Android One review: One for the masses

TOP FEATURES

– Good performance
– Stock Android UI
– Priority software updates

WHERE TO BUY

Micromax Canvas A1 with Android One (Magnetic Black)Amazon.in : INR 6,499.00Buy now

Google announced the Android One programme with an aim to reach out to the next five billion smartphone users with affordable yet feature-packed devices. It decided to kick start the initiative from India where smartphone penetration is just about 10% partnering with domestic smartphone brands Karbonn, Micromax and Spice.Android One is essentially a design reference platform that enables manufacturers to build low-cost smartphones with much more ease. The phone produced as part of the programme run a stock version of Android with updates directly seeded by Google, keeping the experience consistent across different devices.

The first set of Android One devices include Micromax Canvas A1, Spice Dream Uno and Karbonn Sparkle V. The phones feature the same internals and even look similar except for a few minor aesthetic differences.

Is Android One a revolutionary platform that will change the Indian smartphone landscape? We got our hands on all three devices and have extensively used the Micromax Canvas A1 to answer that question.

Build and Design
Made of plastic, the phones bear a simple, utilitarian look and the focus is on making the device durable and good to hold with soft rounded corners and edges.

The front of the phone features black plastic bezel that sports a glossy finish and a 4.5-inch FWVGA(480x854p) IPS display. The Android One devices come without any hardware capacitive keys for navigation. The front panel also features a 2MP front camera and a round earpiece.

The soft, plastic keys for volume control and power are located at the right edge and offer good tactile feedback. The bottom edge sports the micro-USB port while the 3.5mm headset jack sits at the top. The back features a removable plastic back cover. It’s essentially the rear panel where OEMs have differentiated their offerings.

The Spice and Micromax phones sport a soft touch, rubberized, matte finish that feels good to hold. The Karbonn phone feels more plasticky at the back even though it sports a matte finish. The Spice and Micromax phones have soft, rounded edges while the Karbonn Sparkle V has flat edges and a slight taper at the back.

Micromax differentiates the phone with its own branding and a protruding, circular, metallic ring that houses the phone’s 5MP rear camera and LED flash. The ring has a dark, brushed-metal finish though we feel that the finish could have been better. A small, round speaker opening and the Android One branding is also present at the back.

The Spice Dream Dream Uno has the same back cover as that of Micromax but with a simple small circular slot for the camera lens. The Karbonn Android One phone has square slots for the camera lens and LED flash that protrude out slightly. It also has a small rectangular opening for the speaker outlet instead of the circular one.

Overall, the phones are well built with no squeaks and wobbles, and exude a sense of durability. In terms of aesthetics, we like the Spice phone with its minimalist design. The Micromax phone looks the most fancy thanks to the camera ring.

Display
The Android One phones sport a 4.5-inch FWVGA(480x854p)IPS display. The display offers good viewing angles and decent sunlight legibility. However, we found it a little prone to smudges. Also, while the low display resolution doesn’t stick out due to the comparatively smaller screen size, the experience is not as good when compared to the 720p display of the Xiaomi Redmi 1S, which is priced at Rs 5,999.

Software
The phones run a stock version of Android 4.4 KitKat with Google Now launcher and a few non-removable preloaded apps. The three phones are exclusive to three different e-commerce marketplaces and come with their respective apps in addition to brand specific content store. Swiping to the far-left pane on the home screen shows you all your Google Now notifications.

The phone comes with the Google Camera app and you cannot take a pictures without an external storage source. Google will directly seed software updates to the Android One phones, which also implies that these will be one of the first devices to receive a software update when Google turns on the switch.

Camera
The phone sports a 5MP rear camera with LED flash and a 2MP front-facing camera.

Shots taken with the rear camera of Micromax Canvas A1 in daylight were decent and exhibited warm hues, but the colours were inaccurate, ending up a little colder compared to the actual subject.

The photos we took did not show too many details, but there was less noise compared to the cameras of other phones in this price range. We observed similar results in Spice’s Android One smartphone.

Pictures taken in low light lacked detail and we observed that the LED flash was also not able to evenly fill light.

The phone supports 1080p videos capture but videos shot with the phone were average and just good for casual social sharing.

The front camera takes decent selfies and is good for video chats.

Performance
The Canvas A1 and other Android One phones are powered by a 1.3GHz MediaTek quad-core processor, Mali-400MP graphics and 1GB RAM. The phone has 4GB internal storage and a microSD card slot that supports cards of up to 32GB capacity. Out of 4GB, 2.27GB is available to the user.

We found the performance of the phone to be extremely smooth. In fact, it is comparable with the likes of Motorola’s Moto G. It registers even the lightest of taps on the screen and does not hang while switching between apps quickly. The transition effects are nice. However, certain apps take a few seconds to start. We did not encounter lag while browsing the web, scrolling through lists inside apps, casual gaming and switching between apps.

In synthetic benchmarks, the phone scored 18,752 in Antutu, 4182 in Quadrant and 62.3 in Nenamark 2 benchmark tests. Some of these benchmark scores are considerably higher than the Moto E’s. But we’d not recommend a phone based solely on benchmarks as real world performance is different, at times.

The phone comes with 4GB storage out of which 2,27GB is available to the user, and also sports a microSD card slot to store more content.

The Canvas A1 has a 1,700mAh battery and lasted us less than a full-day (about 8-9 hours) with mixed to heavy use including about one to two hours of making calls, playing games, clicking some pictures, listening to music and browsing the web. We feel the phone should have come with a bigger battery.

The dual-sim phone offers decent call quality and signal reception. It supports 3G data on both sim-card slots.

The phone was able to lock to GPS without any hiccups.

The external speaker on the phone offers loud sound output but there’s some distortion at high volume levels. However, the sound gets muffled when the phone lies on its back, which is a problem with all such designs that place speakers at the back.

Gaming
We were able to play casual games like Temple Run 2 and Subway Surfers without encountering any lag. However, we noticed some frame drops and minor lag while playing graphics-rich games like Asphalt 8.

Verdict
The Android One phones are no doubt among the best entry-level Android smartphones when it comes to performance and software. You also get priority software updates directly from Google. The camera and battery backup were a bit underwhelming but then you have to consider that these are sub-Rs 6,500 phones we’re talking about.

While the Android One initiative is commendable, we do feel it’s not ground breaking. Google’s OEM partners have already launched similar phones and it’s not clear if they’ll promote Android One over their own phones. Xiaomi and Asus have also launched their own entry-level phones that offer a good set of features although Android updates may not be as swift. But we’re unsure if users who buy entry-level phones really care about Android updates.

A superior alternative that we can suggest over the Android One phones is the Xiaomi Redmi 1S. However, the phone’s availability is limited to one online retailer via weekly flash sales, which makes it difficult to get. Asus ZenFone 4 is also a decent alternative.

If you’re open to Windows Phone, the Nokia Lumia 530 is a good option.