Super-affordable 4G LTE data plans offered by Reliance Jio, India’s largest telecom operator, have led to a monumental uptake of affordable smartphones in the last five years, transitioning India into a market with over 700 million 4G users. The telco, which also sells affordable 4G feature phones running on KaiOS, now aims to disrupt the smartphone market by announcing an Android phone called JioPhone Next that will be available for an initial cost of only 1,999 rupees, or roughly $26.
If that sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is. While those buying the JioPhone Next will have the option to pay only 1,999 rupees at the time of purchase, they will also have to pay at least 300 rupees ($4) each month for the next 18 or 24 months depending on the plan they choose. These recurring payments will include the monthly subscription cost, as well as the remaining cost of the handset. Notably, these plans are exclusive to the JioPhone Next and will not be valid for other 4G smartphones.
If users prefer to pay the entire cost of the JioPhone Next upfront, they will be required to shell out 6,499 rupees ($78), which negates early speculation about it being the most affordable Android smartphone in India. Meanwhile, if users prefer the more compelling option, which is to pay via monthly installments, the JioPhone Next could cost much more than its upfront price.
Another disadvantage of the JioPhone Next is that it is carrier-locked, limiting users to just one network. While the JioPhone offers a secondary SIM option, data connectivity is only available on the primary SIM. This prevents users from using data on the second SIM and goes against the nature of the Indian market, which is dominated by carrier-unlocked phones.
Despite Jio’s statement claiming the JioPhone Next to be “the most affordable smartphone anywhere in the world,” it may fail to register the same kind of reaction as Jio’s disruptive data plans did. Several industry analysts told The Economic Times that Jio might be challenged in trying to compel users to pay a minimum recurring monthly expense of $4 when the average revenue per unit (ARPU) is only about $2.67. Instead of seeing it at as a slight increase, they may look at it as a straight-up 50% increase in their mobile expenses.
At the same time, it is also possible that the rival telcos in India team up with other manufacturers in the country to offer better deals for a similar or lower price. In contrast, a few other analysts are positive that the JioPhone will primarily target users looking to buy a new phone for under 5,000 rupees ($67) and also help increase the ARPU in this segment currently dominated by feature phones.
The JioPhone Next runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 215 chipset and features 2GB of RAM. The 32GB onboard storage can be expanded to up to an additional 512GB using a microSD card. The phone sports a single 13MP rear camera with flash and an 8MP selfie shooter. JioPhone Next’s specification page also mentions its front camera supports autofocus, but we are highly skeptical of that.
The JioPhone Next has a 5.45-inch HD+ display with thick bezels on the top and the bottom — unlike competitors such as the Xiaomi Redmi 9A Sport and Realme C11 (2021). It packs in a 3,500mAh battery and supports 7.5-watt charging.
When it comes to its software experience, the JioPhone Next is claimed to run a custom version of Android called “Pragati OS” that was co-developed by Reliance Jio and Google. Pragati is a Hindi word that means progress. The phone also comes with some special India-centric Snapchat lenses, Google Lens support, and Google Camera Go, and it supports voice commands in up to 10 Indian languages. As opposed to Jio’s claims, Esper’s Mishaal Rahman says Pragati OS is the Android Go edition of Android 11, with Jio’s apps preinstalled and a few other optimizations.
While Jio is registering interest in the smartphone through its website, enthusiasts will have to wait until November 4 to buy the JioPhone Next.
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