The Low-End Gap: Quick Updates After Motorola’s Betrayal

The Low-End Gap: Quick Updates After Motorola’s Betrayal

The mobile industry, as it currently stands, is flooded with Android smartphones. Whether you wish to get the best of the current specs, or just want a useable phone that can do basic smartphone activities without sweating itself, there’s a plethora of devices out there to satisfy most needs.

But those on a tight budget usually tend to get the short end of the economical stick. Devices on the lowest end of the mobile spectrum tend to be chock-full of compromises, whether it be sub par displays, barely-usable RAM or non-existent internal storages. Choices in this end tend to follow along the “least of all evil” pattern, gracefully accepting the shortcomings of a particular phone in exchange for some strong point that the phone has.

I was in a similar situation recently, where I was asked to suggest a few phones in the sub-10,000 INR ($150) segment as well as in the sub-5,000 ($75) INR segment. Simply based off the numbers, it should have been difficult finding a “good” smartphone in the sub-$150 segment, and even more difficult to suggest one in the $75 segment. Surprisingly, it was the opposite.

Finding a device in this price-bracket is a challenge which boils down to what compromises you can live with

Starting off the sub-$75 in India, we find that this market segment is populated by the likes of Micromax, Karbonn, Lava and other Indian and Chinese brands. Stuffing everything that a smartphone experience needs while trying to stay well within the reach of the low end of the market often ends up with either disappointing hardware to begin with, or lack of attention from the manufacturer once sales expectations are reached. Devices in this price segment tend to sport small and poor-quality displays, low amounts of processing prowess and poor upgrade support. Finding a device in this price-bracket is a challenge which ultimately boils down to what compromises you, as a user, can live with.

The Android One devices make for a very sweet deal on a very tight budget.

However, there are a few devices that do stand out from the crowd, for instead of trying to do everything at once (and then failing at all of them), they realize their strong points and focus on delivering an experience around it.

Case in point: the first-gen Android One devices, which are arguably the best phones you can buy on such an extremely tight budget. Android One devices run on pure AOSP, and are promised to be quick on the update-bandwagon, making them very good choices in the lowest segment.

Android_One_Trio_HD_WideThe first-gen Android One devices started off with the Karbonn Sparkle V, Spice Dream Uno and the Micromax Canvas A1, all of which had the same hardware but different build designs and branding advantages. These devices came with a humble Mediatek MT6582 1.3 GHz Quad core processor with 1GB of RAM. Looking at things from a pure spec-sheet standpoint in isolation of their prices, the devices did not have much going for them as they sit firmly in the midst of compromises done to keep the cost low. Software-wise though, these are the best choice you could make at this stage if you wish to keep abreast of the latest in official Android releases. The devices were launched with Android 4.4.4 Kitkat, but have already received their taste of Android 6.0 Marshmallow, something that even $750 flagships cannot boast about. Available for as low as Rs. 3,936 ($60) under deals and offers (prices tend to vary on Flipkart on various days even with same seller), the Android One devices make for a very sweet deal on a very tight budget.

Lava-Pixel-v1-600x431Now what if you wish to have a similar, quick AOSP update experience on a higher budget, effectively double of your starting point? Now this is where there is a void in the market. The second-gen Android One devices, mainly the Lava Pixel V1 and its accompanying family of devices, tend to cost almost $150 (and slightly above at times, depending on exchange rates). However, these devices, which were released with Android 5.1.1, have yet to be updated to Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Furthermore, there has been no official news on the update schedule for these devices. At the time of release, we did mention that the second gen Android One devices will be updated on the manufacturer’s schedule, which in this case, is Lava.

The device is guaranteed updates to the latest Android for the next two years, but how quick these updates come out is the question, seeing that they are no longer directly under Google’s jurisdiction and Lava does not have a very good track record in this area. Even with the custom rom development scene, these devices have a naturally smaller community (due to their recent release) whereas first gen Android devices have a more mature development scene.

Quick updates and lasting support in this segment are akin to finding a needle in the haystack

Moving on, within the $150 market, a worthy competitor came in the form of Motorola, a company that carried on the pure AOSP and bloat free approach while still seeding timely updates and due after sales attention for its devices. The Moto G, while not being in this price segment, was arguably one of the best starter phones in the market. The phone and its subsequent iterations not only had decent hardware at a competitive price, they also received timely updates from Motorola. The Moto G 2013 started off on Android 4.3 Jellybean and ended on Android 5.1 Lollipop, which is very impressive for a phone that costed $179 at time of launch. The Moto G 2014 started off on Android 4.4.4 Kitkat and got an upgrade to Android 5.0 Lollipop, with a Marshmallow update planned for the future. Similar situation exists for the new Moto G 2015, so it was only natural to assume that the Moto E would receive similar treatment.

But alas, the Moto E could not be what the Moto G was. The Moto E 2014 started on Android 4.4 Kitkat and was upgraded to Android 5.1 Lollipop. The Moto E 2015 started off on Android 5.0 Lollipop and was upgraded to Android 5.1 Lollipop. This is where it ends however, as both the phones are not in the officially released list of devices that will receive Android 6.0 Marshmallow. It certainly is not good for a phone to have an upgrade support of just 6 months, especially when it is clearly demonstrated that lower hardware devices can be on the latest Android (cue the first gen Android One devices). This reason alone is sufficient to drive away all future sales of the device, as it is essentially dead before you go to purchase it. With the early update support (and practically, all update support) gone, the Moto E loses a lot of its stock AOSP charm and falls down into the sea of indistinguishable Chinese smartphones.

If there is demand, someone will likely fill the gap in one form or the other

So what can you buy if you want a cheap smartphone with good updates? You can’t. Not yet at least. As stated earlier, quick updates and lasting support are a rarity in this price segment, and finding an OEM that cares about its lower segment is akin to finding a needle in the haystack.

What we are left with, as it currently stands, is a gap where AOSP options are barely present.

However, the market is fluid and more intelligent that what people give it credit for. Laws of economics dictate that if there is demand, someone will likely fill it in one form or the other. The original Moto G was Motorola’s best selling smartphone and it ran on a campaign of longevity on top of value. The Moto E betrayed its brethren and denied its tradition, yet its marketing campaigns and reviews praised its “fast updates” as a virtue and a selling point. It’s only a matter of time before another major player notices that long-lasting support is something that betters reviews and drives up sales. And maybe then, balance will be restored again.

What are your opinions on the low-end gap? Is there a worthy alternative to Motorola’s low end legacy? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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