The under 10K smartphone category is an interesting segment and the Safaricom Neon Ultra tries to cut itself above this niche.
The Neon Ultra and the Neon Smarta are the first affordable devices to be assembled in the country at the East Africa Device Assembly Kenya Limited(EADAK) thanks to the partnership between Jamii Telecom, Safaricom and Shenzhen TeleOne Technology(China).
It’s worth noting that the Neon smartphones have been available in the country since 2018 with the Neon Kicka but they’ll now be assembled locally with the goal of enhancing digital inclusion in Kenya as the government and its telco partners try to increase 4G access.
But besides all that, how do the devices – in this case, the Neon Ultra perform and should you buy it?
Neon Ultra comes in a generous package with the phone with a factory-applied screen protector, separate battery, 5W power brick, Type-C charging cable, earphones, transparent plastic back case, start guide and warranty card inside.
The phone comes with a removable battery as the back case can be removed to insert it and the single SIM as well. The Neon Ultra units by JTL are dual SIM while the Safaricom units are locked to single Safaricom SIM cards.
The Neon Ultra is a pretty basic phone when it comes to design. It ships with a 480p 6.5-inch screen. Colour reproduction isn’t the best but the brightness is enough for everyday use. A 720p screen would have been a better choice so I hope its successor gets on with that.
The frame and back are made of plastic and removable as well. There’s a back case included but the phone handled itself well even without it – it does get smudges though so you’ll want to use the case.
The buttons on the right include a volume up and down button and a textured power button. A headphone jack is located at the top while at the bottom is the single bottom-facing speaker and the type-C charging port which is pretty welcome at this price point.
Biometrics are absent here as there’s no face unlock or fingerprint reader so you’ll use a pin or pattern to lock your phone. The Neon Ultra 2 should bring at least a back fingerprint reader.
Neon Ultra comes with an entry-level Unisoc processor paired with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage with the option to expand with an external MicroSD card.
It comes running Android 13(Go Edition) with no unnecessary third-party apps – well, except for Facebook Lite. You do get the usual Google apps like Gallery, Meet, YT Music, Drive, YouTube, Maps, Assistant, Chrome, Calendar, Files, Gmail, Play Store, Keep and the Google App.
The performance is passable for light tasks like scrolling social media and browsing but the slug will be evident when you start multitasking. Some simple games are playable like Alto and Asphalt 8. Heavy games won’t even be downloadable on the phone.
You should look for options high up in your budget if you’re a gamer but light gaming is possible with the Neon Ultra.
Neon Ultra comes with a 5MP selfie camera housed in a waterdrop notch and a 8MP main and a VGA camera at the back. Modes include Panorama, Night, Video, TimeLapse, QR Code, and Beauty Selfies and Portraits.
Video capture is capped at 1080p 30fps(including time-lapse videos) for the main camera and 720p 30fps for the selfie camera.
There’s a noticeable lag when you take photos -from when you capture to when you get a preview.
It takes passable photos and you’ll need plenty of light to take good shots. Here are some of them including night shots.
REGULAR SHOTS & LOWLIGHT
Neon Ultra has a 3750mAh battery with support for 5W Type-C charging. It’s a small battery but will last you a full day and probably extend to the next day depending on light to moderate use. The charging though Type-C is really slow so you’ll have to leave it charging for a while when it dies on you.
Compared to its predecessors, the Neon Ultra brings significant upgrades. It makes for a good smartphone coming from feature phones, especially on a very tight budget and need access to 4G to browse social media and chat on WhatsApp. You’ll have to be really patient with its performance, cameras and charging.
PRICING AND AVAILABILITY
The Neon Ultra goes for Ksh 8,999 at Safaricom’s retail shops and Masoko. It goes for around 9,800 in online e-commerce platforms like Jumia.
Neon Ultra is also available through Safariom’s Lipa Mdogo Mdogo program which means you can buy the phone at official Safaricom shops or partner stores by paying a deposit and then paying Ksh 50 daily. Check *544*8# to access the program.
Purchasing through this program allows you to get a daily bundle of 5 minutes of talk time and 120MB data.