“The Karbonn Sparkle V is one of the trio of Android One handsets, and aims to bring the power of the web to the masses”
The One. It’s a powerful name (embraced by quite a few others such as HTC, not to mention the Matrix Trilogy), and El Goog has chosen the same moniker to connect the next billion to the world wide web. Google’s Android One is a program that was announced back at the company’s I/O conference, with a budget Micromax device being showcased as the launch vehicle. Launched first in India, it also includes Karbonn and Spice as hardware partners at launch time, and each have announced the first Android One offerings at the global launch event in New Delhi today. Similar to the Nexus series, the Android One program involves use of the latest build of stock Android, with Google promising that it will take the onus of keeping the devices updated to the latest builds of its mobile platform. While the Nexus range has been somewhat of a brand showcase for Google to flex its Android muscles, the philosophy of the One program is different – the idea is let these budget devices bring the power of the web into the hands of the masses… those who haven’t had the chance to get connected either due to price constraints or because of the lack of compelling budget options.
The idea then, involves the traditional VFM premise – powerful specs, solid build quality, and affordable price tags, combined with the latest Android version, and the promise of timely updates. The trio of Android One handsets launched today – the Micromax Canvas A1, the Spice Dream UNO, and the Karbonn Sparkle V, share the exact same specs, offer dual-SIM connectivity and have been priced similarly too. We have the Karbonn device in our hands, and will dive right into a quick unboxing, and then share our first thoughts about its design, build and UI.
The Karbonn Sparkle V comes encased in a compact cardboard box that carries the Android One branding displayed boldly on the sides and the key specs listed at the back. Opening the box revealed the smartphone lying inside, and further investigation unearthed the usual set of accessories and documentation.
The list includes a two-pin wall charger, a USB to micro-USB cable, and a wired headset, along with a user guide and warranty info. The removable 1,700mAh battery pack is also found inside the box, and Karbonn has also thrown in a free screen protector.
The device itself is quite compact, and fits nicely into the hands. Despite the plastic construction, the build quality feels solid. The fascia features the 4.5-inch IPS screen sporting a resolution of 854 x 480 pixels, but you won’t find any hardware keys in the front, since the Android navigation keys are implemented as software overlays. Above the screen are the usual array of sensors, the 2MP front camera, a notification LED and a circular earpiece, the latter looking very similar to the earpiece on the Nexus 5 (review in pictures).
The micro-USB port is at the bottom, the 3.5mm audio socket on top, the left spine has been left barren, and the right is where you’ll find the power key and the power rocker.
Turning the smartphone around will let you take a peek at a rectangular window on top left, which includes the primary 5-megapixel camera and flash. There’s Karbonn branding in the centre, with an Android One logo below, right above the speaker. Prying the rear shell open reveals a pair of micro-SIM slots, and a microSD slot that accepts a card of up to 32GB capacity. Internal memory is 4GB, about half of which is available to use.
Sticking to its promise, the Sparkle V sparkles with Android 4.4.4 in its birthday suit. This means that there are no customisations or tweaks of any sort, and you get an unadulterated Android experience, complete with a separate home screen reserved on the leftmost side for Google Now. Apart from Google’s suite and the usual set of stock apps, there are a few preloaded apps though, covering Moneycontrol, OLX, Saavn and Snapdeal. Just to remind you, the Karbonn Sparkle V is retailing exclusively on Snapdeal for the time being.
At first glance, the screen doesn’t look extremely sharp, but we’re going to reserve our comments for the full review. With a 1.3GHz quad-core MediaTek processor and 1GB of RAM powering the show, usage is smooth, but it’s a tad early to evaluate other things like camera and battery performance. We’ll have all the details shortly, as we start taking the device through our review grind.
There’s no doubt that the Android One initiative from Google is a commendable effort, and the addition of more hardware partners, the inclusion of Qualcomm as another provider of chipsets, and the incursion into other countries like Indonesia and Philippines will make sure that the program reaches the scale it deserves. However, us Indians are no strangers to VFM devices – the Xiaomi Redmi 1s (review) comes to mind first, but we all know how tough it is to buy one. Then there are others like the ASUS Zenfone 4 (review), which is yet another compelling budget option. The real thorn in the bush for the current league of Android One devices however, is the Moto E (review). This device offers similar specs at a similar price, though it lacks a front camera and a flash for the rear shooter. However, it steals some of the Android One’s thunder by also offering a stock UI and timely updates.
The key advantage that the three Android One musketeers are then left with is distribution. The Moto E is available exclusively online, and though the current batch of Android One phones are also online exclusives, they will also be available in brick-and-mortar stores starting October. While the online retail segment in India has seen a major boom over the last few years, a majority of phone purchases in the country are still made offline. There are several reasons for this – many buyers don’t have credit cards to begin with, while others are sceptical about buying online. Quite a few potential buyers like to touch and feel the devices before they make up their minds, and in many cases, the friendly neighbourhood mobile dealer can also offer an exchange scheme against used phones. With offline availability, the Android One devices can potentially reach many more Indians than the Moto E ever can, and that’s going to be key.
Frankly, the specs and pricing of the Android One trio don’t look extremely exciting, and as we mentioned earlier, the latest Android build advantage has already been claimed by the Moto E first. But then, being able to walk into the store next door and paying cash to pick one up could well take these devices into the hands of the masses. Don’t be surprised if you see many more people on the streets uttering ‘Ok Google Now’ into their phones…