The $4 smartphone is real and this is what it’s like to use it.

Four. That’s how many US dollars the Freedom 251 costs.

It’s a shockingly low number, especially if you’re used to doling out $600 for a flagship phone. And despite raising many eyebrows when it was unveiled by Indian company Ringing Bells back in February — with some doubting that the phone would materialize at that price — not only is the Freedom 251 real, it’s also surprisingly decent.

In case you were wondering what the number 251 stands for, since its not the 251st version of the phone obviously, 251 is the cost of the phone in Indian Rupees (₹). The company faces a loss of around ₹150 ($2.25) per unit, and is hoping the government will offer a subsidy of some kind. The Freedom 251 that I got my hands on, which Ringing Bells says is the version that will ship to customers, is noticeably different to the one it showed earlier this year. That’s a good thing — there have been some big improvements.

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The smartphone feels well built, despite its too-good-to-be-true price. The curved sides and placement of the rear camera are reminiscent of the Moto E, though it’s noticeably thinner.

The smartphone is a bit thick, but pretty lightweight and compact. Edges are curved and while $4 (about £3 or AU$5) isn’t going to buy you a swish metal case, the Freedom 251’s plastic body doesn’t feel cheap. It fits well in your pocket, and is easy to carry around. And at that price point, you cannot expect more and cannot complain.

The grid finish on the back, coupled with its 4-inch screen, make the device easy to hold in one hand. The buttons on the sides are plasticky, but they give good enough feedback.

Key specs

The phone is certainly no powerhouse, but in my testing I didn’t find it to be too slow, either. Here are some of its specs:

  • 1GB RAM
  • 1.3GHz quad-core processor
  • 4-inch IPS, 960×540-pixel display
  • 3.2-megapixel rear camera, 0.3-megapixel front

Like most entry-level smartphones from Asia, the Freedom 251 has a dual-SIM card slot and it supports Wi-Fi and 3G. It also has a 1,450 mAh battery, which the company claims will keep the phone ticking for a day on a single charge.

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On the software side, the device runs a build based on Android 5.1 Lollipop with no extra bloatware installed on it. However, the company has partnered with other software firms for an additional source of revenue — so if you buy this phone, you will find preinstalled apps and services.

The icons on the phone still looked similar to Apple’s iOS. But they’re not a blatant rip-off, as they were in the February unveiling.

One of the most noticeable corners that Ringing Bell has cut with the phone is in its sound. The speaker, placed at the bottom, makes a loud enough noise but the quality is poor.

The Freedom 251 has 3.2-megapixel camera with LED Flash and a 0.3-megapixel front camera. The camera comes with a smile mode, which captures photo when a smile is detected. There’s also Face Beauty mode and Panorama mode. Users can customize the camera by personalizing the exposure and choosing from color presets and white balance. The image processing is a bit slow, and only gets slower in HDR mode or using other modes.

In the end, you cannot really say much for a smartphone priced at₹51, considering even some of the components used in the phone would be more expensive than the price of the phone. You cannot buy this phone. And it is clear the company is selling these at a massive loss, which would be in multiples of the₹251 that it charges the lucky ones that are getting the phone.

The Freedom 251 nonetheless seems like a well-built phone with decent hardware for the price. Ringing Bells said it would ship its first batch of 200,000 phones on July 7.

But it managed to deliver a mere 2.5% of what was promised. After delivering the first 5,000 ‘Freedom 251′ smartphones, Ringing Bells announced it would deliver 65,000 more devices to those who had booked the less than $4 smartphones in the cash on delivery (COD) mode.

“We started the process of lottery a few days back and now are dispatching the units to the people. We are elated with the response that we have got for the delivered units,” the company said in a statement.

With the delivery of 65,000 units, the overall delivery of Freedom 251 will stand at 70,000 units across the country.

According to Ringing Bells’ founder and CEO Mohit Goel the company has been able to keep its promise to consumers. But has it?

Back when Ringing Bells announced Freedom 251, it was a shoddy copy of an iPhone and was in fact a rebadged Adcom smartphone. Worse, the Adcom logo was covered by a whitener. But you can always win with that price tag, no matter how mediocre the smartphone felt.

Fortunately, the final version of the Freedom 251 looks much different, refined and better than the prototype shown to the media last year. If one were to hide the Freedom 251 branding on the back panel, and ask a few people to guess the price of the smartphone, on the basis of its looks, Most people would guess the price to be between₹4,000 (~$60) and ₹7,000 (~$104).

The general idea for price of an entry-level smartphone is to start at about $50 approximately, an important takeaway is that Ringing Bells has succeeded in keeping the look and feel like contemporary entry-level smartphones.

Verdict

Yes, the Freedom 251 exists. It is real. It works. But it is also the biggest marketing gimmicks the industry has ever seen. Reams have been written about the smartphone and the company. And a company that didn’t exist a few months ago is now globally known.

The Freedom 251 looks like a fine entry-level smartphone with all the basic elements covered. And at that vulgar price of Rs 251, there is no room for complaints.

What do you think of the ‘Freedom 251’?

3 thoughts on “The $4 smartphone is real and this is what it’s like to use it.

  1. Pingback: After $4 smartphone comes a $8 smartphone : 5″ 720p, 2GB RAM, 16GB ROM, 8MP & 5MP Cameras, Android 5.1 | Verdict

  2. Pingback: Ringing Bells offering Freedom 251 smartphones for “free” | Verdict

  3. Pingback: Yes, its a smartphone. 12GB RAM, 1TB storage, 60 MP camera and dual Snapdragon 830s, triple batteries, hydrogen fuel cell, other insane specs | Verdict

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