How do you review the Freedom 251, a phone that costs Rs 251 phone? How do you determine that it is a phone on which you can spend $4, which won’t even buy you a decent cup of coffee in a place like San Francisco? How do find out if a new phone, which is supposed to last months if not years, is worth buying for Rs 251?
The answer is deceptively complex. No, it seriously is. But then it’s also just the matter of Rs 251. Or in other words, it probably doesn’t matter. You just get it.
For me, any phone, if it works and doesn’t fall apart in hands, is worth Rs 251. On that account, the Freedom 251, announced by Ringing Bells in February and shipping out in limited quantities now, succeeds spectacularly. The mere fact that this phone exists, complete with its Freedom branding and its colourful packaging box, is worth Rs 251, its asking price. But don’t just stop at its existence. The Freedom 251 is also a phone that can make calls, open web pages, click photos, utilise 3G connectivity as well as Wi-Fi, can play music, can ring the alarm, can store your contacts and can use Facebook Lite. That actually makes it insanely great!
The only hitch, although the one that shouldn’t matter to consumers, is that it also almost definitely cheats.
Build quality and design
One of the most interesting bits about the Freedom 251 is that it doesn’t look like a Rs 251 phone. It looks like a Rs 2,500 phone and it probably is a Rs 2,500 phone (that is the cheating part). It is also probably made by Alps, a Chinese company. But the actual cost of the Freedom 251 is a moot point here. What is more significant is that it is a phone with good enough build quality and finishing, although the removable battery in the unit we tested looked a little suspect and had a piece jutting out. But overall, phone looks good. The glass cover on top of the screen feels tough enough and the removable plastic back cover is durable enough. It also has a nice textured finish.
The Freedom 251 is a small phone with 4-inch screen so it slips into hands or pocket pretty effortlessly. The phone is all plastic — what else were you expecting, duh — but edges and buttons are smooth enough to show that this is phone that costs more than Rs 251. The phone has three touch-sensitive buttons under its screen.
What is inside?
As noted earlier, this is a more expensive phone than what its price suggests. The hardware that it carries too belongs to a more expensive phone. But the interesting bit is that the hardware inside the phone and what Ringing Bells lists on the box doesn’t match. Ringing Bells says that the Freedom 251 has a quad-core processor with speed of 1.3GHz, 4-inch qHD display, 3.2MP rear camera, 0.3MP front camera, 1GB RAM, 8GB internal storage and 1450 mAh battery. But here is what AIDA64, an app that detects the hardware inside a phone, reveals:
— MediaTek MT6580M processor with four cores and speed of 1.3GHz.
— 512MB RAM
— 8GB internal storage
— 480 x 800 pixel screen (this is not qHD which equals to 540 x 960 pixels)
— 1.9MP rear camera and 0.3MP front camera.
At the same time, we also find out that the phone has a proximity sensor, accelerometer and ambient light sensor! Isn’t it amazing? Also it has slots for two SIM cards and one microSD card. Inside the box you will find a charger and a pair of cheap earphones.
In terms of software, the phone uses Android Lollipop 5.1, which is not shabby at all. This Android, however, has been customised by Ringing Bells.
Once you taken the Freedom 251 and have figured out that this is a basic phone where everything works well enough, you would feel joyous. You will marvel that this thing works. But you won’t probably use it. The reason is that this is not a good phone. Although, how do you define a good phone that costs Rs 251 matters a lot here.
But I did use the Freedom 251 and I found that even though it is a slow phone and something that won’t run the Asphalt 8 at those smooth frame rates, it is good enough to make a few calls and messages. The lag is not crippling. It is just slow. The animations are slow and the apps take an extra second. But then they open. It is also good enough to open a website and let you read through an article or two. The screen is small and has this weird parallax kind of effect (possibly due to air gap between layers of screen), which are common to cheap screens, but the display is oddly better than what many of the expensive smartphones used to have in year 2005 and 2006 before the iPhone happened. It does show muted colours and have bad viewing angles. But you can read an article on it, unless you are in the sunlight. That counts for something!
By default the phone has a user interface that is almost all stock Android. But the icons are different and the language is Hindi. You can change the language to English but it resets itself to Hindi after every reboot
You can also play music on phone. Or send messages using it. Best of all, we found decent sound quality during calls. This is the kind of sound that many Rs 5,000 don’t manage.
The software in this phone has this weird feel to it. It looks as if it belongs to four-year-old smartphones even though it runs fairly modern Android Lollipop. But my suspicion is that this is not an Android phone that Google has blessed. Although it comes with Google Play store installed on it, so you can install whatever app you want, granted the phone can run it. In fact, the first app that I installed on the phone after setting it up was Chrome browser, which runs fine on the phone.
By default the phone has a user interface that is almost all stock Android. But the icons are different and the language is Hindi. You can change the language to English but it resets itself to Hindi after every reboot.
What about the camera and battery. Both are good enough. Honestly, you can’t really expect anything more from a Rs 251 phone. It can click photos and selfies. That is enough. In fact, if you click a photo with it and then use a funky filter, the result is good enough to mask the fact that the image was clicked with the world’s cheapest phone. The phone has a LED flash but the focus is fixed. However, if you do tap-to-focus while clicking an image, the phone gets the metering and exposure spot on, which is very impressive. The battery life is around 4-5 hours (more if you are not going it using it as a regular phone). As I said, good enough! Check the image samples.
Should you buy it?
No, you should not (in fact, I am not sure you can because you can’t pre-order the phone anymore). Millions of people have already pre-ordered the phone and still there is no clarity on when Ringing Bells will be able to ship the Freedom 251 to all these people, although the company says it has already delivered it to thousands of buyers. Don’t add your name, if at all you can, to the waiting list of people hoping to get the Freedom 251.
But more important reason than that is the fact that I can’t confidently say this is a phone that can be your daily driver. The prices of smartphones have come down. But still you can’t buy a basic and good enough Android phone for anything less than Rs 5,000, let alone Rs 251. And honestly if you don’t want to pay decent price for a decent smartphone, then I will suggest that you go for a good feature phone.
Finally, there is the fact that the Freedom 251 is a phone that cheats. It is a more expensive phone that poses as the world’s cheapest phone aka $4 phone. But there is a method to the madness of Ringing Bells. For the company, the buzz that Freedom 251 creates will help it streamline its line-up of other phones, which will have regular prices. Whenever a unit of the Freedom 251 reaches a consumer, Ringing Bells takes a hit. It loses money but that money also helps it create some buzz around the brand.
The Freedom 251 is a marketing move, a darn smart and decent move. It is also going to make a few consumers end up feeling lucky. These are the consumers who will get the delivery of the Freedom 251. But that is all. And even though as a phone Freedom 251 is more than worth its price, literally, it is not something you should get because in the end it is less than the sum of its parts. Despite everything good about it, and a dirt cheap price, it feels more of stunt.