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A tale of three phones, trying to do something out-of-the-box

Launching phones every time doesn’t mean that they have something new to offer, writes Rajiv Makhni.

brunch Updated: Sep 03, 2016 19:25 IST

Let’s play a game of numbers. Including fly-by-night operators and brands that try their luck by rebranding phones imported from abroad (read China). How many mobile phone brands do you think exist in India? And how many phones do you think each of them releases in a year?

Let me assure you that at least two new phones release every single day in this country. Yes, every day! Thus, for a phone to stand out, you’ve got to do something wickedly out-of-the-box. You could create a supremely controversial phone, or a phone that collaborates with another giant brand to claim greatness, or you could carry forward past success and say you’ve created another legend. That’s exactly the path that was followed by three phones in the last few days.

Controversy’s child

The Rs 251 phone. Freedom 251. Apologies to all who cursed under their breath, and congratulations to the minuscule few who may have got one in their hand. Yes, the phone that was supposed to change the destiny and empower the nation. One that was cheaper than a cup of coffee, that was going to be in every Indian hand – turned out to be only for the very lucky 5,000. Not crores, not lakhs – just 5,000.

But let’s forget the broken promises, the crores of publicity they got for free, the sky-high claims and the sad reality and focus on what finally came out when they shipped the world’s cheapest smartphone.

It’s a nice-looking phone, small, textured plastic, 4-inch Quad HD display, runs on Android 5, quad core processor. The camera takes okay pictures, it even manages selfies with the front camera. Add a microSD card and you may get away with loading some apps. It’s difficult to criticise the phone as every time you do that, the Rs 251 equation rears its cheap head!

Should you buy the Freedom 251? That’s a rhetorical question as you can’t get your hands on one. There’s a lesson that this phone does teach you. Never buy any product from the company that made Freedom 251. The ringing bells logo should start ringing alarm bells in your head.

Optical giant

Leica. To anyone who knows anything about cameras, that name is usually spoken with a hushed tone and a gushing awe. To hobbyists, Leica is the maker of God Cameras, and for professionals this is holy ground. Huawei obviously thought that bringing in Leica’s technology into its phone would make them the king of cameraphones.

Click! Huawei’s new phone offering optical giant Leica’s technology stands out in a crowded market, though at a high price.

Did it translate into that? Well, it starts well as they brought in not one but dual lenses from the German optics giant. The phone oozes elegance with a supremely thin mono-bloc design. Fingerprint scanner at the back, near bezel-less 5.2-inch full HD display, 3GB RAM, Android 6.0 – it’s a top-line-spec phone.

Let’s get to its main USP, the dual-lens camera. Images were stunningly clear as the dual-lens technology has an edge when it comes to depth of field. Plus, one lens shoots in monochrome and the other in colour, resulting in superior contrast. No 4K video recording and no Optical Image Stabilisation are surprising omissions. The phone stands out but its price of about Rs 39K is a dampener. Still, it’s the cheapest way to get your hands on a Leica!

Triple crown quest

After launching two very successful devices, the S7 and the S7 Edge, Samsung aims for a triple crown with the Galaxy Note 7. For those wondering where the Note 6 is, well, it doesn’t exist! Maybe Samsung decided that if the next iPhone will be a 7, then the next Note should also be a 7. Thus the 6 got skipped!

A New note: Samsung’s Note 7 offers the S Pen that works underwater.

Leaving aside the number magic, the Note 7 has big shoes to fill. The famous S Pen packs in some new nifty tricks. The stick’s tip is smaller, twice as sensitive, and thus, far more accurate. It lets you translate words on websites, create GIFs on YouTube and write on the screen at any time without turning on the phone screen.

Plus, because the phone is water-proof, the stylus works underwater too. Wonder how many of you have got the urge to jot down a note nine feet below the water line? If that was on your bucket list, then the Note 7 fulfills it. Another add-on is the iris or eye-scanner to unlock your phone with your eyes. It borrows the dual-curved design from the S7 edge, and on the 5.7-inch Quad HD display, it looks even better.

The Note 7 is the world’s first smartphone to use the super-tough Corning Gorilla Glass 5. Optics are fantastic, processor screams along, it looks amazing, works brilliantly and everything is just right. Except that nothing truly stands out. The Note series was always about pushing the envelope. This one plays it safe. Almost Apple safe.

In a country that launches more phones than social welfare schemes, these were the three standouts. It’s a good tactic to do something radically different to make a mark. What lies ahead? A phone they pay you to buy? A smartphone in collaboration with Tesla? The Galaxy S20 that skips 12 generations?

In the Indian smartphone market, any or all of these could well happen!

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

From HT Brunch, August 28, 2016

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