How Indian Android Device Manufacturers are Fooling and Misleading You
Micromax Canvas 4, a mid-range smartphone is seeing hype and excitement comparable to the likes of multinational brands — perhaps for the first time for an Indian manufacturer. Promising specifications better than many high-end devices, it has led people into thinking that this company is offering much more value at much lesser price.
Which is wrong.
For a nation that has always been highly price-conscious, it’s very easy to mislead people by advertising the number of cores a phone or a tablet has.
Same goes for Lava, Karbonn, Intex, Spice and all other Indian manufacturers, which are having a dream run this year. From a meager handset market share of less than 3% in 2012, they now account for nearly 30% of it (source). This obviously could not have been possible without Android, which has been lately driving an explosion of budget smartphones and tablets.
Being an Android enthusiast for long, here are a few important tips from my side that you should keep in mind while you are looking for Android devices.
Too Good To Believe Hardware Specs
CPU Cores and Clock Speed Mean Nothing
Unaware of how microprocessors work, the biggest misconception among the non tech-savvy crowd is that a device’s performance is measured by its number of CPU cores and the speed at which they’re clocked.
Thankfully, CPUs don’t work this way. A detailed explanation of their working is taught in colleges (I personally hate the subject which deals with this), but for the laymen — what actually matters is the architecture of the processor.
Think of CPU as a group of engineers working on some project. Each worker is a separate core. The amount of work done by the group does not depend on the quantity of the engineers, but on their skills as well as their speeds. A group of two highly skilled engineers can finish their assigned project faster than a group of four less skilled engineers working on the same project.
In a similar fashion, it’s totally possible for a dual-core or single-core CPU X to outperform a quad-core CPU Y. The single-core Lava X1000 might be the best example for this, which performs 10% better on the quadrant benchmark test.
Taking advantage of this unintelligence, manufacturers lure customers by releasing multi-core phones of mediocre architecture at 1/4th the price of high-end phones having the same number of cores. This leads people into believing that they’re providing the same level of performance at comparatively dirt-cheap rates.
Tip: Try to avoid CPUs of Cortex A-7 Architecture if Budget Allows
Almost all budget Android devices use CPUs made by MediaTek, a company known for its low cost semiconductor chips. And a majority of them utilize the Cortex A-7 architecture. If possible, avoid them as they are considerably slow and instead look for devices having Cortex A-9 CPUs or processors made by Intel, which are significantly better.
For instance, the quad-core A-7 MediaTek MT6589 that is being used in various recently launched phones scores marginally less than the single-core Intel Atom processor packed in with the Xolo X1000 on the Quadrant test, despite having more number of cores.[alert-announce] This was tested on a developer device provided by MediaTek. Quadrant scores may vary on different phones since it can be heavily optimized using software tweaks. [/alert-announce]
One can argue that the performance of phones having A-7 processors is fairly justified because of its low price (which is true), but the sole reason I decided to write this article was to inform people so that they do not end up buying a budget Android device expecting world-class performance and regretting thereafter.
Edit: It seems that a few readers are getting a wrong impression that I’m criticizing the Canvas 4. Trust me, that’s not the case. It’s name was only used for it’s awareness among the crowd. In fact, the Canvas 4 is an excellent phone at its price point.
Low Internal Memory is a No Go
For a mobile platform where games tend to reach 500MB – 1GB of content, it’s advisable not to buy devices having internal storage of anything less than 4GB, which should equal to around 2.5 – 3 GB of usable storage after excluding system space.
And no, buying a separate SD card if the internal memory is low is NOT a solution. Apps in Android are installed in the internal storage by default. Although Android lets you move apps to SD card, a lot of apps do not support this feature, especially those having widgets since widgets do not work when installed in the SD card.
A trickery that manufacturers seem to have started playing lately is using a combination of internal flash storage and internal SD card.
The Lava Xtron+ tablet, for example, has a 500MB internal flash storage and an 8GB inbuilt SD card. The problem with this combination is that the internal flash storage gets immediately filled with just 25-30 non-movable apps downloaded from the Play Store.[alert-success] Pro tip: Look for devices that have a single internal flash storage. This can be found by going into the device’s Storage settings page (Settings > Storage). [/alert-success]
The hardware is only one half of the story. Even if companies are able to sell devices having Cortex A-9 CPUs at affordable rates, it is totally possible for them to still mess up the software.
The best example I can think of regarding this issue is, again, the new Lava Xtron+ — a tablet having stellar hardware but plagued with so many software flaws that using it is sometimes an irritating experience. To give you an idea, the Wi-Fi often stops working, cell standby continuously drains 60% of battery and multiple user accounts (a key Android 4.2 feature exclusive to tablets) is missing.
This gives us another important lesson that a manufacturer can only buy hardware parts with its money and not skilled engineers to work on the software.[alert-success] Pro tip: To save yourself from such flawed Android devices, restrain from pre-booking or buying devices immediately after their release and read their reviews first.[/alert-success]
This one’s tough.
When you’re buying a sub-10 thousand phone, it’s difficult to expect the manufacturer to support it for long by releasing future updates and bug fixes. And you cannot complain about this. Even with Android, which has a 6-months update cycle unlike 1 year of other mobile platforms, it’s difficult for manufacturers to promise future updates for its budget phones. So, be aware of this fact that when you’re buying a budget phone, you’re possibly also buying it with nearly zero future support.
For the first time however, Micromax has introduced Over-the-Air (OTA) updates functionality in the Canvas 4, which is a welcome change and could possibly mean that users might receive upcoming version(s) of Android.
That’s it. Keep these four tips in mind and you will never regret your buying decisions when it comes to Android devices.