Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Midyear Entry Level Smartphone Buyers Guide

What is do we define as an entry level smartphone these days? From a price standpoint it should cost less than Php12,000. Now, we do not recommend anything just because is happens to be inexpensive. In 2011, we stopped recommending Android phones with 240 x 320 screen resolutions. First, is some apps do not work at this resolution. Second, when they work they do provide for a compromised experience. Sure, Samsung still builds a lot of phone with this screen resolution (now re-joined by LG), but Samsung builds anything if there is a buyer with little regard to the end user experience.

We were thinking about dropping phones with a 320 x 480 screen resolution this year. Most manufacturers announced phones earlier this year announced their entry level devices with 420 x 800 displays. In addition, the top of the line Android phones now sport 720 x 1280 displays. Sure Android apps scale across all resolutions, but it does not mean that they all scale all the well.

With HTC and Sony announcing a new line-up of phones with Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) installed, at the 320 x 480 screen resolution,  it looks like it might be too early to write off this screen resolution. Still take note, that app developers are now optimizing for higher resolution displays. On ICS, we are now making this a benchmark. We wont be recommending any Android phones that do not officially run ICS.  

For Windows Phones and Apple phones, they set their own minimum standard, so we do not have to set any.

I do expect that this may upset some readers, who will point out that the Samsung Galaxy Y, Samsung Galaxy Pocket, LG Optimus L3 and the Alcatel OT-918N are good value for money options. They are. And we won't fault anybody for buying one. We just wont be recommending them on this blog. We try to recommend phones that a user can happily own for the next two years. Pretty hard at the entry level, but we do try.

When we write this list normally we start with Android, go down by operating system type in alphabetical order. But for this list, we will look at the Windows Phone first. It is the most interesting of the entry level options.

June 20, 2012 update. Existing Windows Phone devices will not be getting an update to Windows Phone 8.  Current Windows Phone handsets will be getting some Windows Phone 8 features with a Windows Phone 7.8 update. Windows Phone 8 has a new kernel. Basically, the underlying architecture is different. While Windows Phone 7.5 apps will run on Windows Phone 8, new apps might not run on Windows Phone 7.5. Because of this, it might not be advisable to get a Windows Phone device at the present time.  




1. Nokia Lumia 610 - Php10,300 to Php10,990

Nokia's entry level Windows Phone is our favorite choice in the entry level class. With a 3.7-inch, 480 x 800 display, it has a nice large interface which is a decent size for viewing and for interacting with apps. With offline voice-guided turn-by-turn navigation, it puts its more expensive Android and Apple competition to shame. For Facebook users, Windows Phone 7.5 has great Facebook integration in its people and messaging apps. 

Quick specifications:
  • Windows Phone 7.5
  • 3.7-inch WVGA (480 x 800) display, 65K colors
  • 8GB internal storage (about 5GB user available), not user expandable
  • 256 MB of RAM 
  • 800 MHz single core processor
  • Adreno 205 graphics
  • Qualcomm 
  • 5 MP primary camera with a LED flash
  • No secondary camera
  • 720p video capture
  • HSDPA 7.2 Mbps connectivity
  • 1300 mAh battery 

Of course not everything is rosy at 10K. The 65K display will turn off some buyers. Some Windows Phone apps, about 1.6%  may do not run on this entry level Windows Phone. Unfortunately, that figure is bigger than it seems. If you look at the top 1000 apps on the Windows Marketplace, 6.4% of those apps are no compatible. When it comes to games, 25% do not run on this device. Those include apps like Skype and Angry Bird (although Rovio is trying to fix this issue).

Still, whatever platform you buy, entry level phones really won't run everything.




2. Sony Ericsson Neo V - Php11,650+.

If you want an Android, you have the Sony Neo V. It will you a bit more than the Nokia Lumia 610 This phone has been on our list of top smartphones since it came out last year. Basically, a fast 1 GHz Android phone with a 3.7-inch (480 x 854) display at 13k made it a great bang for the buck proposition at the same time having specifications good enough that a buyer probably would not regret not having bought something more expensive. Now, updated with ICS and available for as low as Php11,650 with a Sony warranty it still looks like a nice option.

Quick specifications
  • Android 2.3 upgradeable to Android 4.0
  • 3.7-inch WVGA (480 x 854) display
  • 320 MB of user available storage expandable via MicroSD card slot (2 GB MicroSD card included)
  • 512 MB of RAM 
  • 1 GHz single core processor
  • Adreno 205 graphics
  • Qualcomm MSM8255 chipset
  • 5 MP primary camera with a LED flash
  • VGA secondary camera
  • 720p video capture
  • HSDPA 7.2 Mbps connectivity
  • 1500 mAh battery
Sony has two of its sibling priced really close. The new dual core Sony Xperia U will cost you just 1L or so more. Some may still prefer the Neo V because of its expandable memory and longer battery life. You also have the more upmarket Sony Xperia Ray at a few hundred pesos more expensive than the Neo V. The Ray has a better camera and build quality, but we will take the Neo V's 3.7-inch display over the Ray's 3.3-inch display anytime.


3. Sony Ericsson Live with Walkman - Php9,100+.

The Sony Live with Walkman is a downsized version of the Neo V with a smaller 3.7-inch display which sports a lower 320 x 480 resolution. It also sports a smaller battery than the Neo V. The ICS update for the Live with Walkman is rolling out as I write this. It is not as nice as the Neo V, but it is also 2.5K or so cheaper. 

Quick specifications
  • Android 2.3 upgradeable to Android 4.0
  • 3.2-inch (320 x 480) display
  • 320 MB of user available storage expandable via MicroSD card slot (2 GB MicroSD card included)
  • 512 MB of RAM 
  • 1 GHz single core processor
  • Adreno 205 graphics
  • Qualcomm MSM8255 chipset
  • 5 MP primary camera with a LED flash
  • VGA secondary camera
  • 720p video capture
  • HSDPA 7.2 Mbps connectivity
  • 1200 mAh battery

4. Sony Xperia mini - Php6,300+.

The Sony has even a smaller Xperia Mini on its line-up with smaller 3-inch display and an ICS update on the way. Still, it does not give anything up in terms of processing of graphics power to its bigger siblings.

Quick specifications
  • Android 2.3 upgradeable to Android 4.0
  • 3-inch (320 x 480) display
  • 320 MB of user available storage expandable via MicroSD card slot (2 GB MicroSD card included)
  • 512 MB of RAM 
  • 1 GHz single core processor
  • Adreno 205 graphics
  • Qualcomm MSM8255 chipset
  • 5 MP primary camera with a LED flash
  • VGA secondary camera
  • 720p video capture
  • HSDPA 7.2 Mbps connectivity
  • 1200 mAh battery


Check out our others smartphone buyers guides:

Postpaid options
Over Php22,000
Php12,000 to Php21,999

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