I’m not entirely sure that the commonly used term ‘Chinese Mobiles’ that’s been adorned over those ultra cheap, feature rich mobile handsets that in some circle can be referred to as clones, is appropriate. It seems a bit derogatory if you ask me. Nevertheless that’s what the public and average Joe mobile users would call them. We’ve had an influx of these handsets in large quantities for the last few years and they’ve flooded the market in a deluge of shapes, sizes and dare I say it noises. Out of every five mobile users I see on my daily commute in the Mumbai locals, if not more, at least two would be using such handsets.

After the whole IMEI number ‘crisis’ that was due to hit these handsets in mid 2009 the mobile toting populous may have been a bit wary of the purchase of such devices, or so one would assume, however, the fact that some of these handsets apparently did not come with the code, didn’t seem to effect the market at all and I have had a negligible amount of reports mentioning handsets shutting down after the apparent ban was implemented. Suffice to say, nothing changed.

To make it simpler it seems companies have actually adopted the technology that these ‘Chinese’ handsets are imparting into new brands like Karbon, Lava, and a few others that seem to be popping up everyday. The handsets look just like popular models by the larger conglomerates but don’t often run as well, and are available at a fraction of the cost.

These companies are also looking for a way to get in on the latest trend hitting the Indian mobile phone market today which is Dual SIM connectivity. Of course not all of the larger companies plan of offering handsets with this type of functionality, as thus far, the big players like Nokia, LG, Sony Ericsson and Motorola to name a few, have opted to stay clear of this trend. Samsung has already experimented with this technology and had launched a couple of handsets a while back but they didn’t seem to catch on. My guess is the price range seemed a bit too high for the common man.

The ‘Chinese’ Mobile market hit its peak just about this time with the availability of ultra cheap mobile handsets that incorporated technology that one would otherwise only see in handsets that would be over and above the Rs. 20,000 mark. These low budget handsets featured large colored touchscreens with audio and video players, cameras, memory card slots to increase memory and a lot more for a quarter of the price in some cases. The designs may be clones of popular handsets like those from Nokia and Blackberry complete with QWERTY keypads but let’s just say they weren’t even close to be the same in any way, however they did manage to squeeze in Dual SIM connectivity which is, like I said something we don’t hope to see from the bigger brands anytime soon.

Sure they may offer more functionality than other branded handsets in the same price range but their capability to sustain the functions is a horse of a different color. The UI’s are sometimes a bit messy and sluggish and tend to be a little overwhelming for the more sophisticated mobile user. But to those with really low budgets and still looking to have all that a mobile can offer, save a few features here and there like 3G or EDGE connectivity, GPS etc. these handsets are a Godsend. Some even manage to incorporate Stereo Bluetooth support and that’s a big deal, although it’s quite unlikely that most of these users would actually buy an A2DP compatible headset as those are still quite high priced. Nevertheless, the fact that the handsets are capable of supporting the technology makes them worth a consideration, sometimes. Some manufacturers even had a slew of mobile phone watches well before the mainstream market saw the likes of LG’s GD 910. Micromax also launched an 8MP camera phone with 3X Optical zoom before we even saw a glimpse of the Sony W995 or Nokia N86 in the country. It really wasn't all that great to be blunt, but in some ways these mobile phone makers are well ahead of the Nokias and LGs of the world in terms of innovation and tech. There have also been numerous clones of the iPhone.

The handset will also, in many cases, be bundled with a ton of extra accessories like additional batteries and battery packs, cases and I’ve even seen bulky strap on speakers. As if they weren’t loud enough as it is. That is the one aspect that most of these handsets manage to have as a common thread, they’re unusually loud. If you happen to be a daily commuter via local rail you’ll know exactly what I mean. The screech of a woman singing a Hindi song with high tones that are piercing enough to feel like an electric drill on your eardrum is most likely coming from one of these handsets. Personally, their sometimes awful tone quality at those high pitched decibel levels makes me want to jump off the moving train, especially when I’m sans a set of earphones to shove into my ears.

Having tested a few of these handsets I have noticed that although the processing power of these handsets isn’t too great theyir battery lives are not too bad on the whole. Some of the handsets are capable of over 3 hours and more of talk time and can be easily used for over two days. This is of course without the use of emails and constant connectivity but it does include a bit of WAP usage, music, texting and even taking pictures. That’s not bad, as some handsets that could cost an arm and a leg could provide you with a sparse battery life of just 2 hours and change. This was quite an interesting turn of events.

At the end of the day, with no disrespect meant to any of the users, the handsets are cheap copies, that offer quite a few functions to those users who aren’t particularly too nit-picky about quality as opposed to quantity as long as the handset does what their high end ‘counterparts’ do. These handsets are here to stay no matter how hard some of us ‘connoisseurs’ may try to undermine or avoid them altogether. The technology they bring to the table at the price tags attached are unbeatable and for the country’s vast and ever increasing mobile population, they’ll do just fine.

So if you happen to have a shoestring budget and are looking for a seriously cheap mobile handset with almost everything, there are plenty of manufacturers out there who can cater to your needs. If you aren't comfortable with brands you don't recognize, there are quite a few very legit producers out there that include names like Intex, Lava, Ray, Zen, Karbon and Micromax.

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