Chances are, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
That seemed to be the case for the Freedom 251, the world’s cheapest smartphone, announced in February. Ringing Bells, the Indian company behind the phone, sparked controversy when it claimed the smartphone would sell for just $4.
Naturally, people were very curious to know how the company could sell an Android smartphone for so little, prompting the Indian Cellular Association (ICA) to write to India’s telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to get some hard answers.
The ICA also accused Ringing Bells of potentially fraudulent claims saying even the cheapest build-of-materials would cost about $40 for a phone with barebone specs such as Android 5.1, a 4-inch screen, 1.3GHz quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM, 8GB of internal storage, 1,450 mAh battery, and a 3.2-megapixel back and 0.3-megapixel front camera.
Furthermore, there was no clear wireless carrier backing the $4 phone and providing subsidies on it to offer savings to customers.
Just when things couldn’t get any worse, it was discovered that the Freedom 251 was actually an illegally rebadged version of China’s Adcom Ikon 4, which sells for about $54. Oh, and the app icons were basically ripped right off iOS.
During investigation, Mohit Goel, Ringing Bells’s Managing Director, remained unfazed.
“We remain committed to cooperating with any government agency that may require inquiring our organisation for any reason or suspicion,” Goel said. “I do maintain that we will deliver the most-affordable quality products to our customers through our various range of smartphones, including the Freedom 251.”
Fast forward a couple of months and 70 million registrations for the device later and Ringing Bells is finally gearing up to ship the first $4 Freedom 251 phones to customers on June 30, according to IANS.
“We learned from our mistakes and decided to go silent till we come out with the product. Now we have a 4-inch, dual-SIM phone ready for delivery. I feel vindicated,” Goel told IANS.
Goel says the company is losing money on every unit sold, but the goal is to allow rural and poor Indians to access the digital world.
The phone’s specs have also been updated since the original version was announced. The rear camera’s a higher resolution 8-megapixel shooter and the selfie camera is a 3.2-megapixel shooter. There’s also a larger 1,800 mAh battery. The phone will be available in black and white. The rest of the specs are the same as the original: 4-inch screen, 1.3GHz quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage.
The company plans to fulfill 2.5 million orders by the end of the month and ship 200,000 units per month afterwards.
It remains to be seen how well a $4 smartphone will function. The Freedom 251 may seem extremely underpowered if you’re used to flagship performance devices, but consider this: It has better specs than even the original iPhone when it was released nine years ago, and that was originally sold for $599.