The 4G VoLTE feature phone is a concept that comes out of Reliance Jio’s need to get entry-level customers on board to shore up numbers. Since the cheapest 4G VoLTE phone is still about Rs 3,000, it had hit a wall when it came to raking in customers who can’t afford even this device. Feature phones have have traditionally been 2G/3G devices, so a 4G VoLTE feature phone had to be conceived and executed from scratch.
My reservation about such a device is the fear that it will not be able to better the experience for the user, who will be stuck on low-spec phone on a high-speed network. But having used the Reliance JioPhone for a couple of days, I think phone might just work to the customer’s benefit. Here is why:
When it comes to design the JioPhone is clearly a feature phone maybe with the exception of the screen which is a bit larger than regular units in this range. It also offers better colours and clarity than most feature phones. The KaiOS on the phone is unremarkable. But it works and there is no learning for the users. Inside the app tray is the Jio app where a handful of native apps are on offer. I tried all of the apps the apps and they offer a seamless, smooth experience for the user from watching movies to listening to songs and playing games. In fact, I tried Jio Movies on the tiny screen and if I am someone without the option to access a larger screen I wouldn’t mind flipping the phone over and watching a movie on it.
But then Jio has really thought this through by offering the option to cable the phone to a TV to stream movies to a more traditional screen. Also, there was no buffering at all on the Om Shanti Om movie I watched. This is an idea so offbeat it might just work. Soon we could see affordable 10-inch screens being built to cater to this market. The next bit is the browser. Having progressed as a user with the mobile phone evolution, I know how bad this experience is on a small screen. But in the JioPhone the pages do load and with all elements intact. At least a google search won’t be such a pain on this phone.
However, typing on the phone for browsing or searching is not that easy — hopefully, those who have not been exposed to a touchscreen will fare better. Also, moving the cursor around is also a pain. But then feature phones have not been made for such a use case. Still, given the limitations of its form factor, the Reliance JioPhone seems to be able to do a decent job of opening up access to content of all kinds. It will also give the users a good taste of the web, at least when it comes to load time and speed. My incling is that JioPhone users might progress faster to a larger screen smartphone and will in that end up being a good gamble for Jio in the long run.