When Micromax, Karbonn and Spice announced three Android One devices with practically the exact same specifications about two months ago with Vanilla Android out of the box, everyone thought the line was basically a more affordable and slightly downgraded Nexus line. However, the key differentiator was the fact that Google wanted to bring the Android One line to just developing countries unlike the Nexus line and more than one OEM were selected to be a part of the programme while Nexus had just one OEM universally for an entire year.
We picked up the Micromax Canvas A1 as our preferred hardware of choice when we decided to have a look at the lineup. We could have done this review earlier, but the reason for holding back ourselves was the fact that we wanted to see the market response as well as the OEM support for the updates that were promised. So, after spending about a month using the Android One device, here is what we think of the same, which would help you make an informed choice.
We would be primarily comparing the device to other phones in the INR 7000 category such as the Moto E and the RedMi 1s for a reference sake.
The construction of the device is as good as you will get in this price point
The Micromax Canvas A1 is as smart looking and well-constructed device as you could find in this price range. Having used both the RedMi 1S and the Moto E which had odd gaps between the back and the battery which lead to a creek every now and then, we actually liked what the A1 offered, despite removable backpanel. With the A1, we were really surprised how well the device felt in the hand and was built. The rubber feel back definitely provided ample grip and despite a couple of falls, the phone did not catch any scuff marks in our time with it.
The Micromax logo on the back definitely looks a little too prominent and we would have liked a more subtle approach but if you can get past that, the device is really well built and the same goes for the Karbonn and Spice device. The display is really natural and unlike some of the recent Micromax phones, the colors are not blown-out and oversaturated. We missed having a notification LED on the device but at this price point, you can forgive Micromax for ignoring one. If a notification LED is important to you, you can pick up the Spice Dream Uno.
This is not the Camera you can rely on
The Micromax Canvas A1 probably has the worst camera we have used in a smartphone in the range aforementioned. The 5 MP camera is a fixed focus camera and you cannot manually focus on subjects, which is expected at this price. The phone comes with the default Google Camera application, so you do have interesting options such as HDR, gridlines, changing AR, Mega Pixel count but despite all of that, the camera produces pictures that severely lack in details. The Nokia Lumia line, Moto E as well as the RedMi 1s, all take better pictures than the Micromax Canvas A1. The low light performance is a write-off and unless you have a very still subject with excellent lights surrounding it, you would not like the output. The video recording is very average too and even though the rear camera is capable of 1080 P recording, there is nothing to write home about it. You will need a Micro SD card in the device even to capture one picture and that was a real turn off.
The Overall performance is plain average
We had high expectations when it comes to performance of the Android One, given Google has said loads about optimizing Android Kitkat for devices with low RAM. However, that does not translate to the real-time performance as the phone does struggle when you push it really hard.
In everyday tasks, such as odd web browsing and a couple of social media apps, the Android Canvas A1 does well, and you will not see any dropped frames there.
Media playback too, with a clean RAM is fine and although the sound output is not the loudest, we had no problems, though we much preferred the front facing speakers of the Moto E. The Canvas A1 makes very decent phone calls and the gaming performance while playing simple arcade games was good too, though things really went for a toss when we loaded some of the big titles. The benchmark scores were not great and you can understand all of it when you see that the phone comes with a MediaTek MT6582 SoC and at a price point of Rs 7,000.
This is Nexus at Cheap
The Android One devices are basically Nexus smartphones at affordable prices. If you have used a Nexus smartphone and you use an Android One device, you will have absolutely no problems.
The software is pretty much exactly the same, other than a couple of apps added on here by the OEM. You have the exact same setup as that on any device running stock Android 4.4.4 here and that is why the learning curve is non-existent. You get all the Google apps, such as the Maps, Gmail, Youtube etc right out of the box in the device.
The keyboard as well as the launcher here are Google Play Launcher and Google Keyboard respectively, so both of them work as well as they do on a Nexus phone. The 1 GB of RAM and 4 GB of ROM make sure that if you do not load the device with too many apps, the experience is very decent.
But without the updates
The only reason we waited till January for writing our report on the device was that we wanted to see if the Lollipop update would hit Android One phones as early as the Nexus phones, which was implied at the launch. That hasn’t happened. We are writing this review on January 3rd and there is no news of the Lollipop update. We have seen devices like the Nexus 5, Motorola Moto X, Android GPE lineup as well as the likes of LG G3, already receive the update to Android 5.0, but that is not the case with the Android One lineup. It is pretty obvious, that the update will hit soon, but we definitely expected immediate updates to be a major attraction of picking up the Android One line, but now it looks like that is not the case.
It makes for a great secondary phone, no more
With a dual SIM setup that the Android One devices come with, they make for a fantastic secondary phone. It’s the kind of device you would fall back to when your primary phone is low on charge or you need to swap in a new SIM card when you are traveling. Although the battery on the Micromax Canvas A1 was not as good as we wanted it to be, but it did last through a day and you would want that from your secondary phone. Given the budget pricing of the device, using it as a secondary phone makes a lot of sense too. It was mainly a pretty average display and the paltry 4 GB internal memory that put us off from using the device as a primary phone. It is a great primary phone for those who do not want to spend a bomb on the phone and are okay with mediocre performances.
If you value Nexus like experience at a budget price and you really want quick updates, then the Android One line is perfect for you. However, if you like customizations, look for better performances and slightly better specifications, then you definitely would want to check out the likes of the Moto E or the RedMi 1s. The Android One line has a lot of potential, but essentially, all the three phones today available in India are exactly the same. We would hope, going forward that OEMs would build more for the lineup so that we can actually have decent options both in lower as well as medium budget price segments. For now, it is a good start, but for anything more, we would need to wait.