Micromax - in a move straight out of its rival Lava's playbook - recently announced its plans to launch a new brand called Yu. Lava has had great success with the Xolo brand it launched in 2012, with the latter carving out an identity of its own. You'll find no mention of Lava in Xolo's marketing material, and Micromax is going down the same route with Yu.
Micromax made the announcement last month when it said the Yu brand of smartphones will run Cyanogen OS, the commercial variant of the Android-based operating system popular with the 'hacker' community that loves being in control of their devices. No other details were shared at that point.
Things became more confusing with a legal tussle over Cyanogen rights in India between Micromax and OnePlus. Micromax has an exclusive agreement with Cyanogen for distribution of Cyanogen OS-powered phones in India and other South Asian countries. This meant that OnePlus, which recently announced in entry in India with the launch of OnePlus One (Review | Pictures) (another Cyanogen OS powered smartphone) had to halt sales.
The details about the new phone became clear on Thursday, when Micromax unveiled the first Yu smartphone, called the Yu Yureka. As you would expect, the company spent a lot of time talking about the software features of the smartphone. With a slogan that goes "Yu Play God", Micromax aims to put you in control of almost every aspect of the smartphone. Users can change the look of the Yu Yureka by installing one of the themes available in the store, or create their own by changing elements like icons, fonts, and even boot screen animations to suit their moods. This, again, is similar to what Xolo has done with its recently unveiled Hive UI but Micromax goes a step further.
One of the standout features of the Cyanogen OS that'll come installed on Yu Yureka is something we've been wishing for years Google would add to stock Android - privacy controls on the Cyanogen OS let you edit permissions of every app. While Android does a good job of highlighting what permissions (e.g. SD card, Contacts, Your photos etc.) an app will need when you are installing or updating it, what you can do with that information is pretty limited. You know there's no reason for a photo editing app to have access to your call logs, but you can either agree to install the app or reject it but there's no way to install the app and restrict its permissions to a legitimate set without rooting your phone and/ or using third-party apps. That's not the case with Cyanogen OS.
There are other good software features like support for 24-bit high-resolution lossless audio, support for slow-motion video @ 60fps (with promise of 120fps video via a software update) and built-in support for Baton by Nextbit, which adds Apple Continuity like features to the OS. Micromax is wooing the developer/ hacker community with the Yu Yureka by offering features like unlockable bootloader, availability of kernel source and full Android build tree. In addition, Micromax says it will not void the warranty, in case anyone roots the Yu Yureka. All this will surely be music to the ears of those who love being in control of their smartphone experience.
While the software features are cool, the Yu Yureka is no slouch under the hood. It is powered by a 1.5GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 MSM8939 64-bit processor alongside Adreno 405 GPU as well as 2GB RAM. Micromax's Yu Yureka comes with 16GB internal storage, which is expandable by another 32GB via a microSD card. The only downside is the display that's low resolution for its size. The smartphone comes with 13-megapixel rear and 5-megapixel front shooters. All this at an unbelievable price tag of Rs. 8,999 and backed by an onsite warranty, something unheard of in the smartphone space.
While most can't hide their excitement looking at the price tag, we are firmly in the "if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is" camp. The HTC Desire 820, which has nearly identical specifications as the Yu Yureka, is being sold at a price tag that's nearly 2.5 times that of the Yureka. While HTC usually sells its devices at a bit of a premium, the Desire 820 is pretty decently priced for the hardware, so you have to wonder how Micromax is planning to sell a similar device at the fraction of the cost.
It's no surprise then Micromax is inspired by another company that's been selling devices at a discount compared to ones with similar specifications - Xiaomi. The Yu Yureka will be sold via the flash sale model made infamous by Xiaomi, wherein customers will need to pre-register at Amazon India and then compete with each other to complete the purchase.
Micromax did not answer queries on how many units will be made available for the first and subsequent sales, but everything points to the fact that the Yu Yureka might be harder to get than any of Xiaomi smartphones. We hope Micromax is more open about how many Yureka smartphones will be up for grabs in each flash sale closer to the date, so customers know exactly what they are getting into, and it's not a case of lakhs of people competing to buy a handful of units.
While that may sound like music to the ears of those associated with Micromax's Yu Yureka smartphone, recent history has shown it doesn't take long for what sounds like great, free publicity to turn into a potentially damaging backlash.