JioPhone Review: The ‘smart’ feature phone for the masses
There isn’t a lot that the JioPhone can do when you compare it to a proper smartphone. But then again, there’s a lot more than it can do over your run-of-the-mill feature phone. And that’s what makes it so attractive to Indians.
While the iPhones and Pixels will always come along and attract the attention of the trendy smartphone crowd, the masses may not care much for them beyond a faint interest in the technology itself. For the majority, value matters more than flashy technology when it comes to actual buying decisions. And for people with not much disposable income, saving every rupee matters. That’s where devices such as the JioPhone come in.
We’ve all probably heard about the JioPhone. Much if its fame comes from the first three letters in its name; it’s a feature phone meant to take advantage of Jio’s affordable telecom plans and connectivity. While technically the JioPhone will cost you nothing, there is a Rs 1,500 security deposit that is refundable after three years, which can effectively be considered the price of the phone. The benefits of this phone are revolutionary for the price and considering the kind of device the JioPhone is. We’ve reviewed the JioPhone, and here’s what we think about it.
JioPhone Look and Feel
Make no mistake; the JioPhone is a feature phone. However, it’s no ordinary feature phone. While typical feature phones come with limited connectivity and not much to talk about beyond the basic ‘features’ that they possess, the JioPhone tries to bridge the gap between a smartphone and a feature phone with connectivity. However, when it comes to design and build, it’s as simple and straightforward as it gets.
There’s no touch screen, and you get a physical keypad for controls and inputs. It’s all very reminiscent of the old days, where phones were more about calling and SMS than about the ability to connect to the internet. You’ll also notice that the device has been designed to appeal to the sensibilities of small-town India. Features such as a camera and a torch have been built into the device, and are easy to access as well. Long pressing the up button turns on the torch, while a similar long-press of the middle button brings up voice control to quickly place calls or send SMS.
Other quick controls on the keypad give you access to JioPay and Jio services, while the regular buttons below are used to input numbers and text where needed, as well as place or disconnect calls. The red button also controls the phone’s power, while the green button lets you access Jio’s video call facility. The bottom of the phone has the 3.5mm and AV jack, while the right has the micro-USB port for charging. The speaker is at the back along with the rear camera, while the front camera is right above the screen.
JioPhone Specifications and Features
As mentioned, the JioPhone is fairly basic when it comes to specifications and features, but what is present will no doubt appeal to buyers because of the low price. In order to use the JioPhone, you will also need an activated Jio connection, as the phone is locked to only the Jio network. The phone is 4G and VoLTE enabled to take advantage of the Jio network, and naturally uses that data to offer a handful of features and services.
The basic plan applicable only to JioPhone users is charged at Rs 153 per month, which gives you 0.5GB of high speed data per day (unlimited at 128kbps post the FUP limit), unlimited local, STD and roaming calls to any number in India, 300 SMS per plan cycle (28 days) and a complimentary subscription to Jio apps. You can of course use even a higher data plan on the Jio phone, which will give you more high-speed data or longer validity.
The phone itself has a 2.4-inch QVGA screen, a 2-megapixel rear camera, VGA front camera, WiFi connectivity, support for storage expansion up to 128GB, a 2000mAh battery, wireless FM radio, 4GB internal storage, 512MB RAM, GPS and Bluetooth connectivity. The JioPhone runs KaiOS, which is heavily customized for the device. You can use the internal and expansion storage for pictures, video and music on the device itself. The JioPhone also features NFC connectivity built into the hardware, but this has not been activated at the software level yet. At a later stage, this may be activated through a firmware update, and is designed to be used with JioPay for tap-and-pay solutions.
It’s fairly well geared for a feature phone and has some level of smart connectivity, but the basic premise and utility of the phone means it falls short of truly being a smartphone. Some major shortcomings are the inability to connect to popular cloud accounts for contacts, a lack of support for even the most basic apps including WhatsApp and Facebook, a somewhat sluggish and poorly designed interface.
There are a handful of services that the JioPhone offers, which we’ve described below:
This is Jio’s own digital wallet, and the phone can be used as a digital wallet controller to transfer money to and from your JioPhone. You can also use the Jio Phone to make payments where you would typically use cash, such as toll booths, for recharges, and more.
This most important of these is Jio TV, which plays a variety of regularly programmed TV channels, including Colors, Discovery, Zoom, Cartoon Network and more. There’s also Jio Cinema which lets you stream movies, Jio Music for audio streaming and Jio Xpress News for a curated news feed. If you use the optional TV connector cable accessory, you can also directly play all streams from the JioPhone on your TV.
This is another way to access some of the connected services, and also contains Jio Games, which lets you install games to play on the phone.
Jio Video Call
As the name suggests, this lets you use data to place video calls with other Jio users that are also using the app.
A chat based app, this uses the Jio network to send data messages rather than SMS to your contacts if they are also using the service.
Some of these services do depend on others around you to also be using the ecosystem, such as Jio Pay and Jio Share. Others are usable as they are, and the optional video cable for the JioPhone could add a lot of utility to buyers who could use the JioPhone as a one-point access to entertainment services including TV, movies, news and music.
The camera specifications are extremely basic, with the phone featuring a 2-megapixel rear camera and VGA front camera. Images are equally basic, and not more than you’d expect from such a phone. It will serve the purpose for most users who just take quick pictures on the move, but the lack of social media connectivity means there’s very little you can do with the images without connecting the phone to the a computer.
Is the JioPhone capable of replacing your smartphone? No. If you already have a smartphone, it’s of very little use to you. Even if you have an affordable smartphone, the fact that it runs Android means you have access to a plethora of apps and services that far exceed what the JioPhone can do. Get yourself a Jio connection and take advantage of the affordable and plentiful high-speed data by all means, but the JioPhone itself is of very little utility to you if you have a better device already.
If you are planning your first mobile phone purchase on a tight budget, want a simple phone for someone elderly, or just need a second device that will serve as a plain-Jane telephone, the JioPhone might be worth it. The services are a bonus and will appeal to a lot of buyers in small towns and village that could use the entertainment it offers, and the plentiful data, unlimited calling and adequate SMS quota all make this a true value proposition for a first time affordbable phone buyer.
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