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India’s $4 Smartphone

A smartphone that is priced at $4 seems like a highly questionable claim, but it looks like this is a real thing. An Indian company called Ringing Bells is planning on sending out nearly 200,000 units in the early batch, as soon as July 7th.

However, there is a very interesting story behind this company and its ultra-cheap smartphone, with numerous roadblocks leading up the phone’s final unveil.

Ringing Bells’ CEO made an announcement about the $4 smartphone a couple of months ago, immediately capturing everyone’s attention. Tech giants like Samsung and Apple are accused of high profit margins, so a company like Ringing Bells seemed like an answer to this problem.

However, according to the company, the phone named Freedom 251 will be very light when it comes to its hardware. We are looking at a 4-inch 950 x 540 screen, a 1.3GHz quad-core processor, 1GB of memory, 8 GB of expandable storage, an 8-megapixel rear camera and a 3.2-megapixel front camera. The phone should ship with its own blend of Android, built upon Android 5.1.

Even though these specs seem decent, especially for a phone priced this low, it makes us wonder what is the reason for the asking price of $4.

The founder and president of the India’s Cellular Association, Pankaj Mohindroo, told CNN that Freedom 251 seems like a scam and persuaded potential buyers not to go into this investment. Even using the cheapest possible components, he claimed, a phone like Freedom 251 would cost at least $40 to make.

Ringing Bells could easily prove this claim wrong by providing a test unit, but this is where things continue to be highly suspicious.

At a launch event for the phone, Ringing Bells showed samples of the upcoming phone. However, it was soon discovered that those were units of a Chinese phone called Adcom Ikon 4. After this discovery, Ringing Bells’ CEO said that aforementioned handset was just to give people a rough idea of what the final product will look like.

India’s $4 Smartphone

He continued by saying that Freedom 251 is part of “Made in India” government program, which means that the phone’s components will be locally made. This was one of the reasons why users had to pay upfront and make preorders. This point of pride for Ringing Bells was soon discredited, as its numerous claims before.

Economic Times of India recently reported that India’s government has nothing to do with Freedom 251, and accused the company’s CEO for giving false information.

It is clear that Freedom 251 comes with numerous conflicting reports, making it very difficult to believe that this phone will actually come out.

What is worrisome is the fact that we still don’t have any test units, even though the phone should be available to customers on July 7th. Still, the Freedom 251 has the power to help to close a technological divide, at least if it manages to become a viable option. The main mystery is whether the phone is usable or not, but luckily we won’t have to wait for too long to discover that.

UPDATE [11.07.2016.]: Since we are past the delivery date, it’s interesting to take another look at the world’s cheapest phone.

Despite receiving 73 million bookings, Ringing Bells managed to produce only 200,000 units of its $4 smartphone. However, a new controversy arose. The company is now asking Indian prime minister Narendra Modi for $7.5 billion in order to help with the project.

As Ringing Bells CEO said just a couple of days ago: “In order to digitally empower every Indian, if I can get government support under the Digital India programme, I can ensure timely delivery of Freedom 251.

Furthermore, the company’s plans to make a huge profit of its $4 smartphones also seem problematic. Ringing Bells now says it is losing between $2.5 up to $4 on each handset. It costs around $17.5 to make the phone, and the company manages to recover around $12 from app developers. It is easy to understand how the company is losing the battle.

The promoters face other legal troubles, too. By completely copying iOS’s UI design in almost every possible aspect, many are agreeing that Freedom 251 is nothing but just another cheap iPhone copy. Ringing Bells CEO defended the company’s product by saying that Apple hasn’t copyrighted its designs. It’s unknown what Apple thinks about this.

Aside from the $4 smartphone, another product has also been recently announced. Ringing Bells plans to produce India’s cheapest LED TV, priced at around $130 for a 31.5-inch model. It’s natural to assume that we’ll keep reading about this product in the upcoming months, depending on if the company will manage to find its way out of the current situation.

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Novak Bozovic
Tech editor and architecture student. His stories have featured in numerous online publications covering hottest stories about IT-and tech trends.