My opinion on Google’s $36 (₦13K) phone

Background story + Freetel ICE 2 Phone review

Last year, Google announced the launch of her Freetel ICE 2 phone, brought to the Nigerian market in partnership with MTN, the leading Telco in Nigeria (36.14% market share)and TD Mobile, an ICT distribution company in Africa at their Google for Nigeria event which held in July.

The number 1 announcement was about the Freetel ICE 2 smartphone

The decision to build and produce an affordable phone for Nigeria, an emerging market (that houses a good chunk of the Next Billion Users — NBUs) aligns with their commitment to support the digital transformation that is taking place in the country (80.32% mobile penetration and 47.7% internet penetration — greater than the continent’s 31.2% internet penetration).

The Next Billion Users (NBUs) refer to the Next one billion (internet) users. It’s based on the premise that the number of internet users worldwide grew to about 5billion people (in 2016), and most of the new arrivals came from mobile devices in emerging markets like India and Nigeria.
Already, GSMA reports that unique mobile subscribers will hit 5.9billion (a forecasted 71% world penetration rate) in 2025 which is an 18% growth from the 5.0billion(66% world penetration rate) as at 2017.
Mobile internet users reached 3.3billion (43% pen. rate of world pop.) in 2017 and could reach 5.0billion (61% pen. rate of expected world pop.) in 2025.

Google’s logic is simple, the more people use mobile, the greater chance they’ll use the internet. If they use the internet, they’ll (in)directly come in contact with one of our services, a usual culprit — (Google) Search.

This logic is easier if you use a smartphone. Because, 87.7% of smartphones sold to end users in Q2 2017 made use of the Android operating system, owned by them (Google). Also, there is a higher chance one is buying a smartphone because (s/)he hopes to take advantage of the internet-enabled capabilities. So, you either use Google via Android or on the internet via Search.

Freetel ICE 2 Phone — from order to ownership

Photo by Benjamin Dada

On Friday, 23rd February, I ordered a Freetel ICE 2 phone from Yudala, now one of Nigeria’s biggest e-commerce platforms, thanks to their acquisition of former e-commerce giant, Konga.

My decision to use Yudala was because I could not easily find it on any other Nigerian online store and then, somewhere in my head, I told myself that I was using Konga, a company I have used before and trust(ed).

True to the customer agent’s words they delivered today which was within 2–4 working days on a Payment-On-Delivery (POD) cash option.

Noteworthy: Before Konga’s acquisition they had discontinued the POD option.

My order came in a Yudala branded package with a bonus ear piece and MTN SIM card separate from the actual phone as advertised.

Trivia: The earpiece looked hurriedly packed, it was not even inside a nylon :(
Delivery content; L-R MTN SIM card, earpiece and the phone

Inside The Phone case

The phone’s packaging spots a colourful design and when it is opened, it contains the following five things:

  • the 4-inch Freetel smartphone
  • a set-up guide/manual
  • a colourful brochure containing 10 android tips
  • a power adapter and a USB-A cord
  • a removable battery
The Freetel phone in its coffin, LOL. Sits directly on top and is the first thing you see once you open the pack.

When you take out the phone, here is what you’ll see:

The set-up guide, the cord, power adapter and the top 10 android tips brochure

Setting-up

When you open the actual Freetel Phone, you’ll realise it’s a Dual-(micro) SIM phone. Dual-SIM phones are particularly useful in this market because users tend to make the most of the different offerings by the 4 leading Telcos in the country. Particularly, on calls and data purchase. For instance, one could make use of Globacom for mobile internet purposes and MTN for cheaper calls.

After inserting the 1350mAh removable battery and turning on the device, you’ll realise that it takes an approximate of 22 seconds from phone switch-on to first set-up screen. Subsequently, it takes an even longer time (26 seconds). Comparing this to the quick 12 seconds it takes to load up a Google Pixel. You’ll find the time difference to be remarkable.

Like every other Android-powered phone, you are offered a chance to recover your files or create a new Google account. And what is quite interesting about this is that like the Pixel, Google controls the hardware and software of the phone. Therefore, it is easier to roll-out the latest Android updates and ensures end-to-end security of the device.

Upsides

Currently, the Freetel phone uses the Android 7.0 (Nougat) which places its users in the top 29.6% of Android users making use of the latest version of Android.

Of the 30 pre-loaded apps I counted on the phone, Google-centric apps like Gmail, YouTube and Maps made-up 33% of them.

While 1 app each from partners, MyMTN and tdAfrica was featured on the home screen (pre-loaded).

Bonus: Majority of the Android users in the world are still on the Android 6.0 (Marshmallow)

Regarding security, Google’s security system, Play Protect, regularly scans the apps and devices for harmful behaviour.

And of course, price point, at a price point of $36 it is definitely a unique selling point. Not many phones below the $50 mark can do what it does.

Also, the phone has WiFi capabilities which I think is pretty important, especially as many “high-end feature phones” around the NGN10,000 do not yet support WiFi functionality. For instance, I made use of a Smile router while setting up this device.

Trade-off

Camera — The camera quality on the NGN13,000 Freetel is a complete fail. I would have preferred they didn’t even offer a camera functionality on the phone. The front facing camera of 0.3MP takes photos that could sometimes come out blue.

The 2MP back camera makes you look like a shadow, it is a mess.

Compare this to the greater than 100x-better Google Pixel 12MP camera. But that’s what you get when you pay 18x lesser for a device (the Pixel starts at $649).

Except perhaps you take it outdoors in sunlight.

The home button is depicted by the Freetel logo

Neutral ground

Speed — with a 1.2 GHz single-core processor, it is pretty quick to respond to touch. Or maybe, my bad experience with my former Infinix hot note 1 made me set low expectations. In comparison, the Infinix phone was $88.64 (NGN32,000) in 2016 when I bought. So, one should expect two times the performance of the Freetel. But I doubt that’s the case.

Youtube Portrait mode

Battery — for people coming from a feature phone background like the Nokia 3310 which can last an entire day of use. A 1350mAh Lithium-Ion battery could be a huge turn-off. Unlike the revamped Nokia 3310 with a 1200mAh battery with a talk time of 22hours and fewer apps running in the background, it will probably last about the same time as the Freetel smartphone even though it has a lower capacity.

YouTube (YT) — Unlike other feature phones with blurred displays, the YouTube display is typical of most android smartphones. And performs other YT-specific functionalities like fast-forwarding a video.

YouTube Landscape mode on Freetel 4-inch screen

Raised eyebrows — no social apps pre-installed

In a communal society like Nigeria, where Whatsapp and Facebook are greatly used, it’s quite noteworthy that the phone doesn’t come bundled with those two social apps.

Currently, Google doesn’t have a product that can adequately compete with FB-owned social apps like Whatsapp and Messenger. So, I do not immediately see a conflict-of-interest aside the fact that creating a partnership that works might be a little tricky between Internet giant, Google and Social media giant, Facebook due to a possible difference in company strategy.

They could probably have added those apps and included it in their marketing materials.

In a country where people pay NGN500 ($1.39) to an “Engineer” in Computer Village, reputed to be the largest ICT hub in Africa, to add their favourite apps to their newly acquired phone, this could have gone a long way to incentivise people to purchase or even consider the phone as their next low-end phone buy.

If you don’t believe me that there are so-called Engineers, listen to Prosper’s experience:

Final words

The Google Freetel phone is a usable phone and a suitable entry-level smartphone to people with a low-budget.

It can perform all the functionalities required of a typical smartphone at an above average level.

However, it doesn’t have a camera (sarcastically).

But come to think of it, will you be willing to pay more for camera improvements?