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How Do Cheap Android Smartphones Compare With Regular Devices?

Simon has been involved in software development since the days of paper tape. He has developed niche software for information management.

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Cheap Android Smartphones vs. Standard Smartphones

The term mobile phone is used for electronic devices that can make or receive phone calls and text messages, but modern devices frequently include the capability to record still images, videos and sound, browse the Internet and easily install a wide range of applications. These devices are sometimes called smartphones.

Apple vs. Android

The Apple iPhone (first released in 2007 and using the proprietary operating system iOS) is a classic example of a smart phone and total sales of some two billion devices were reported in 2018. Its success stimulated the development of smart phones using the open-source Android operating system, with the first device released in 2008.

Within two years, the Android smart phone user base was claimed to exceed the iPhone user base, and in 2022 Android claimed a 70% market share. One of the reasons for Android’s success is the lower price of Android devices when compared to Apple devices with similar specifications. However, prices for top-end Apple and Android devices frequently exceed A$1000. Losing one, driving over it or dropping it in the water can be a major trauma.

Android Go

A radical change in the trend of increasing performance and price in the smartphone market came in 2017, when Android Go became available from Google. This operating system is a stripped-down version of Android which can run on devices with less then 2 GBytes of RAM. Arstechnica have a detailed, if somewhat out-of-date, comparison of Android Go with its Android 8.1 parent and a review of one of the early phones built around it.

Android Go made it possible to produce a much cheaper smart phone, with some retailing for A$79 or less, aimed at less developed countries. Elsewhere, the phones are frequently white-labelled by major telcos and locked to their networks These are best described a super-cheap smart phones, as a recent review of ‘cheap’ smart phones did not recommend any devices costing much less than A$300.

The Cheaper Smartphones

To keep the price down, super-cheap phones leave out a lot. The super-cheap ZTE P501 (sold in Australia as Optus Start 3, locked to the Optus network) has small 5 inch screen, with 480 x 960 pixel resolution and no 5G compatibility. Remarkably, it provides versions of all of the native Android apps, some even improving on their Android ancestors. Despite the cut-down nature of the phones, the life of the 2000 Ma/hr removable battery is unlikely to be much better than a more expensive phone as the majority of the power consumption is from the part of the chip which connects the phone to the network. The cameras produce 5 Mpixel images in JPEG format from the back camera and 2 Mpixel images from the front. Videos appear in mp4 format, with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels and consume about 4 Mbytes per sec of the 32 Gbytes of storage on the phone, of which about 24 Gbytes is available to users.

All of these limitations might not be a problem for users who just want phone functionality, but when it comes to installing apps some difficulties appear. Apps built targeting Android versions after 2017 are generally compatible with Android Go, even though they may not run efficiently, but apps targeting earlier versions will not run. As many apps target pre-2017 Android versions, these do not appear in the Google Play Store on Android Go platforms. Developers have to choose between targeting all currently supported versions of Android except Android Go or targeting only post-2017 versions including Android Go. A few apps try to do both by creating two versions, one usually postfixed with “Go”.

Detecting if you have an Android Go phone is difficult. Settings->About Phone only gives the Android version number. The manufacturers web site specifications section may tell you. Analytic products such as AIDA64 provide a huge amount of information about the operating system but not whether or not it is Android Go.

If you want to go super-cheap, devices have improved since their first release in 2018, but the ongoing network connection costs may soon exceed the handset purchase cost - the cheapest Optus Mobile Plan is A$49 per month. With super-cheap devices frequently being locked to a network provider, the marketing strategy is reminiscent of ink-jet printers, where the cost of the printer is little greater than the cost of a set of branded ink cartridges, and the profits come from selling ink. Don't expect your super-cheap phone to attract admiring glances - the ZTE P501 is neither large nor slim - but the removable battery means that changing it is not a surgical procedure as it is with Apple devices.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.