The JioPhone, just like Jio 4G, has stirred up a bit of a hornet’s nest. So it seems. It’s not every day you see a ‘smart’ feature phone with 4G VoLTE sold in the market at an ‘effective’ price of Rs 0, or more precisely for free. Countermeasures from rival companies were inevitable. One of first telecom companies to up the ante against RIL’s JioPhone is Airtel.

Airtel has joined hands with home-grown brand Karbonn to offer a full-scale 4G smartphone — the Karbonn A40 Indian for Rs 1,399 — “effectively at the price of a feature phone.” The partnership is part of Airtel’s Mera Pehla 4G Smartphone initiative. The initiative will see the telecom network join hands with more OEMs in the days to come to “create an open ecosystem of affordable 4G smartphones and bring them to market for virtually the price of a feature phone.”

Both the JioPhone and the Airtel Karbonn A40 Indian are essentially contract-based phones in hindsight which means that you’ll have to shell out money on a carrier plan in order to avail their benefits. There are differences, when you dig in, but all-in-all both RIL and Airtel want you to invest an amount close to Rs 7,000 over a period of three years to make the best out of their respective deals. In the end of it all, while Airtel is claiming that the Karbonn A40 Indian will cost buyers Rs 1,399 the JioPhone, according to RIL, will cost them Rs 0. Keeping all these permutations and combinations aside, here are a few key pointers that make Airtel’s Karbonn A40 Indian hit the JioPhone out of the ball park:

  1. First and foremost, the JioPhone is exclusively a contract-based feature phone which means that it will be locked to a Jio SIM for all its primary requirements. Simply put, you’ll have to have an activated Jio 4G SIM running at all times in order to use the JioPhone. Such contract-based phones aren’t new in India, but, they came, they saw and they failed long time ago. It’s been a long time that India has seen a full-fledged contract-based phone. But of course, the JioPhone changes all that. For better or for worse is yet to be seen. The Airtel Karbonn A40 Indian, on the other hand, isn’t actually a contract-based smartphone in the literal sense, as you can use any SIM card you wish – even a Jio 4G SIM for that matter – with it. In fact, even if someone wants to buy the Karbonn A40 Indian without an Airtel SIM, it will be available for buying at as low as Rs 2,899. You’ll have to splurge on an Airtel SIM – and an Airtel tariff plan – only if you wish to avail the Karbonn A40 Indian at an effective price of Rs 1,399. The Karbonn A40 Indian, therefore, offers greater flexibility than a JioPhone.

  2. The second, but the most important bit, is that the Karbonn A40 Indian is a full-scale 4G VoLTE-capable smartphone. Without opting for any plan, you can go buy yourself Karbonn A40 Indian at a price as low as under Rs 3,000. For someone looking to make a switch from a feature phone to a smartphone, the Karbonn A40 Indian certainly makes a lot more sense as compared to a feature phone like the JioPhone. The 4G smartphone comes with a 4-inch display, a 1.3 Ghz processor with 1GB RAM and 8GB of internal storage which is expandable by up to 32GB via micro-SD card. The dual-SIM phone runs Android Nougat software and is backed by a 1,400mAh battery. It comes with a 2-megapixel camera on the rear and a 0.3-megapixel camera on the front. Connectivity options include: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS. The JioPhone is a feature phone, but, it is smarter than other feature phones in the market right now. For one, it is 4G LTE and VoLTE-ready which means that it has the capability to become a user’s full-fledged internet device, much like a smartphone. Jio, being a 4G-only network, requires such a phone, after all. Qualcomm and Spreadtrum have independently confirmed that RIL’s 4G capable feature phone will have two versions. While one batch will be powered by a Snapdragon 205 SoC, a processor Qualcomm has made specifically for ultra-affordable 4G VoLTE phones, the other batch will come with an unspecified Spreadtrum-based processor on the inside. The software inside is a custom fork of Firefox OS — that is KaiOS — with features like voice search/virtual assistant built-in. The JioPhone has an all-plastic body with a T9 keypad on-board and support for as many as 22 Indian languages. The home button in the center will serve as a dedicated shortcut for firing up the voice assistant as well. It will come with a 2.4-inch QVGA colour screen and NFC support for secure mobile payments. The phone will also come with expandable memory. But, what’s most important for the majority of potential buyers out there is the fact that they will be able to browse the Internet and make video calls using the JioPhone.

  3. At the end of the day, the JioPhone is still a feature phone while the Karbonn A40 Indian is a smartphone for real. An actual smartphone is an actual smartphone after all. The only possible limitation, in comparison to the JioPhone, is that the Karbonn A40 Indian does not support NFC and therefore isn’t meant for cashless mobile payments that require the functionality. The biggest drawback, in the case of the JioPhone in this increasingly connected world, is that the feature phone doesn’t support WhatsApp and Facebook, for now. This could be a deal breaker for many.

  4. Moving on, RIL specifically notes that, in order to be eligible for a cash-back of Rs 1,500, users will have to return the phone to the telecom operator after three years. In the case of the Karbonn A40 Indian, however, the ownership of the smartphone is completely with the user and there is no need to return the device to Airtel/Karbonn at any point to claim the cash benefit.

  5. The last bit – which is entirely subjective – is that the initial batch of JioPhones are being imported from China with RIL planning to make them in India towards the end of the year should there be great demand. The Karbonn A40 Indian, on the contrary, is a made in India smartphone right from the get-go.

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