The South Korean giant's latest handset stands out not so much for its no-frills specifications but for what lies under the hood - the Tizen operating system Samsung has developed to rival Google Inc's Android platform.
Samsung is hoping the Z1 will catch on in the world's third-largest smartphone market, boosting its flagging global market share and gaining a foothold for Tizen among India's first-time smartphone buyers.
But the initial reaction of analysts and consumers after its Jan. 14 launch suggests the Samsung Z1 will struggle to get ahead of a crowded field in a country with about 280 smartphone brands on offer, led by Samsung and closely followed by Indian maker Micromax Informatics Ltd.
"Samsung has been delaying the launch of this Tizen phone for a long time and when they finally did it, it turned out to be an under-powered phone," said Mumbai-based filmmaker Samir Ahmed Sheikh as he shopped for a new phone for his wife.
The 3.15 megapixel primary camera and 300,000 pixel front camera are "like a phone from 2010", he said.
"A simple comparison with any of the Android One phones will tell you how much the Z1 is missing," Sheikh said.
IDC analyst Karan Thakkar said that although the Z1's $92 (roughly Rs. 5,700) price tag beat many of the best-known Android phones on cost, it still had plenty of strong competitors in the low-end segment.
"It's not always about the cheapest, customers are looking for specs ... There are already a plethora of devices running on Android that Indian customers can choose from," he said.
In response to the criticism, Samsung said in a statement the Z1's "exclusive benefits" included a simple interface, long battery life and faster page-loading speeds courtesy of Tizen.
Another problem for any Tizen-powered phone is Samsung's failure to excite software developers to tailor applications like games for the platform, analysts said.
Samsung says more than 1,000 apps will be available for download in the Tizen Store, including popular social media network Facebook. Even so, that's a tiny fraction of the offerings on Google Play.
Samsung said the expansion of Tizen-powered devices beyond watches and televisions to smartphones would encourage app developers to work with the platform.
It also promised to pass on 100 percent of net revenue from app sales and in-app purchases in the Tizen Store to developers for a year, to "celebrate" the Z1's launch.
If Samsung can convince Indians to try Tizen, huge sales are up for grabs. Sub-$100 devices account for nearly half the market and only one in 10 Indians uses a smartphone.
Success for the Z1 in India could help Samsung reverse a slide in its global market share, which fell to 24.4 percent in the third quarter of 2014 from 32 percent a year earlier.
Samsung declined to comment on whether it planned to launch the Z1 elsewhere, saying it would focus on India for now.
© Thomson Reuters 2015