lag?

2) How is the build quality, will it break if it falls?

3) Do you struggle to see the display when you walk out in the sun? ergo what’s the screen quality like?

4) How long does the battery last?

5) Heating issues?

6) The Ringing Bells president Ashok Chadha in an interview with said that he is banking on the app eco system. They brought the cost down to around 800 rs, and then he says

This balance, according to Chadha, will be recovered by the earnings from a marketplace that the company will be setting up. “So here is my marketplace, you want to sell something, come to me, pay me a revenue for it, and I will pass the revenue on to my customer,” he says. That’s how, according to the company, the Freedom 251 can sell for Rs 251.

Do you think this model would work for them? I know lot of companies do that, they sell their hardware at discounted price, like Playstation, and Xbox, even Amazon does that with their tablets. Your take?

Last question isn’t about the phone, how do i start writing for the Technology division of HT. I have no prior experience, and I am 97% computer engineer. The only other thing going on for me is I looovee technology. :P

pranav_dixit: Here are your answers.

1) How’s the UI, do you see any noticeable lag?

The UI is pretty much stock Android Lollipop 5.1, but all the built-in app icons are ripped off directly from iOS. It phone was extremely laggy when installing apps in the background (nearly unsable) but other than that, it was fine.

2) How is the build quality, will it break if it falls?

Not great. Cheap plastic. Will break if it falls, most likely. But hey, you can easily get another one!

3) Do you struggle to see the display when you walk out in the sun? ergo what’s the screen quality like?

The screen quality is actually not bad for the price. I haven’t actually used it in the sun, so I can’t say.

4) How long does the battery last?

Battery seems to run down pretty quick (and takes a while to charge), but I haven’t yet managed to charge it up to 100% (mostly because people keep asking to borrow it!).

5) Heating issues?

Yes, it gets pretty warm pretty quick.

6) The Ringing Bells president Ashok Chadha in an interview with IBNLive said that he is banking on the app eco system. They brought the cost down to around 800 rs, and then he says

This balance, according to Chadha, will be recovered by the earnings from a marketplace that the company will be setting up. “So here is my marketplace, you want to sell something, come to me, pay me a revenue for it, and I will pass the revenue on to my customer,” he says. That’s how, according to the company, the Freedom 251 can sell for Rs 251. Do you think this model would work for them? I know lot of companies do that, they sell their hardware at discounted price, like Playstation, and Xbox, even Amazon does that with their tablets. Your take?

I think if app-makers pay them to have apps pre-installed on the device, it could keep them in the market for some time. But look, you can only put so many apps on there before it starts to slow down, right? It’s a fairly low-end device. It will be an interesting move if they actually do this.

Last question isn’t about the phone, how do i start writing for the Technology division of HT. I have no prior experience, and I am 97% computer engineer. The only other thing going on for me is I looovee technology. :P

DM me on Twitter.

Read more: How the world’s cheapest smartphone compares with its pricier cousins

EnforcementDroid209: does it read made in India anywhere on the device?

pranav_dixit: Nope. There’s an Indian flag printed on the back. That’s it.

Divtya_Budhlya: Pranav, the company says that the units sent to media outlets were just temporary or ‘Adcom’ branded units, but the ones that will be shipped to buyers will be different. Did the company say how different? Will they largely look and feel the same?

pranav_dixit: The company said that the actual units that will be sold won’t have the Adcom branding and will also have the government apps pre-installed. Besides that, it should all be the same.

Read more: A Rs 251 phone makes us look back at the previous budget projects

tranquiliti: Rs 251 is the sell price of this phone, I wonder what will be its maintenance charge?

pranav_dixit: Zero maintenance charge. I guess if it breaks, you could get one (or a few) more.

nomu_totu: Is there any warranty on phone . Is the firm here to make quick buck and close shop . Something like chit fund :)

pranav_dixit: This is a possibility that has been discussed, although it might be difficult for the company executives to hide easily considering the massive publicity. They also have a PR contact. So there’s plenty of threads we can pick up later — just in case. Yes, the phone has a one-year warranty.

Read more: Freedom 251: 10 things we know about world’s cheapest smartphone