But 11 years later and a clutch of serious private players in the GSM and CDMA spectrum, India currently boasts of an explosive growth of 130 million mobile phone subscribers and counting. Not to mention a highly competitive market for mobile handset manufacturers.
From the likes of hithero unknown players like Benq, Sagem, Haier and others to fully entrenched players like Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Motorola, LG and Samsung, it is not surprising to see them launch exciting and innovative new handsets literally every second day in the Indian market aimed at accommodating even the most frugal of wallets.
These days even the cheapest of them boast of features like FM radio, MMS capabilities, camera and video recording and decent memory sizes to accommodate the ever increasing list of phone numbers. And if that's not all, buying a mobile has become a complicated task with the new buyer going bonkers trying to understand these alien features and the veteran buyer going crazy trying to fathom ever-changing standards and complicated new features.
An important aspect that one needs to consider is the list of features. For the sake of simplicity we have differentiated handsets as a ratio of features offered to the retail tag they sport.
Budget Rs 10,000
Features expected: Camera, FM Radio, Playback of Compressed Music Formats like MP3, Enhanced MMS Capabilities, WAP Broswer, GPRS, Web Browser, GSM Tri-Band Capability, GSM Modem, Bluetooth Connectivity,USB PC Connectivity, Mobile Games, Expandable external memory
Internal Memory -- At least 8MB
Sony Ericsson W300i
Price -- Rs 9,500 approx
Sony Ericsson has changed the perspective of the average buyer with their Walkman branded mobile handsets with affordable price tags. Living up to the Walkman standards, the clam shelled W300i outputs fantastic music quality performance, both in MP3 as well as FM radio mode.
Equipped with an expandable 256 MB memory stick, the phone also boasts of a basic VGA camera. The battery talk time is a decent 7-8 hours, but can drastically reduce when used to play music/radio, especially when used in conjunction with the internal phone speaker. Supplied proprietary Sony Ericsson software and USB connectivity enable a user to backup and store precious phone data on a computer as well as charge the handset via USB.
Fitted with GSM quad-band capability and a full fledged internal phone browser that dishes out a rather average Web experience, nevertheless the W300i is the only worthy contender at this price point.
Budget Rs 15,000
Features expected: Large Screen Size,Enhanced Camera, Stereo FM Radio, Playback of Compressed Music Formats like MP3, Enhanced MMS Capabilities,WAP Broswer, GPRS/EDGE, Web Browser, GSM Tri-Band Capability, GSM Modem, Bluetooth Connectivity, USB PC Connectivity, Mobile Games, Expandable external memory
Internal Memory -- At least 10 MB, Picsel Document Viewer
Motorola A1200 (Ming)
Price - Rs 15,000 approx
After a few initial hiccups, Motorola has proved itself a serious player with the launch of the Moto brand. Boasting of GSM quad-band compatibility and a sizeable internal memory of 11.5 MB, the Ming can maintain a database of 1,000 phonebook entries.
With an expandable external memory slot of 512 MB and full-fledged GPRS connectivity, one can browse the web directly on the handset or can be used as a modem connected to the PC or laptop. Supplied proprietary Motorola software and USB connectivity enables a user to backup and store precious phone data on a computer.
Apart from playback of standard MP3 music format, the Ming is capable of playing the relatively superior MP4 & AAC audio formats. The Picsel document viewer allows user to read Microsoft Office formats like Word, Excel et al.
This handset is targeted at the savvy middle rung executive for whom the bulk of daily activities revolve around listening to music, e-mail and web browsing apart from the occasional instant messaging.
Budget Rs 20,000
Features expected: Large Screen Size/Touchscreen,Enhanced Camera, FM Radio Playback of Compressed Music Formats like MP3,Enhanced MMS Capabilities, WAP Broswer, GPRS/EDGE/Wi-Fi/3G,Web Browser, GSM Tri-Band Capability,GSM Modem, USB PC Connectivity, Mobile Games, Expandable external memory
Internal Memory -- At least 64 MB
02 XDA Atom Life
Price - Rs 27,000 approx
This is the hallowed plane of existence for all those who have arrived in life. Mobile handsets in this plane start looking like palm-sized fully functional computers and the O2 XDA Atom Life just about straddles this fine line of a mobile handset yet capable of some serious computer-like performance and enhanced capabilities.
Powered by an Intel Xscale processor and Windows Mobile operating system, the Atom has significant Wi-Fi capabilities that can be used for browsing the Web with the the internal IE browser, download and edit attachments like Microsoft Word, Excel as well as configure email clients a-la Blackberry style. Instant messaging is a breeze and can be enhanced by video conferencing via the internal 2-Mega Pixel camera.
Multimedia playback capabilities are restricted to MP3 & AAC, but sound output is of exceptionally high quality even in FM radio mode. Supplied proprietary O2 software and USB connectivity enables a user to smoothly sync mails, data et al with a laptop or desktop PC.
With a jaw dropping I GB ROM space at user disposal, the O2 XDA Atom Life is squarely aimed at the jet-setting senior vice presidents who work hard and party harder!