What's inside a $4 smartphone?

Indian company Ringing Bells is ready to start shipping a $4 smartphone - but how much smartphone can you buy for $4?
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

Indian company Ringing Bells is getting ready to start shipping its $4 Freedom 251 smartphone. But how much smartphone can you build for the price of a cup of coffee?

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Well, first off, the controversial $4 smartphone isn't really a $4 smartphone. Yes, Ringing Bells is selling it for 251 rupees (a little under $4), but according to the Times of India, the company has struck deals with a number of software firms to place their apps on the phone in order to draw in revenue.

And despite this deal, the company claims that it has to swallow a loss of about 150 rupees (about $2.20) per unit, which it hopes that the Indian government will pick up.

So a $4 smartphone is not a $4. In fact, the spec is awfully similar to the Adcom Ikon 4 (which was the handset that Ringing Bells used as a prototype, after covering the name with Wite-Out).

The Adcom Ikon 4 is priced at around $54. That's still cheap, but a long shot away from the $4.

So, assuming that buyers get their smartphone for the promised $4, what are they actually getting?

Here are the tech specs:

  • 4-inch 960x540 pixel qHD IPS display
  • 1.3 GHz quad-core processor MediaTek CPU with Mali 400 GPU
  • 1GB RAM
  • 8 GB storage (with microSD card slot)
  • 3.2 MP rear camera with LED flash
  • 0.3 MP front camera
  • 1450 mAh Li-Ion battery
  • Twin-SIM
  • Android 5.1 Lollipop

The spec is not all that impressive - a handset like the iPhone 5 beats it pretty much across the board - but still, if it ships for a $4 then it's a darn good deal. It's also a testament to how rapidly the technology landscape moves rapidly, and how rapidly component prices fall, given that when the iPhone 5 first shipped in 2012, the display alone cost $44.

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