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The Cheap Android Phone Is Here, But It's Not What You'd Expect. (osnews.com)
93 points by pdelgallego 2293 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 59 comments

Given the similar specs on HTC Sensation (shipping 1.2 Ghz not 1.5) which sells for $550 unsubsidized leads us to some possible conclusions:

(1) Xiaomi is going with razor thin margins on this first model to establish their name.

(2) $310 price unlocked won't apply for most of the people reading this.

(3) time to short higher margin android handset shops like HTC as commoditization hits with a vengeance.

(4) Conversely high end component makers look to win out as low margin phones explode everywhere and vendors bid for high end chips, screens and batteries.

All of the above.

Well #1 for sure. And they'll sell the phone for more where possible, but also play the other side by selling it dirt cheap via the net just to grow, so #2.

And yeah, #4. We're always going to need components and without a pesky OS vendor to demand a cut HW manufacturers will either make more, or simply win through increased volume at the new low prices. I'm sure a lot of us are waiting for the entrenched interests to crumble.

So #3, for sure. As the market opens up, and cheap hardware like this makes everyone a potential android developer, the high-margin players are relegated to the more clueless of their customer base as the rest are enticed away.

It's "cheap" (aggressively priced) insofar as the value you are getting at that price point, not absolute price tag. The 'not what you'd expect' is that they are competing on price and quality

I don't consider $310 'cheap' or 'mindblowing'.

It's about half what it's nearest competitor costs without a contract.

I'm currently shopping for a new phone, as my Nexus One keeps shutting off at random and a new battery didn't fix it. Since I don't want a contract, I'll be paying full price...I would love to buy this phone instead of a Nexus S or Galaxy S or other recent HTC phones. I'm limiting myself to phones that are easily rooted, since I like a stock Android OS rather than the ones that carriers have screwed up (I also rely on the WiFi hotspot feature occasionally, and I'm not paying $20/mo extra for it on trop of the already outrageous data rates). If this phone were available in the US today for $310, I would buy it today, without a bit of hesitation. There's nothing even close to that price point with those kind of specs.

I have the Virgin Mobile LG Optima V, which is $150 now and goes on sale for less periodically. That's $150 unsubsidized and with a month-to-month, no contract plan. It's not the greatest phone in the world but I'm largely satisfied with cost/performance tradeoff.

Covered here previously: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2171107 My write up on how to activate the Optimus for WiFi use only: http://blog.gerundinganimal.com/2011/01/cheap-wifi-only-andr...

Are locked phones really unsubsidized? Not $200 subsidy, obviously, but maybe $50 or $100, considering that Virgin expects you to use it with a $30+ monthly plan and would treat it as a customer acquisition cost.

As I understand subsidized vs. unsubsidized, yes it is. I can buy the phone without entering into a contract. I can terminate service with VM after 30 days. I can sell the phone to someone else who can choose to buy service from VM or not.

True it isn't unlocked, but I'm not aware of anyone saying unsubsidized == unlocked.

I work for Vodafone (Australia) and we definitely subsidise our locked phones. We charge a $75 (first six months)/$25 (thereafter) unlocking fee to cover the subsidy costs.

Given that the subsidy provided by the carrier is funded by the monthly contract payment of the customer, it probably isn't worth splitting hairs here.

It is worth splitting hairs because AT&T and Verizon are guaranteed to either make $75+/mo (it was $110 for my minimal minutes plan) for 2+ years OR a $200+ cancellation fee to make up for the cost of the phone.

You can buy a Virgin mobile phone and never activate it. You can stop paying without penalty after your first month. That's unsubsidised.

OTOH, Virgin USA may still be subsidizing it (by charging below cost), and just willing to take a loss if you never activate it. Since it only works on the Virgin network anyways, this isn't a risky gamble.

I assume that the $310 pricetag is before any sort of carrier subsidy, which would make this $200-300 cheaper than some of today's top-end devices. This could be a $10 phone on contract, or even free.

There's at least a dozen no-contract android phones under $300 on Newegg:


I think the idea is that those phones are not as sophisticated, despite being cheaper.

But they don't have dual core 1.5 Ghz chips in them.

Yes, but they're cheaper. So for $300, you pay for what you get. I'm not even sure if this news warrants a headline on HN.

No, you don't. Compare with current dual core models.

What's the cost of

- Samsung Galaxy S II

- LG Optimus 2x (or Optimus Speed, depending on location)

for you? Both are recent dual core models, the latter is the cheaper one (I own that one and payed more than $300 and thought it a bargain).

A $99 unlocked phone would be both, IMO. Just like the TouchPad went ionospheric at that price, the sub $100 phone with that kind of power would likely do the same.

The issue isn't just carrier subsidy in this case, having an uber-cheap Android phone will open up huge markets that are currently underserved by smart phones (Africa, anyone?). There are projects afoot that would greatly benefit from seriously cheap, capable hardware right now--my friend is working on a water finder project for rural areas in poor countries (think Botswana in the sticks) to help track well quality and production. This is a huge issue for these areas and having something that is as powerful as Android with GPS and network capabilities is a game changer.

At $310, that's a harder sell. At $99, it's a no brainer.

I'm not sure. The Touchpad broke that way because it was a $600 device that was all of a sudden $99. People were anchored on "this is an expensive device" and all of a sudden it was supremely affordable.

A straight up $99 phone certainly wouldn't have quite the appeal. I do think you'd sell a bunch of them, but nothing like the touchpad.

$80 Android phones are available: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2892031

This article is pointing out that cheap high-end Androids (superphones?) are also becoming available.

I'm partial to Companion Devices, or Companions, if you're looking for a better word than smartphone.

"A $99 unlocked phone would be both, IMO. Just like the TouchPad went ionospheric at that price, the sub $100 phone with that kind of power would likely do the same."

It might, but I do not think it is a given. By the time it is economically feasible to sell such a phone for that price, the bar may have been raised to 'require' more power. Phones cost a couple of hundred dollar not only because of technical limitations, but also because that is what 'we' want to pay. Just like what happened with PCs, the prices may (and probably will) come down eventually, but I think that may be a few years in the future yet. For example, I would prefer a 3D or even holographic screen over a cheaper phone. I also think there will be applications of realtime image processing that will make 'us' prefer a faster phone at the same price over the current one at a lower price.

Yes, I don't either. I'm currently using a ZTE Blade. 600 MHz ARM 11 processor (Cortex-A would have been nice), Adreno 200 GPU, 512 MB RAM, a nice 480 x 800 screen and all the usual stuff like WiFi, GPS, etc. I'm running Android 2.2.

Sure, I've seen faster Android phones, but it feels quite responsive and it's usable. Angry Birds works ok. It cost me 90 quid, that's $140.

How do you find the phone, aka Orange San Francisco? My biggest question: is there a sound recorder ap that can access the microphone and make decent sample rate audio recordings?

Yes, you can record sound from the built-in microphone. The app I have seems to record 3gpp @ 8kHz, 12.8 kbit. No idea if you can record with a higher sampling rate. I haven't used it before, but the recording sounds way better than a typical phone call.

Downvoted because the article explicitly states the price is with "no contract or whatever other nonsense."

Get it to a provider and they'll subsidize it into a $50 phone.

Especially if there is an iPhone 4S for $299 in a month.

Yes, of course. It'll never compete with a mythical iPhone 4 at $299. iPhone 4 currently costs ~$450 unsubsidized and is a dramatically less powerful device than the one we are discussing.

You know that Android devices are outselling iPhones, even in the high end, right? Price is not the only reason people are choosing Android devices over iPhones.

On the Apple store an unlocked iphone 4 is $650.

Android phones outsell iPhones for several reasons, chiefly supply and price.

"Android phones outsell iPhones for several reasons, chiefly supply and price."

Do you have a source for this assertion, or is it just a gut feeling?

"... even in the high end, right? "


>Price is not the only reason people are choosing Android devices over iPhones.

Citation please? Some people no doubt buy Android for phobias about "walled gardens", etc. but that's about all I can think of having used both.

Phobia means irrational fear. Preferring open gardens is IMO very rational. Shouldn't need to explain why on HN, right?

With a 2 year contract for, roughly, $1900. Unlocked it's $649, so you can see why a similarly-spec'ed phone at half the price is kind of a big deal.

If you got this with a contract, it would go for $49. Compare that to the Epic 4G Touch for $199 with a contract.

> It's faster than any other smartphone

Higher clockspeed != faster. One thing I've noticed about a few products from China and even on Android device variants, that this number does not definitively make it faster. Niether does the addition of a "fast" GPU and loads of ram.

Maybe its because China tends to write poor drivers and on Android, manufacturers and carriers love to add their own custom UI or applications that take a toll on the speed and experience.

Did you even watch the video demo? sounds like you are just running wild with your predetermined judgments.

Are there any other currently existing smartphones that are even cheaper? The comments there mention the ZTE Blade.

I have a Huawei Sonic (successor to the Ideos), cost $180AU unlocked and I like it very much. My previous smartphone was an iPhone 3GS. http://projectgus.com/2011/08/huawei-sonic-review/ . Specs are not high end like the phone mentioned in the article, but its very usable.

Check out the Huawei Ideos X3

The Trekstor Smartphone is about 80€ unlocked, but is worse than the Blade.

Well, it's all relative. A $310 for a phone is quite expensive but can be considered a decent price if you insist on those specs. But it's still something like a luxury toy. There are cheaper smartphones already on the market priced well below $100-$130 and there are genuinely cheap Android phones, too.

Anyone who knows anything about the Chinese mobile phone market would not be surprised about something like the Xiaomi phone being labeled "innovative." As much as Chinese companies have a reputation for making cheap knockoffs and cloning anything from baby food to Apple stores, there's a significant and competitive domestic Chinese market for cell phones which does reward innovation. Not necessarily YC-caliber innovation, but cell phones became prevalent and dominant in China faster than in the West, because of the large domestic market, low regulations, and international manufacturers eager to jumpstart the market. For example, Motorola was for a while the largest foreign business in China and was the market leader in mobile devices. Cheap operating costs and a rising affluent middle class = lots of cell phones sold.

You want an anecdote? I remember when I was in China in 2003. (Or 2004. Around that time.) Back here in the US, Motorola RAZRs were sorta popular. Here's an image for comparison of scale:


In China, the popular phones were very different. They were much smaller, they had more varied ringtones, they were more colorful. And they were not all Motorola phones either, Chinese domestic manufacturers were all trying to make their phones as thin, sleek, and minimalist as possible. (Sound familiar?) Since then Motorola has lost a lot of market share to Chinese manufacturers who mostly are not delivering tasteless clones. Part of it is that expensive cell phones become a status symbol, and the people who can afford those phones take them seriously. I couldn't find any pictures by Googling combinations of "china," "cell phone," "2003," etc. So take my word on it or not, but that was the case. (Of course, the Xiaomi device looks like an iPhone. But then everything looks like an Apple product these days.)

What's the moral of the story? Don't be like Motorola, don't throw away your Chinese market share, and don't force Google to acquire you just for your overpriced IP.

For 100$ Android phones, there's the Samsung Gio (800mhz). Aside from it's small screen, I don't have any complaints. It comes with Android 2.3.

But obviously, for the specs listed, no phone competes at that price. It makes me wonder what margins they're expecting per phone.

An awesome custom ROM which looks to finally match iOS in its awesomeness and smoothness, but that begs the question: what version of Android is it running? Can I upgrade this thing?

MIUI is currently running Android 2.3.5. These guys push out a new build of MIUI every Friday and I highly recommend it over any other ROM. Been running it on my EVO since late last year and never want to go back to stock. There's ports for a bunch of different devices here: http://miui.us/

Does the MIUI rom alter the stock Android UI in any significant way?

How do they achieve better performance than other roms? Better drivers or just more tuning?

It's a lot more iOS like. No more app drawer, instead all your applications are icons on the homescreens or in folders on the homescreen. Also there's an iOS like dock at the bottom where you can put up to 5 icons.

I can't really comment on how they get the better performance cause it's closed source. All the ports for the various devices are using the drivers from CyanogenMod I believe so it just has to be better tuning.

I don't suppose they'd be willing to make one with a keyboard?

Is there any "cheap" Android phone that has reasonable support for Flash 10.x? I need one mainly for dev testing.

HTC Wildfire is about $80 cheaper than this. Ships with Froyo.

Wow, a video with an ad I can't even pause or stop. That is absolutely evil.

After 30 seconds of googling, I can get the "LG GT540 Optimus" unlocked for $129, and it can be updated to Android 2.3.

This phone certainly isn't the cheapest android phone, so I'm not sure what it's selling point is.

The Optimus is 3G (no 4G), has a 600MHz processor, 156MB of RAM, and a cheap low res screen. You get what you pay for. I looked into it as an option to replace my dying Nexus One, but it'd be a big downgrade.

A phone closer to these specs (though I'm unaware of any available phones with specs this good) will cost $600+.

My mom got an LG Optimus cause she wanted a smartphone with wifi without having to shell out the cash for an iPhone or Android phone.

It has a terrible screen, is hardly responsive, and is only useful as a phone. And barely, considering how difficult it was to place a call using that awful screen.

I have an Optimus LG V. While the way it came from the box sounds familiar, I have to say that rooting the phone and installing the Bumblebee Rom has made it incredibly reliable and reasonably responsive (being able to overclock to 850 helps). I replaced my dying Nexus One with this, and I can't say I've missed much (other than a real version of flash, but I have a tablet for that stuff).

Cheap, non-slow phone? Lets face it, the phone market is full of slow Android phones because of cost-cutting and Android is something of a beast (no hardware accel until version 2.3, needs lots of ram, etc). The phone in the article is a dual core monster. At $310 its going to be $50 or $75 on contract. Thats a nice price point for feature-phone users looking to upgrade and not having a terrible Android experience with phones like that beat-up Optimus.

If we can get a $50 smartphone on the market that doesn't completely stink then we're going to really see a big move towards android.

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