Look at this thing. It’s the Nokia 215, it costs $29 (before tax) and it’s being touted as a Facebook phone for “first time mobile buyers starting in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe.” Nobody’s going to buy it. Here’s why.
Early in 2013, a pre-Microsoft Nokia announced a smartish $99 device, also aimed squarely at the poor world. It came with touchscreen capability, free Facebook data for three months, and a decent if unspectacular operating system built in-house by the guys at Nokia. But at $99, it was too expensive a device considering its limited features.
To remedy that, Microsoft, which acquired most of Nokia last year, has stripped out pretty much everything that makes an internet-connected phone “smart.” Sure, $29 is a great price, but not if all you’re getting for it is a glorified feature phone.
When Indians and Chinese—the biggest markets for cheap phones—think of low-end devices, they think of brands like Micromax and Karbonn or Forme and Oppo. And China’s manufacturers are getting cannier, giving users high-end devices at mid-range prices, and mid-range devices at low-end prices. What Nokia has here is a low-end device at a low-end price. That may have made complete sense once but it doesn’t any more.
Microsoft says the Nokia 215 is its “most affordable Internet-ready entry-level phone yet.” Strictly speaking, that’s true—depending on your definition of internet-ready. The thing doesn’t even come with Wi-Fi, let alone 3G, which for most purposes makes it about as internet-ready as your toaster, which is to say not at all. What the 215 does have is a 2G connection. It has to, or it wouldn’t be able to make calls. 2G also allows for excruciatingly slow internet use, so, yes, technically, the phone can use the internet. But it probably shouldn’t.
As for the affordability, $29 before tax indeed sounds cheap, but there are cheaper, better phones on the market already. Here’s a touchscreen dual-sim Android device with a 3-megapixel camera (compared to the Nokia’s 0.3 megapixel) that retails for $28 after tax. Here’s a nifty little Firefox OS phone that goes for $33. Neither of them has 3G either, but at least they’ve got Wi-Fi chips to allow for a decent connection wherever a network is available. China even sells 3G devices at the $30 mark, according to James Bruce of ARM, which designs nearly every processor in every smartphone.