Ringing Bells’ Freedom 251, the world’s cheapest smartphone, was first announced in February. The company has come a long way since then, and this Rs 251 phone is just one of the devices in its portfolio which now includes a Freedom 9900 TV at Rs 9,990. Even though Ringing Bells started deliveries of Freedom 251 a while back, the smartphone is still quite difficult to get hold of. However, we have been lucky enough to get a review unit.
Freedom 251 came in a proper box with tri-colour design and Ringing Bells logo on it, which is impressive given the company had Adcom units for display at the launch event. The back of the box has specifications of Freedom 251. On paper, the smartphone features a 4-inch qHD IPS display, 1.3Ghz quad-core processor, 1GB RAM and 8GB internal memory. The internal memory is expandable up to 32GB via microSD card. It is a 3G-enabled dual-SIM smartphone that supports 2 micro SIM cards. It runs Android Lollipop 5.1 and is backed by 1,450 mAh battery. The primary camera is 3.2MP and the front camera is 0.3MP. You’ll also get a pair of cheap earphones and a charger in the box. I spent a week with the world’s cheapest smartphone and here’s what I think.
First up, Freedom 251 looks way more expensive than its price in terms of design. The smartphone has a plastic body and a removable back. We got black review unit, which looks decent. There’s round edges and a textured plastic back which provides for a good grip. The Freedom 251 logo is at the bottom of back cover, power key on the right and volume keys on left. The micro USB charging port and headphone jack is at the top.
I am not very fond of smartphones with smaller screen sizes. Typing on a 4-inch smartphone, using the camera and browsing on a small screen still bothers me. But considering this is a Rs 251 smartphone, I kept my prejudices aside during the review period. It took me a few days before to get used to the small screen, and I think it is quite comfortable to use.
The display looks washed out. The viewing angles are not so great. The display will neither delight you, nor disappoint you. It is next to impossible to look at the screen in bright light or click pictures outdoors. Since there’s no smartphone in the market I can compare Freedom 251 to, I’d say the display is quite decent for its price. And as a patriotic add-on, the Indian flag will greet you every time you switch on the device.
There are quite a few things that I found weird while using Freedom 251. First up, the smartphone connects as a pen drive, where your system asks you to scan it or continue without scanning. Next, Freedom is spelt wrong everywhere in the phone. It’s FREEDDM instead of FREEDOM when you go to Settings or About phone menu. Also, the smartphone has this annoying habit of going back to Hindi as its default language every time you restart or reboot it. The micro USB charging port is on top of the smartphone, which I found a bit uncomfortable to use.
Now, the Freedom 251 did come with quite a few apps pre-installed like Google Chrome and Play Store; but we couldn’t find those apps promised by company CEO Mohit Goel at the launch event of Freedom TV. Goel had said Ringing Bells has partnered with Hike Messenger and a few others to bring apps to the smartphone. However, it’s a good thing they didn’t. I’m saying this because the performance of Freedom 251 drastically deteriorated after I downloaded a few apps on it.
Like any user in India, WhatsApp was the first thing I downloaded on Freedom 251.The normal Facebook app obviously refused to work on the smartphone and I downloaded Facebook Lite which worked fine. Using Facebook messenger too wasn’t much of a problem. Surprisingly, I could even edit a picture on Prisma on Freedom 251. But here’s the problem – the apps made Freedom 251 annoying to the extent that I just wanted to throw it away at one point. The smartphone became extremely slow and there were visible lags in opening even the most basic apps. The phone started behaving normally as I deleted a few and kept a few. My issue here is that even if the company is providing an expandable memory, it’s not much of a use.
Coming to the camera, I’d give full marks to the company for doing a good job here. Yes, you’ll have a difficult time focusing and the pictures will look grainy and a bit blurred. But remember, we’re talking about a Rs 251 smartphone and by that standards, the results are surely impressive. Very basic, but Ringing Bells at least put a camera and a flash there, which can be appreciated. The front camera is fine too.
The battery lasts for 2-3 hours on heavy usage and 4-5 hours on normal usage, which is great. In the GeekBench 3 battery test, Freedom 251 gave a battery runtime of 3 hours and 21 minutes from 100 per cent to 0 per cent. The smartphone clearly can’t be used for multi-tasking, but is meant for the most basic things like calling, messaging and browsing to read.
The speaker in Freedom 251 is pretty loud at its highest volume. The sound quality isn’t great but you can be sure of it reaching every nook and corner of a small room. Same goes for the headphones that come along with the smartphone. The call quality is decent and by decent I mean acceptable. I could make out what the other person is saying but there’s always noise. Basically, the call quality lacks clarity.
And a surprise
The most surprising part for me, however, was when I ran Antutu benchmark on it. Yes, I deleted all apps I had earlier downloaded to make space for Antutu. And guess what, the specifications written on the box are not even slightly in line with what we got from benchmark testing. For starters, the benchmark shows the screen’s pixel resolution to be 800x480p, whereas qHD display should ideally have a pixel resolution of 960x540p. Next up is the rear camera, which the company claims is 3.2MP but the Antutu shows it to be 1.9MP. The front camera is the same as that given on the box – 0.3MP. The processor, according to Antutu is a quad-core 1.3GHz MediaTek MT6580M and internal storage stands at 4GB, which is in conflict with printed specifications.
The question of whether to buy the smartphone or not does not arise as it isn’t available. But if you ask me, this isn’t a bad deal at Rs 251 if your needs are restricted to calling. There’s not much of a use case for Freedom 251 and this certainly won’t empower every Indian citizen as the company claims. The joy lies in holding a Rs 251 smartphone in your hands to see it actually exists. More than making calls and using the Internet occasionally, the smartphone won’t be of much use. Think of it as a disposable smartphone that one can buy in an emergency or something for the children to play with.