We are well into October a month that may yet be historic. It is the month Kenyans expect to have a chance to buy a Kenyan made cheap smartphone. Initially, the Cabinet Secretary of ICT had promised September in a media interview.
Last month in the USA the Kenyan president stated that 20,000 phones have been manufactured. A source close to the production process confirmed that the devices were in the testing phase. While we await the official launch and a chance to purchase the historic locally manufactured smartphones, we look at how the phone compares to some other options from Egypt, India and China.
Kenyan Made Smartphone Specs
Kenya is not the first country seeking to bridge the digital gap by locally manufacturing cheap smartphones. In seeking to produce its smartphone, Kenya is following in the footsteps of other countries in Africa namely Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Africa.
So, what would a Kenyan smartphone look like? In January, ICT CS Mr Owalo said the smartphone will run on an Android system. Further, he stated that phones will allow users to install other secondary applications and access web apps.
In terms of capabilities, the cheap smartphone will have basic call, text, clock, and calendar features. The CS also alluded the phone will have 4G capabilities and 64 GB storage. He did not give any further details.
At the time, the CS said that American tech giant Google was helping in the manufacturing of the devices. However, when the government revealed the consortium of 3 working to build the devices in Konza, Google was not mentioned. The companies involved are Chinese mobile device dealers Shenzhen TeleOne Technology, Safaricom, and Jamii Telecommunications.
Egypt’s Smartphone: The Nile X
Egypt launched its locally made cheap smartphone dubbed Nile X. Its specifications include a 13-megapixel dual camera, 4G enabled, 4GB RAM, 64 GB storage, 5.7 HD display, Android 7.0 Nougat operating system, fast charging and a fingerprint sensor. It has an Octa-Core 1.5Ghz Processor and 2800mAh Battery Capacity.
The phone is manufactured by an Egyptian company called Sico. Currently, it retails for what translates to about KES 5,755.
Egypt also manufactures Samsung Galaxy phones in conjunction with the South Korean multinational Samsung. The first Egypt-made Samsung phone was released in October last year.
In comparison to the Nile X, the Kenyan government has insisted the Kenyan made phone will retail at $40. At the current exchange rate, that is about KES 5,882.76. This means around the same price as Egypt’s Nile X.
“I want to assure the country that we will have the cheapest smartphone in Africa, manufactured in Kenya, within the next eight to
12 months,” President Ruto said in November last year.
Both phones are 4G enabled and have 64GB storage, however, we do not know more details on the Kenyan phone e.g. Camera capabilities, processor speed, and RAM.
Importantly, the Chinese company brought in as part of the 3 manufacturers is the company behind the Neon smartphone. Neon smartphones are budget smartphones Shenzhen TeleOne sells in Kenya in partnership with Safaricom.
The current Neon Ray2 does have 4G capabilities just like the government promises the Kenyan smartphone will. However, that is the end of the good news. The Neon Ray has a miserly, 1GB RAM, 16GB storage, a 5MP Rear camera and 2MP Front Camera. It has a small battery of 2000 mAh. For these, features the phone retails in the market at KES 5,000 which is a fair price for its capabilities.
Again, KES 5000 is within the ballpark of $40 dollars. In January, CS Owalo had stated the price was arrived at “Based on the feasibility studies that have been undertaken”. It appears the government was right on the mark given the Nile X and Neon Ray 2 prices.
Notably, the Neon is network-restricted to Safaricom, thus, limiting user’s flexibility. It is not known if the Kenyan made smartphones will be networked restricted seeing as two telcos are part of the 3-way consortium.
India’s Affordable 4G Phone
In India, the country’s richest man through his company Jio has also made a 4G enabled phone with some smartphone capabilities. As the phone is sold via a telco, it too is network-restricted. The phone has been given the name “Jio Bharat,”.
The 4G-enabled phone comes with limited features like access to Jio’s own on-demand video and music streaming services, JioCinema and JioSaavn. It has 48 GB storage and supports expanded storage via microSD card. The phone has a very small display of 2-inch and in this century, it has a 0.3 VGA camera.
Jio Bharat is different from the Kenyan made phone and Nile X, as users are not able to install secondary applications.
The phone costs $12 (KES1,764.83), which is the price of most basic feature phones in Kenya. So, the Jio Bharat is definitely giving value for money at that price.
We wait for the locally assembled phones to come to the retail stores. For the promised price of $40, everyone would like to know just how much the phone offers and how it compares to those already in the market.