At the fortieth Reliance Annual General Meeting, RIL Chairman Mukesh Ambani first introduced the JioPhone. It is a device with a familiar candybar form factor of a feature phone, but with advanced technologies including rich multimedia services, as well as a digital voice assistant. The pre-booking for the phone started on 24 August, and over 6 million units were booked within 3 days. Jio had indicated that the deliveries of the handsets should start around Navratri, so users who pre-booked should be getting their devices very soon.
We got our hands on the device, and here are our first impressions.
Build and Design
Reading about the dimensions online will not prepare you for how large the phone is. The phone is 12.1 mm tall, 4.8 mm wide and about 1.3 mm thick. Still, it feels solid, and can be used as a weapon. The phone is available in only a black plastic finish.
There is a USB 2.0 slot and 3.5 mm audio jack on the bottom. The right side of the device has a lanyard slot near the top edge, which is great as you can actually hang this phone around your neck or the rearview mirror of a vehicle like the good old days. The back of the device has a camera and slots for the speaker. The sound is clear even when the phone is kept on the surface, because of these speaker slots. The back of the device also has the LYF branding, and this is the cheapest phone in the LYF lineup.
The top edge of the device has a flashlight, which is a killer feature according to me. The flashlight on the top edge of the Nokia 1100 was one of the factors that contributed to the device being one of the most popular phones sold in emerging economies. There are no buttons or slots on the left side of the phone. There is a 2.4 inch screen on the front of the device. Above the screen is the front camera, along with the earpiece.
There is a direction pad below the screen with four function keys. The Top left key is for making payments, or launching alerts and notifications. Below that is the voice or video call key. On the right side are the keys for firing up the MyJio app, or accessing app related features and options. Below that is the End Call key. The End Call key also doubles up as the power key as well as the back key.
The * key is used for locking or unlocking the keypad and the # key is used for switching between audio profiles. The back cover is removable. There is an SD card slot and a SIM Card slot which only accepts a Jio SIM card. The 5 key doubles up as an SOS/Panic Call button, and a long press initiates a call 112, as well as sending location details to pre-configured emergency contacts.
The phone feels solid in the hands, and the physical buttons are bound to appeal to a wide range of consumers, including the visually challenged, the elderly, and those who want to send secret texts below desks out of sight of any watchful eyes.
The display is a 2.4 inch QVGA TFT display. In dim and low light conditions, the screen looks great from most viewing angles. However, if the environment is brightly lit, the screen appears lighter if not viewed head on. The UI design makes the 320 x 240 resolution screen appear crisp and bright. You can even view television programs through the JioTV app, and there is nothing lacking in the clarity.
There is 512 MB of RAM on board, along with 4 GB of physical memory. The memory card slot can actually accommodate up to 128 GB of expandable storage, not just 32 GB as previously reported. The storage space provided should be ample for most, if not all users.
OS and Software
There is KaiOS on the device, and it comes pre-installed with almost all of the Jio suite of applications. There is a Jio store that allows users to download new applications without having to have an email id. The authentication process takes place through Aadhaar, which is almost instantaneous once you get the SIM.
Pre-installed applications include MyJio, JioTV, JioCinema, JioChat, JioMusic and JioXpressNews. FM radio is available on the device. The device offers content and services in regional, local languages. The JioKisan for example, is an application that allows farmers to sell their produce. The web browser can be used to access Facebook, and a dedicated application is expected to land for the device. There is support for Microsoft Exchange as well as the ability to import contacts via Gmail.
The handset supports 22 Indian languages which include, Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri , Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu.
The digital assistant is available only in English and Hindi at the moment. Users can give commands to the voice assistant, and it directly opens up the relevant application to execute the command. Users can make calls, send messages, listen to music, and access more functions right through the voice assistant. A command such as “Play Vande Mataram on JioMusic” instantly opens up the app and starts playing the music. Users can also use a similar command to watch movies from the JioCinema application. The voice assistant can be used to surf the web as well. An internet connection is required for the voice assistant to work.
One of the best features on the phone is the ability to watch regular television channels right out of the box. There are a number of channels available in various languages, and these can be sorted and browsed through. The playback is seamless over the Jio 4G network, with minimal stuttering seen even in locations where the network connectivity is low.
Another strong point of the device is how loud and clear the audio is. It is possible to clearly hear music even in a fairly large room. In fact, the speakers are so loud that the instruction manual warns people about talking on the phone for long periods of time with the volume on maximum.
Battery and Connectivity
Connectivity options include a 3.5 mm jack for audio, 4G LTE bands, Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth v4.1. There is a 2000 mAh battery on board which offers 12 hours of continuous talktime and 15 days of stand by time. The most surprising capability is the integration of Wi-Fi into such a cheap device. We will need to use it for a longer term to verify these numbers, but on paper it sounds good.
There are two versions of the device. One variant will have the 1.1 GHz dual core Qualcomm Snapdragon 205 chipset supported by the Adreno 304 GPU. The second variant of the device will have the 1.2 GHz dual core Spreadtrum 9820A/QC8905 chipset with a Mali-400 GPU. The device allows for playback of 720p videos in MPEG4, H.263 and H.264 formats.
Price and Conclusion
Starting next year, it is going to be mandatory for all phones sold in India to have GPS capabilities for safety purposes. This means that the JioPhone is about as cheap as a feature phone can expected to be, especially considering the fact that you can get your money back after returning the device after 36 months of use.
The phone creates a new category bridging the gap between feature phones and smartphones. Smartphone manufacturers and telecom service providers are looking to introduce similarly priced 4G LTE handsets, including Lava, Intex, Idea and Airtel. One way to reduce the prices is to not include all the features that are supported by the chipsets. Since the entire industry is reacting to this product, this is definitely a trailblazing device.
There is just the device, the instruction manuals and the charging cable in the box. The earphones and the cable to connect to television sets are accessories that consumers will have to obtain separately. Considering the price point and the range of features available, this is definitely a value for money product. The phone stands to extend essential banking, information, entertainment, healthcare and governance services to the underserved. Apart from reducing the cost of 4G handsets, the device is also a capable secondary phone.
Disclaimer: Reliance Industries Ltd. is the sole beneficiary of Independent Media Trust which controls Network18 Media & Investments Ltd.