That the mobile phone landscape in Kenya is so hot right now is not news. It is an undeniable fact that everyone wants a piece of the pie. As Midcom boss Atul Chaturvedi noted last week at the iHub during Fero Mobile’s pre-launch event, there’s space for everyone.
Fero Mobile has somehow been around for a while. The faces behind the new mobile phone brand are the same ones that have steered another familiar brand associated with mobile devices over the last decade, Midcom. You may remember Midcom as the sole authorized distributor of Nokia devices in the region. In Kenya, they’ve been very visible in all major towns thanks to their partnership with the then Orange Kenya.
Now they won’t be just selling phones from partners like Tecno, Huawei, Samsung and others, they’re trying their hand in this phone business as well. And they are doing so in a big way. At the pre-launch event last week at the iHub, I remember losing count of the mobile phone models Midcom B2B sales head Vivek Vajpayee mentioned when he took the stage. I was to later find out that they are bringing 16 mobile phone models to the market. 16! Forget removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack from a phone targeted at the upper segment of the market, that right there is the real courage.
Fero Mobile seeks to attract customers from all market segments and as such, their device portfolio is somehow like a long flight of stairs with a device at every step of the way. There are feature phones as well as smartphones. The feature phones are in the F, M and K series. The former are just your usual average feature phones (with Bluetooth connectivity, dual-SIM, wireless FM radio and in some instances a very basic camera) just tuned to be a bit better than most rivals in the market (throw in internet connectivity as well) while the latter are being hyped up for their humongous battery units which should last up to two months on calls only. The M series is for feature phones centred around providing an acceptable music experience on feature phones. They’re unlikely to be (Nokia) XpressMusic-level stuff but they are out there nonetheless.
In the smartphone segment, which is where we are seeing a lot of competition locally, Fero has an expansive lineup to lure the customers brands like Tecno and Infinix have been enticing. The Fero Mobile leadership we got to interact with says that their brand is not just another me-too smartphone brand. That they are focusing on features that others have either ignored or reserved for their high-cost device series. They’re matching devices from existing low-cost brands both in price and specifications. Whether the user experience also holds up is something we’ll have to wait and see as the Fero Mobile smartphones roll out.
Just like the feature phones, the smartphones in the Fero Mobile tent are also classified according to their feature-set. There’s the Aura series at the entry level, the Power series that touts long battery life thanks to high capacity battery units and the Royale series which is the brand’s current flagship smartphone. There are other specialized ranges like the Mega series which, as the name insinuates, is home to the phablets and the Zoom series which is for camera-centred devices. This is pretty much in line with what we’re accustomed to from the likes of Huawei, Samsung, Infinix and Tecno. Since all the aforementioned device brands have at one point or another been Midcom Group clients, it is not hard to see that they learned from the best.
Like every other smartphone brand with a focus on the budget segment, Fero Mobile smartphones run on Android. Near-stock Android at that. The only dilution is in the form of two or three pre-installed applications. There is almost no modification to the core Android software. For some of the hardware they have in their fold like the few 512MB RAM smartphones that we couldn’t miss picking out, that should be such a Godsend. They (the half-a-gig RAM phones) need to go sooner rather than later, though.
Will Fero Mobile be able to survive the turbulence that is there in the industry? Only time will tell. As of now, all odds are in their favour and being an African brand, we’re rooting for them. They only need to hit the right spots. For instance, they assured us that their devices will be receiving regular software updates and those who buy, for instance, its flagship Royale X1 smartphone, should expect support beyond Android Marshmallow which the device ships with. That means, Android 7.0 Nougat some time later. Proper after-sales support is something the Fero Mobile leadership is committing to at the moment. We’ll be following them to see how this goes.
Fero Mobile phones will be available in Africa and the Middle East where the Midcom Group operates. In Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Senegal and Togo are the other countries alongside Kenya that are getting Fero devices first.