Sub-$50 Android smartphone hits South Africa as MTN launches Steppa

Sub-$50 Android smartphone hits South Africa as MTN launches Steppa

Summary: Budget Android handset goes on sale for pre-pay customers in local stores and supermarkets.

The Steppa. Image: MTN

South Africa's second-largest mobile operator, MTN, has launched an own-brand Android smartphone with dual SIM capabilities and a Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU.

The new phone, which is branded as a Steppa, is sold unlocked for pre-pay customers through local supermarkets and MTN stores for R499, making it one of the first true smartphones available for less than $50.

The Steppa is a white label Qualcomm reference design, featuring a 3.5-inch screen, 512MB of RAM, an FM radio and a 1,300mAh battery which is specced to last for up to 627 minutes of talk time. It also features Google Play integration, HSDPA, Bluetooth 3.0 and A-GPS.

The downside to the new phone is that it has a single-core 1GHz CPU and ships with the Gingerbread version of Android. MTN representatives have told customers hoping for an update to Froyo, Jelly Bean or KitKat that the firmware will not be upgraded.

The sub-$50 price tag, however, is a major milestone for MTN. The Steppa undercuts the cheapest of Nokia's popular Symbian-based Asha phones by around $30 while offering similar access to services such as WhatsApp and Facebook. BlackBerry Messenger support for Gingerbread is due sometime in the next month.

Steven Ambrose, founder of South African analysts StrategyWorx, describes the Steppa as a game changer.

"As a statement and a key tool to bring true smart devices to the market this phone from MTN is a game changer for the price," Ambrose says.

"We expect to see more $50 and below smartphones hit the market in the coming year. MTN is also well placed to take this device into its other African markets and this will create opportunities for other markets to benefit from the smartphone revolution."

Early reports from users who have bought the phone have been positive, although some have complained about the heavy MTN branding on the homescreen.

More from South Africa

Topic: Mobile OS

Adam Oxford

About Adam Oxford

Adam Oxford is the editor-in-chief of, a South African tech blog that covers issues from around the country and the continent beyond. Based in Johannesburg but originally from the UK, he's written for most of the major technology publishers over the last 17 years, covering everything from PC gaming to photography to Linux to open data and emerging tech markets.

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  • Some mis-info here

    Asha phones don't run SymbianOS, they're running Nokia's "Series 40" operating system, which is at best a very low-end smartphone OS.

    This is a pretty good price, and definitely a win for Android in this area. But the price pressure in Africa is just one factor. Once you leave the more westernized areas like South Africa, there's a real issue of getting regular power. Nokia became the largest seller of cellular phones in Africa buy building those "candybar" phones that can run a week on a charge and don't break when you drop them. There's far less opportunity for smartphones in Africa right now, at any price.

    The other important factor is just how "smart" your phone gets to be. SymbianOS was a complete smartphone OS, but it took Nokia a long time to create the Ovi store, and they didn't support that on every device or every market. The end result was that most of the SymbianOS phones were used as feature phones, even though they actually could do the smartphone thing. That's a bad market move... it's the applications that lock users into a particular platform. SymbianOS died so readily because the core applications most users used were standard features on every smartphone, and they had no app lock-in.
    • What is "smart" in Africa?

      I agree that this sub $50 handset is a win (perhaps sooner than expected) for Android. However, the sub-$50 smartphone in Africa discussion really hinders around what "smart" means for the masses. Having been particularly interested to better highlight and understand the opportunity that mobile represents for underserved, lower-income users in Africa (and other markets - see an introduction to this here, I'd be interested to hear more thoughts on what features of new low-cost handsets coming into markets like South Africa really would be "smart" for the lower income segments such handsets target... battery life? touch screens? A google play store?