However, as the competition in the smartphone market has intensified, the number of brands and models in the market has increased significantly and this, in the best tradition of economics, has brought prices down. Today you can venture out and get a decent smartphone without having to spend more than 10,000.
Of course, it would be naive to suggest that these ‘budget smartphones’ are always the latest and best in the market. Some are a bit long in the tooth and some might even no longer be considered worthy of mention in their manufacturers' portfolios.
However, what cannot be denied is the fact that they are very much available in the market and when purchased through the right channels, are still covered by warranty and technical support. Most important of all, they all offer very good value for money — a quality that is getting increasingly rare in these inflation-ridden times.
Here then is our list of the best smartphones you can get without having to take your expenditure into five figure territory, in order of increasing price (the prices may vary from store to store, so we advise you to treat these as approximate market prices):
Micromax Andro A60
The past couple of years have seen Micromax grabbing an increasing chunk of the Indian market with its sturdy, value for money devices. And, for all the snorts of contempt that high-end smartphone users may direct at it, the A60 reflects these twin Micromax virtues.
The slightly odd shape is not likely to turn many heads, its 3.2 camera might not be the greatest, and its 2.8 inch resistive touchscreen is unlikely to provide the smoothest touchscreen experience in town, but that is more than counterbalanced by a sturdy build, decent call quality, connectivity options like Wi-Fi and GPS, Android 2.1 with all its expertise in mail, maps and social networking — all at a price lower than anything the competition has to offer
Spice Mi 310
It may not have been launched with the kind of fanfare that its predecessor, the Mi 300, was, but that should in no way devalue the Mi 310. It is at present, the lowest-priced Android 2.2 device in the country, offering features like Wi-Fi hotspot creation and the option to save apps on the memory card, apart from Android's Web and social networking muscle.
While not too many people would be impressed by the ordinary 2.0-megapixel camera, we liked the sleek build quality and the fact that it came with a capacitive 3.2 inch touchscreen, providing a decent Web surfing and social networking experience. Goodies like 3G and Wi-Fi further sweeten the package. If we were on a really tight budget, this would be our first Android.
Although best known for its value for money notebooks, Dell has of late been making its presence felt in the smartphone market. The XCD28 is its lowest-priced smartphone and if it is rock solid build and decent functionality you are looking at, then you would be hard pressed to find a better option.
The phone runs Android 2.1 and has the usual connectivity options mix (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, et al), and while some might get annoyed by the resistive 2.8 inch touchscreen (even a stylus is provided), that is offset to an extent by very good, if a tad bulky, build quality and a decent 3.2-megapixel shooter. Top that off with Dell's reputation for superb support and those looking for mail and social networking on the move might be swayed.
This is one veteran that keeps going strong, even though Nokia has come out with better devices since its launch. Running Symbian Series 60 (3rd edition) — the same operating system that ran inside the formidable Communicator — the E63 embodies the virtues that once made Nokia the toast of the smartphone business: rock-solid performance, good build quality and excellent battery life. It has a very good QWERTY keyboard and while the display does seem on the smaller side, it is more than enough for messaging and e-mail. To add to that, the E63 is super at handling multi-tasking.
It might seem to hark from another age with its occasional lags, restarts and relatively poor Web browser, but it has a reassuringly solid feel to it. Many useful apps are available for it and yes, it still lasts up to three days on a single charge with push mail running. Not too many phones can do that these days, which is why it still sells!
Samsung Omnia B6520
Of late, most people have been identifying Samsung with Android and Bada OS devices but that does not mean that the company has given up on other platforms. And proof of this is the Omnia 652, a full QWERTY handset that runs Windows Mobile 6.5. There will be those who think that this version of Windows is dated but the fact is that it more than holds its own when it comes to tasks like mail, browsing, multimedia and multitasking.
The battery lasts more than a day on a single charge — a welcome change in these charge-a-day era of Android and Windows Phone 7 devices. We do wish its 2.0-megapixel camera was better and that its screen measured more than 2.4 inches.
Huawei has thrown its hat into the value-formoney smartphone market with the Ideos. And it packs quite a punch. One of the few phones in the country running Android 2.2, it comes with a 2.8 inch capacitive touchscreen and a decent 3.2-megapixel camera, along with a five-way navigation pad just below the display.
Some might consider it to be a bit on the bulky side, the performance more than compensates — it moves along at a brisk rate, be it browsing the Net or pushing mail on to your handset. It is available only from Aircel, but remains a very good option for those looking for the latest Android experience on a shoestring budget.
Samsung Galaxy Pop
Many feel that the Galaxy 5 had opened the door for low-priced Android handsets in the country, and the Galaxy Pop adds more muscle to the relatively modest specs of the Galaxy 5. It comes with a 3.2 inch capacitive touchscreen, a very decent 3.0-megapixel camera (with smile detection!) and best of all, Android 2.2.
Gone too, is the clutter of buttons beneath the touchscreen seen in the Galaxy 5, giving the Pop a much cleaner look. Yes, we wish that a screen that big had a higher resolution than the very modest 320 x 240 pixels, but the Galaxy Pop is still perhaps the best Android phone in this segment in terms of performance.
QWERTY cuteness meets slideout utility in this smartphone that many feel has been targeted at the ladies because of its availability in a number of colours (including pink!). However, the X5 is perhaps the most compact QWERTY handset in the country; it fits a surprisingly spacious QWERTY keyboard into a compact form factor which literally fits into the palm of your hand.
The 5.0-megapixel camera is frankly, quite ordinary and the 2.36 inch screen seems a bit too small in these times of 3.5 and 4-inch displays, but on the other hand, the phone comes with Symbian Series 60 3rd edition, bringing with it all the goodness of push mail and multi-tasking. Battery life is very good too, as is the build quality. The X5 is staggering value for money for Symbian lovers who want a good QWERTY keyboard.
A few operating systems have been mauled as badly as Nokia's ill-fated Symbian Series 60 (5th edition), which attempted to merge a touch interface with Nokia's traditional messaging and multi-tasking skills. But no one can deny that the operating system does work very well for someone who is looking for a decent mail and browsing handset with a large display.
The Nokia C5-03 is just that with its 3.2 inch 640 x 360 display, which provides a decent Web experience in spite of being resistive.
The 5.0-megapixel camera is the best we have seen in the price segment. Battery life remains iffy and crashes persist, but the C5-03 is a great option for those looking for the Symbian experience with touch thrown in, without spending a bomb.
Sony Ericsson Aspen
If you are looking for a smartphone that combines a touchscreen with a backlit QWERTY keyboard, then the Sony Ericsson Aspen is your best bet in this segment. Although it does look like a slimmed down BlackBerry, the smallish 2.4 inch display is in fact a touchscreen with a full QWERTY keyboard right below it. It runs Windows 6.5 with a custom Sony Ericsson interface. The modifications to the standard Windows 6.5 interface notifies you of new mails and the like in an attractive manner.
No, the 3.2 megapixel camera is not going to take super pics but the keyboard is excellent, the shape is sleek and eye-catching and battery life is above average. Your challenge, however, will be to get a unit at below 10,000. Many retailers persist in selling it at slightly higher prices, but bargain a bit, and you will get a slice of Windows Mobile goodness.