The myth that is low-end Android

Trying to market feature phones to today’s wireless market is pretty much impossible. With millions of smartphone activations each day, this leaves very little time left for the basic talk and text phones that were still the norm five years ago. So when no one is buying them, what do you do? Thus the budget smartphone was born, and Android was the perfect OS that would allow flexibility for manufactures who wanted to customize it to match their premium handsets. It would be a win-win for consumers who didn’t want to deal with contracts and could’t afford buying devices at their full unsubsidized price.

A lot of tech enthusiasts look at this as hurting Android in general. They see it in the same light as Windows being forced onto low budget netbooks of 2007 – No upgrade path, low performance, and overall not very good. But the real problem is that they’re comparing apples to oranges – Every Android based phone serves the same basic purpose, they all run the same software, but they are all catered to different people:

  • High-end phones have all the best features – The best camera, a beautiful 1080p display, and great audio. It’s the perfect phone for when you want to take a break and relax to watch a movie or TV show on Netflix. Games come to life on a screen that beautiful, and the soundtrack just makes you feel like you’re in the game itself.
  • Mid-range phones have high quality tech inside them. They are like buying your average car. They take great pictures, you can video chat with no problem, and everything works really well. It’s made out of plastic, but it’s still nice plastic.
  • Low-end phones typically don’t have a camera that’s worth using other than for quick snapshots, nor do they have a camera at the front for video chatting. The screens are decent, but don’t have that “wow” factor. You can call people, you can text with ease, Google Maps is one click away, and if you need to do some comparison shopping when you’re out looking for medication at the grocery store at 11PM at night, it’s easy enough to do.

So the point is that too many people go on about how horrible a low-end Android phone is, without actually considering what people use them for. AT&T, T-Mobile, nor any of the other carriers would EVER sell you a device that wouldn’t do what it says on the box, and look, I even have mine to show you. It says that my phone has the following capabilities:

  • Google Play
  • 3.2MP Camera/Video Recorder
  • Web Browsing
  • Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth Connectivity

And does it do all that? Yes, and with no hiccups whatsoever. Now, if you try and throw it something like Netflix, you have issues. But then again, I didn’t buy this phone for that purpose. It is not the manufacturers fault that people think that the cheaper device can do everything as well as the more expensive one. And that is why you shouldn’t read into negative reviews at places like Amazon, because that is mostly why low-end phones have poor reviews – People think they’re getting a good deal and they’re not.

But then you have to also understand that most of these low budget phones actually have decent specifications. What makes them poor is the fact that manufacturers set them up to be underpowered to meet battery requirements. So they might setup a 800MHz phone to work at mostly 200-300MHz, and of course that’s not at all impressive and that’s where the lag comes from. When you have as much bloat as any other phone, it also impacts the smoothness and uses up all the RAM. But then again, the lag is mostly due to people trying to use the device for something it wasn’t designed for.

And this is where communities like XDA are really helpful, because if there’s any phone that needs developer support, its these low-end phones. Once you’re able to tweak the CPU settings to work better and more efficiently, and delete all the stuff you don’t need, the budget phone becomes amazing and you forget about all those more expensive and better looking handsets.

So when people like the team behind Firefox OS say Android isn’t worth it on these devices because they’re too “clunky”, it makes me wonder whether they actually understand the usage. I’m running CyanogenMod Jelly Bean 4.2 perfectly on my device, I have all the latest and greatest apps from Google Play, and every game that supports a 3.5” screen has been a joy to play. Of course it’s just Firefox trying to sell their new devices, but really, you can’t compete, especially not with obsolete web apps!

Android is perfectly capable of running within minimal specs. Stop pushing Google to do something when there isn’t a problem to begin with. Whether you like it or not, all these cheap phones are helping the platform to grow. They also help us, as people who buy the better phones, have a fallback when our devices break before our contracts are up – Which is the real benefit here and should be the sole reason people accept it, because sometimes we can’t just go out and buy a new $500 phone the day after breaking our original.