When Google announced Android One this year at Google I/O in early summer it wowed the world with a vision to not only provide quality hardware for under $100, but it also promised to deliver timely updates to keep these devices rocking the newest version of Android for a long time after you buy the device. While this was something of a pipe dream just a few years ago the reality is here today, and it has hit the Indian market in full force thanks to the efforts of Spice, Micromax and Karbonn. Today we're going to go over what Karbonn brings to the table with the Sparkle V, a $97 (RS 5999) phone that packs plenty of goodness on board for the amazing price offered, which by the way is completely devoid of subsidies or any other catch. This is truly a sub-$100 phone that packs the latest version of Android and some very respectable specs for the price. What's good and what's bad about it? Read on to find out.
OK so going on specs alone isn't really fair for a device of this price, but you may be surprised as just how viable of a device this really is given that it's literally 1/6th of the cost of most new smartphones out there.
- 4.5-inch IPS LCD at 480 x 854 resolution
- Mediatek MT6582 Quad-core 1.3GHz CPU
- Mali-400 GPU
- 1GB of RAM
- 4GB internal storage, microSD card up to 32GB support
- 1700mAh battery
- Android 4.4.4 AOSP
- 5 megapixel rear-facing camera
- 2MP front-facing camera
For $97 you really can't beat these specs. Most of them are familiar for those of us that have had Android phones for a while, and it's essentially a top-end phone from a few years back with one big exception: Android updates straight from Google. The bands supported by the device cover a pretty good range around the world, and I found that it worked perfectly on both T-Mobile ant AT&T, although I only could get EDGE/2G on T-Mobile due to the bands supported.
- HSPA 850 / 2100
- GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
Hardware and Display
When does a $97 phone not feel like one? When it's built well, and that's the case for the Sparkle V which has a nice soft-touch back instead of a cheap feeling slippery plastic one. It's also got a great weight in the hand and doesn't feel hollow or cheap, lending to the idea that this isn't a phone that necessarily feels as cheap as it costs. Both the power button and volume rockers are on the right side of the phone which makes adjusting the volume and pressing the power button easy since they are within thumb's reach at all times, but makes screenshots difficult as you have to two-hand the device to press the volume and power buttons at the same time. The buttons themselves fit the plastic build of the device and don't feel out of place at all.
The screen itself harkens back to a few years ago when 4.5-inch displays were the trendy thing to make and the IPS panel feels equally as old too. How much can you really expect from a truly affordable device though? The screen isn't horrible by any means, and certainly gets the point across just fine. Being a smaller display means that PPI isn't atrociously low, and quite honestly I found myself not being bothered by it when watching YouTube or just using it to chat on Hangouts. It won't be winning awards for viewing angles and definitely has some ghosting going on, but it's plenty bright and can be seen outside just fine. Most importantly the digitizer used is extremely responsive and doesn't exhibit any of the issues many other cheaper touch displays do such as having difficulty tracking multiple finger inputs.
Performance, Battery Life and Network
MediaTek's processors are usually known for their budget-friendly nature, but does this translate into a good experience? On the Sparkle V is definitely does, and it's likely helped by the fact that this is completely stock Android 4.4 KitKat, for better or worse. Without all the bloat and extra stuff that manufacturers like Samsung stick on their phones it's amazing how well even the lowest spec phone can run, and I didn't run across too many hiccups in my time with the Sparkle V. You can even enable ART, Google's experimental runtime that helps speed things up considerably and make the Android experience even more smooth.
3D gaming was even fine on the phone, with games like Asphalt running perfectly fine albeit with less detail than on a higher spec phone. Still with the resolution present here you're not going to notice all the fine details that get lost, and in the end the experience is just as good as one found on a more expensive device.
Battery life left a little bit to be desired when the phone was in heavy use, and had difficulty reaching 3 hours of on-screen time for me in my tests. The phone packs a pretty small 1,700mAh battery though, considerably smaller than most flagships nowadays, and it feels like it too after a day's use. The screen as always is the biggest battery drain, so the more you've got it on the worse your battery life is going to be. Standby was epic, however, and I found the phone going nearly 2 days with light use (about an hour of screen on time).
Network performance was up to par and even excelled with HSPA network speeds better than some higher end phones I've seen. Signal quality was excellent no matter where I went, and while it doesn't work on anything but EDGE/2G on T-Mobile it worked perfectly on AT&T's 3G HSPA network. The big deal here and with other phones sold in India and China is that it supports two networks at once, each with their own SIM card. Android allows you to specify which network you prefer phone calls on, text messages and even data, which helps with the pricing structure and coverage of various networks out there. More options are part of what makes Android a beautiful thing, and giving you more carrier options always helps especially if you're in an area with spotty coverage in general.
This is basic stock Android 4.4 KitKat, so you're looking at a sleek, fast and pretty barebones experience compared to other phones that may be running a manufacturer's skinned version of Android. While that means less features for now, it also means considerably quicker updates, and with Google's Android One program Google guarantees that they will keep your phone updated for a long time to come, and that updates will be timely compared to other phones out there. For now though until Android 5.0 Lollipop gets pushed out for Android One phones you'll be on Android 4.4.4 KitKat, which means you're missing things like a Do Not Disturb mode, flashlight quick toggles and other things that have been added Google's latest update.
This doesn't mean it's a bad experience though, far from it, as Android is what you make of it. Being stock Android too means that there's no weird restrictions to keep you from changing default apps, and in general many of Google's stock apps, like the Google Dialer, are the best of the best out there. Having software buttons helps with the experience too, as Google Now is only ever a swipe away at any given point in time.
Sound output was surprisingly excellent out of the headphone jack, and I found using Google Play Music on my way home from work was just as good as any other phone out there. There's no equalizer in stock Android, so what you hear is what you get unless you've got an external EQ like you would in a car stereo. The single speaker on the back did the job but wasn't anything too impressive. Speakerphone could have been a lot louder, and was a little difficult to hear in the car, but ringtones and the like came in loud and clear, leading me to believe this was a problem with the cell network or some weird configuration issue with limitations on the speakerphone volume.
The camera is above average for a 5 megapixel shooter and particularly excels because Google Camera takes great advantage of the sensor on board. Color and light balance on pictures is excellent, and HDR is particularly nice albeit a bit slow, so you can really only use it for landscape shots and other shots without moving objects. This is a perfect social networking phone, as the pictures really aren't big enough to print or have enough detail to really zoom in far because of the 5 megapixel sensor, but looked at in the resolution of a social networking site they look excellent.
What's great though is that this is the full Google Camera software suite, which means awesome photography tricks like panorama, photosphere and lens blur. These add some serious value to the camera and definitely give you the feeling of a more premium device because of what it can do. Take a look at some of the sample shots below and see if you agree!
I've said it plenty of times during this review but a phone that's $97 (RS 5999) is a pretty incredible buy, especially a new one. Couple that with more than capable specs for every day tasks, the ability to play games when you want to, a camera that's more than passable and of course Google's Android One program and you've got a winning combination. Android One in particular is enough of a value to negate any possible low points with the phone. This is a relatively small phone for a modern Android phone at 4.5 inches, which is excellent for those looking for a simple phone that you can one-hand without worrying about dropping it. I'm excited about the Android One program and where it's going to take Android phones, and the Karbonn Sparkle V is an excellent beginning to a phenomenal program.