Budget Android phones may have been selling well, but the Android experience on these low-powered devices isn't something I can recommend. The good news is that Android on a budget is now on the verge of change with the entry of power-packed sub-Rs 10,000 devices such as the Spice Stellar Mi-425.
I was eagerly waiting to get my hands on the new Stellar range of Spice phones because they promised features that we usually associate with devices priced almost double of what the Stellar phones are.
When I held the Spice Stellar Mi-425 in my hand for the first time, it didn't disappoint, even though it seemed to be on the heavier side and did feel a bit plasticy, especially to the rear.
On the first look it resembles an HTC device, in fact many friends at work thought it to be an HTC phone (though the characteristic HTC chin isn't present). The phone with a large screen is definitely good to look at. The red-coloured front and rear speakers are eye catching. Even the four backlit capacitive buttons just below the screen are appealing.
The touch is smooth and the screen bright. You may need a little shade to decipher what's on the screen in bright sunlight. I deliberately kept the phone in by bag with keys and coins for a few days and it emerged scratch free from the ordeal. The Stellar may not boast of Gorilla Glass protection, but it does not seem to be a soft target for display abrasion.
The Spice Stellar Mi-425 packs in almost everything on paper that you might want from your Android smartphones - powerful (1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, 245 MHz GPU, 512 MB RAM and 512 MB ROM), large screened (WVGA 800x480 4 inch/10.16 cm screen), decent camera (5 megapixel auto-focus rear camera with LED flash and also a VGA secondary front camera), latest OS (Androd 2.3 and Spice says 4.0 ICS upgrade coming soon), good battery (2000mAh) and attractive price (Rs 9700 on HomeShop18). If this seems too good to be true, Spice spoils the specs party packing in a measly 140 MB of user available internal memory.
Internal memory is one of the most overlooked of smartphone features. The salesperson will try to sell you the external memory formula, but the two memories are not the same. There are a number of apps (usually the ones that you'll end up using the most) that will install only on the internal memory by default, for security reasons or otherwise. This means that you may not be able to install all the apps that you want to because of lack of storage space even if you have a 32 GB microSD card. My recommendation is a minimum of 1 GB user accessible internal memory, even 512 MB is acceptable. But 140 MB definitely isn't.
One phone that can give the Spice Stellar Mi-425 some contest in its segment is the Karbonn A9. While we are yet to get hold of a review unit, it does seems to measure up to the Spice Stellar on some crucial specifications.
On turning on the Spice Stellar you will notice that the launcher isn't the Android default, Spice has instead used Launcher+. I was actually a little tempted to change to launcher with something that suited my tastes a little better. But then that is outside the purview of this review.
A bugging habit of phone makers also finds its way into the Spice Stellar - unwanted but pre-installed apps that you cannot easily uninstall, also known as bloatware. For example a user like me has no need for an app for Live Aarti or BSE/NSE Stocks or for that matter the security app that Spice has been touting during the launch - NQ Mobile Security.
Also instead of the default Android keyboard Spice has used the TouchPal Keyboard. I experienced some issues while typing, such as adjacent letters being typed even without them being touched. Not sure if the screen calibration was to blame or the app itself. Also I was unable to get into landscape mode while trying to text. Landscape typing worked on the browser and other apps but not while texting.
That the phone is dual-SIM (GSM/CDMA, GSM) may make it more attractive to some buyers and it is always advantageous to have a second SIM slot, be it for better call rates or for something else. But the disadvantage is that dialling and texting with two SIMs inserted mean an extra barrier to cross (choosing which SIM to use).
The 5 megapixel auto-focus camera is good enough for its segment. That it comes with an LED flash is an added advantage. Only that the colours look a little washed out, but is within acceptable limits. The front camera is best used for 3G video calling or to Skype (which works pretty well on this phone). But video recording leaves a lot to be desired. The quality isn't anything that you can show off to friends, especially the ones shot in a little low light. It also seems to only record in 3GP format (the highest resolution I could manage was 864x480) and not also in MP4 as some of the listed specs suggest.
That the phone comes with powerful specs and a large screen means that there is that extra strain on the battery. Spice has tried to compensate for hunger for power by packing in a 2000mAh battery. The phone managed to give me about a day's use without charging on moderate usage. This I think should be fine for most users as we all have fallen into the routine of charging our smartphones daily.
Though the earphones that come inside the box aren't much to write about even for many of the big brands, Spice includes a good looking handsfree set with the Stellar.
The position of the USB port to the bottom right seems a little awkward to me. I prefer to have the USB port either on the top or the bottom of the phone. Having them on the sides mean that the USB cable will come in the way while trying to operate the phone when charging/transferring data.
If not for the little irritants (internal memory, video quality) the Spice Stellar Mi-425 would've been a great phone at its price. Spice did strive for a stellar device but fell a little short.
Phones from Indian companies such as Spice, Micromax and others may give great features at a budget, but they have to battle the general perception that the cheap in the price tag also extends to the quality. Many people whom I showed the phone to seemed to be very impressed with the phone until they noticed the brand. I think devices such as the Mi-425 can give the brand the value they have been striving for. While they are at it, maybe they can also get the phone's information booklet designed a little better.
Meanwhile I have my eyes on the Mi-425's 5-inch cousin - the Spice Stellar Horizon Mi-500. It promises even more bang for the buck.
Detailed official specs for Spice Stellar Mi-425
Dimensions: 125 x 63.5 x 12.5mm
Input: Full Touch
Display: Screen: 10.16 cm 480 x 800 pixels
Battery: 2000 mAh
Operating frequency: GSM 900/1800, WCDMA 2100
Data networks: GPRS/EDGE/Wi-Fi/HSPA
SAR (W/kg): 0.357 Watt/kg
Memory Card: microSD upto 32 GB
Phone memory: 149 MB
Camera: rear 5 megapixel autofocus with LED flash and 3.9x digital zoom and front VGA
Package contents: USB cable, CD, Charger, user manual, headset, battery and warranty card
(Spice Stellar with the Samsung Galaxy S III)
Unedited sample images shot with the Spice Stellar Mi-425