While the past few years have brought about an immense improvement in the quality and capabilities of low-cost smartphones, there are still millions of people around the world who simply cannot afford them. There’s a huge appetite for data and voice connectivity in India and many other parts of the world, and ultra-low-cost devices such as the Jio Phone are serving those who don’t want to be left out.
Google’s answer to that is the Android Go initiative, which strips back the Android operating system and several of Google’s apps to allow them to run on extremely limited, low-cost hardware. Go apps are optimised for storage, performance, security, and mobile data consumption.
Android Go phones will launch around the world very soon, and we were able to see some of them at the ongoing MWC 2018 trade show in Barcelona. Two of the models on display were the Micromax Bharat Go and Lava Z50, and both will be going on sale in India shortly. Here are our first impressions of both models, as well as the Android Go platform itself.
Both the Micromax Bharat Go and the Lava Z50 look like perfectly ordinary budget smartphones. Indian prices haven’t yet been announced, and we don’t even have detailed specifications yet. Both phones have 4.5-inch FWVGA (854x480-pixel) screens, 1GB of RAM and 8GB of storage. This lines up with the details of the Nokia 1 that was announced the day before MWC officially began, so we can look to that as an indication of what competitors will be offering with their Android Go devices.
The Lava Z50 is more square and blocky, while the Micromax Bharat Go has a more sculpted look. Lava has placed a Micro-USB port and 3.5mm socket on the top of its phone, and its rear camera is in the upper left corner. There’s a speaker grille across the lower back, and the buttons are on the right. There are capacitive Android navigation buttons below the screen.
Micromax has put the Bharat Go’s Micro-USB port on the bottom and its 3.5mm socket on the top. The power and volume buttons are on the right, and there are also capacitive Android navigation buttons, but the rear camera is in the centre of the upper back and the speaker grille is on the bottom.
Both phones are compact but a little thick, and the ones on display at MWC 2018 were both similar shades of gold. Obviously, they’re both extremely basic and utilitarian, but we had no problems with comfort when holding or using them. Even people who have never used a smartphone before should be able to learn to use these phones easily.
The main attraction is of course the software. Apart from Android Oreo (Go Edition), there are quite a few Go versions of Google’s popular apps, including Gmail, YouTube, Maps, and Assistant. There’s also the simply named Google Go app, and a new one called Files Go. If you’re familiar with Android already, these work as expected. They weren’t very quick on the Lava Z50 or Micromax Bharat Go, but they were good enough to be functional.
YouTube Go lets you see exactly how much data a video will require at different quality levels, and lets you choose which one you’d prefer. The Google Go app shows useful information and quick links to commonly used Google Web such as Translate and even GIF search. These are all little things that have been thought of in order to make everyday usage a bit easier. It will be interesting to see whether Google restricts these innovations to low-cost Go phones, or whether they eventually make it to the mainstream versions of each app. After all, those who can afford a budget Android smartphone would still benefit from more efficient management of storage space and lower data consumption charges.
The true value of Google’s optimisations will only really be felt after using one of these phones over an extended period of time. Of course that’s only one side of the story – the Lava Z50 and Micromax Bharat Go also have to work well as phones, which means their cameras, batteries and processors need to be satisfactory. Depending on the prices they intend to hit, these will be the main things that differentiate the two models. You can look forward to much deeper reviews right here at Gadgets 360 as and when these phones go on sale in India.
We spoke about all the big launches of MWC 2018 on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.