When Mukesh Ambani said earlier today that 4G LTE phone prices will decline to Rs 4,000 from Rs 7,000 over the next six months, many probably thought he was being optimistic.
But not ZTE, the Chinese telecom major that has largely been content to play second fiddle to others like Huawei, Xiaomi and Lenovo in the Indian 4G market so far.
The company has announced by far the cheapest 4G LTE smartphone in India – the ZTE Blade Q Lux, pricing it at just Rs 4,999. The phone will be available on Amazon from Tuesday onwards (see picture above.)
To clearly understand the development, consider the following – a year ago, the cheapest 4G phone cost over Rs 25,000.
That changed drastically when Xiaomi said it would start selling the RedMi Note 4G in late December at just Rs 9,999. At the time it was considered a daring move that others couldn’t imitate.
However, one Indian operator – Micromax – picked up the gauntlet, and launched not one, but two 4G phones since then – the Yu Yureka, priced Rs 8,999, and the Yu Yuphoria, priced Rs 6,999.
The Yuphoria remains the cheapest 4G smartphone in India along with Xiaomi’s Redmi 2 – both priced at Rs 6,999.
The reason these players were able to bring out these cheap 4G phones is also why ZTE has now been able to undercut them with the ZTE Blade Q Lux — the Snapdragon 410 platform.
The chipset, developed by US-based Qualcomm, helped companies introduce 4G into the entry-level market. Meanwhile, their traditional chip partner – MediaTek – was still fumbling in 4G.
Qualcomm, eager to gain market share in the lower price bracket, was more than willing to help these brands make 4G affordable.
MEDIATEK IS BACK
However, ZTE Blade Q Lux shows that Qualcomm has not been able to kill MediaTek in India – the Blade Q Lux is powered by MTK6732M – the cheapest of the three mass-market 4G solutions unveiled by MediaTek earlier this year.
Those who expected MediaTek to mess up its second attempt at the 4G market can now be officially disappointed.
As part of its first LT attempt, MediaTek had announced in October last year that its first 4G solution — MT6595 — will soon power affordable 4G handsets in India.
However, the solution was not the success that MediaTek envisaged.
Instead of flooding the Indian market with phones based on MT6595, there was only one notable model – the Lenovo X2 – that contained the company’s first attempt at designing a mass, 4G solution. Seizing the 3-4 month window afforded by the delay, Qualcomm tried to sweep the market with its Snapdragon 410, winning over a player like Micromax to its platform.
However, with ZTE Blade Q Lux, MediaTek has re-entered the market with style.
BOTTOM OF BARREL
Frankly,ZTE Blade Q Lux cannot really be compared with the Snapdragon 410-based handsets such as Lenovo A6000 Plus (Rs 7,499) and the Yu Yuphoria.
The Q Lux is targeted at the really budget constrained customers. Instead of 5-inch displays like the others, the ZTE Blade Q Lux has a 4.5-inch display. Instead of having 1 mln pixels on its display, the ZTE model has only 0.41 mln pixels. Instead of 16 GB internal memory, the Blade Q Lux makes do with 8 GB.
However, it’s not a story of compromise all the way.
For example, the back camera has a resolution of 8 MP and there is a 5-MP shooter at the front. You can shoot HD (720p) videos, while the 2200 mAh battery will be enough to comfortably power the phone for one full day of moderate use. RAM has been kept as 1 GB.
All in all, the real competition of the ZTE Blade Q Lux is not with Lenovo A6000 or Yu Yuphoria or Moto E 4G. It is the entry-level 3G-only smartphones sold by the likes of Karbonn, Spice and Micromax. These phones, priced at Rs 3,500-4,500, currently account for a huge chunk of the Indian market.
The recently-launched Huawei Bee, for example, is priced at Rs 4,499, and has almost the exact same specifications as the Blade Q Lux except for the fact that it is a 3G phone.
Of course, it’s a different matter whether the entry-level customer will actually bother paying an extra Rs 700-800 to have 4G capability.
We believe it will be a tough sell, as you really need 4G only when you are consuming a lot of data.
With a 4.5-inch display, it’s really tough to see the Internet usage spilling over 3G capacity and requiring back-up from high-speed 4G networks.
That said, 4G networks are springing up all over the place like mushrooms in the monsoon season, and many buyers, especially youth, may choose to future proof their phones by buying 4G devices instead of ‘old’ 3G technology-based ones.
Despite its limitations, however, the ZTE Blade Q Lux stands out for demonstrating that it is possible to come out with a usable 4G smartphone which costs just Rs 500 more than the 3G-only versions.