Cheap smartphones are nothing new in India, but even by those standards, Ringing Bell’s latest smartphone sets a new standard. The company has officially launched the Freedom 251 handset, which will cost just 251 rupees ($3.60).
Ringing Bells, a relatively new company based in the planned city of Noida near New Delhi, says the Freedom 251 smartphone will be branded “Made in India,” which is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s push to bring as much manufacturing as possible to the subcontinent. It is widely thought that the Indian government is heavily subsidizing the price of the Freedom 251, as the list of components alone would make it impossible to produce a smartphone at this price.
On the Ringing Bells' website, the company claims the new phone will “empower citizens, even in the remotest rural and semi-urban centres of India, with the latest in digital technology at incredible affordable prices and cascade knowledge, news and current issues so that all experience the confidence of inclusive growth and equal opportunity.”
Given the price, it is no surprise that the hardware is not cutting edge but those paying the relatively tiny amount will get a 4-inch display with a 960 × 540 pixel resolution. It will be powered by a Qualcomm 1.3GHz quad-core processor together with 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage. Crucially, this storage can be further expanded by up to 32GB using a microSD card. The phone features a 3.2 megapixel rear camera and VGA quality front-facing camera.
The phone will run Google’s Android operating system, meaning users will have access to over one million apps on Google’s Play Store. It also comes pre-loaded with a range of apps, including Women Safety, Swachh Bharat, Fisherman, Farmer, Medical, WhatsApp, Facebook and YouTube.
The Indian smartphone market is the fastest growing in the world and with over 80 percent of the country still not online, there is huge opportunity for growth in the coming years. There are already a number of cheap smartphones on the market, most priced around 1,500 rupees ($21). The intense competition between local companies like Micromax and Lava as well as a flood of Chinese companies coming into the market, including Lenovo, Xiaomi and Huawei, has led to the price of smartphones dropping month-on-month in what is, by some estimates, the world’s second biggest smartphone market surpassing the U.S.
Last year, manufacturer DataWind announced it was teaming up with Reliance Communications (the network recently in the news due to the shutdown of Facebook’s Free Basics) to launch the world’s most affordable smartphone, priced at 999 rupees, but that phone has yet to hit the market.
On the same day that Ringing Bells launched its ultra-cheap smartphone, Apple decided to stop selling its cheapest iPhones in India — iPhone 4s and iPhone 5c — in a bid to boost its falling average selling price and profitability in a country that will become increasingly important for the company. Apple’s cheapest iPhone in India — the iPhone 5s — is now priced at 24,000 rupees or $349.