The budget mobiles i.e. Java based mobile handset or the ones that are still quite popularly being referred to as ‘China mobiles’ have hit the Indian market like a tsunami. They had a bit of a problem when it was assumed that they were ‘pirated’ copies and had no IMEI numbers to offer validity. But they’re back – it's The Return of the Java, pun intended obviously, and they are not going anywhere.

They come bearing promises of offering users everything they could possibly want at an unrealistically low price. While there was a time not too long ago that these same handsets also referred to as clones as most of their designs very closely resemble some of the bigger brands Samsung, Nokia et al. The current trend is to have handsets embody RIM’s BlackBerry form complete with QWERTY keypad and UI.

Now I have no qualms with the ‘cough-rip-off-cough’ designs. I mean if I could get a handset that looks like a BlackBerry at a price that would make RIM cringe, I’m a happy guy. So what if it doesn’t do as much as the original device, it comes close… sort of.

But here’s where we separate the men from the boys, the smartphone from the somewhat intelligent phone. The Operating System is the clincher. While the Java based OS may be a good option for the budget range of devices it can be quite a painful experience if you’re crazy enough to switch from a smartphone to this. Manufacturers create UI’s that are placed on top of the OS and depending on the kind ‘clone’ you’re interested in, the UI is usually customized to look and to feel, to an extent, like the originals.

Right now RIM must be quite flattered or flustered with the fact that every single company that’s into the manufacture of these Java-based budget handsets has, at the very least, 2 models that are BlackBerry clones. In order to take things a step further from the design phase, the companies also customize the interface to look and feel similar to the BlackBerry OS. You’ll have shortcuts on the desktop that allow you quick access to certain functions and a main menu with icons straight out of the BlackBerry OS’s drawing board to add a little more authenticity. Makers of the touchscreen models seem to prefer Samsung’s multiple desktop options and the TouchWiz UI’s desktop widget system. You’ll have a pop out panel loaded with various widgets that can be placed on the desktop for easy access to a variety of features. Some companies have even managed to replicate the iPhone and a UI that looks quite like the originals.

The problem with this OS is that it’s ridiculous that companies sometimes don’t really bother to take the time, relax, sit back and organize the UI properly. The distribution of features into sub-categories and folders, especially in the handsets that are trying really hard to disguise themselves as BlackBerry’s are untidy and mismanaged. In order to simply fill up space, you’ll have shortcuts to functions in the main menu and the same inside other folders. Simple access to functions also involves extra key presses making it a longer process than it needs to be. The layout lacks finesse and user control.

With quite a few of these companies there seems to be a stronger focus on making the UI’s colorful and visually appealing (that usually turn looking gaudy and psychedelic enough to believe you’re on an acid trip) rather than on the quality of the function itself. Audio players offer colorful interfaces with flashing lights to give Vegas a run for its money and A2DP connectivity. Most even offer a lyrics display option. I really don’t know why. It’s not like the speakers aren’t already built to wail at you even in a crowded train. There’s also a possibility we’ll have to hear the users sing along with it. As if commuting wasn’t hard enough in this city. Instead of all these unnecessary options, I say keep it simple and concentrate on the quality of the handsfree for starters and the overall quality and output of the player itself.

But enough with the Java-beating, for a bit. Sure the OS has quite a few issues, but one can’t simply tag them as flaws. There’s very clearly room for improvement. But at the end of the day most of these handsets can offer you a pretty good value for your money, as inexpensive as they may be. The one thing this OS handles well enough though is Dual SIM functionality. A few tweaks here and there would of course make it better, but as is, running and managing two and now three SIM cards is not a problem.

Some of these handsets even mange to incorporate motion-based technology for games and a few other functions and even employ the use of track-pads and track-balls for navigation. Again I’m sure RIM is staring on in disbelief considering the price of handset that has these features is about Rs. 10,000 cheaper than some of their cheapest devices. What a shocker, someone replicated hi-tech components at a ridiculously lower cost. And let’s not forget that Java is a widely used system even in higher end handsets. There are quite a few applications and games that can be downloaded to enhance your devices usage.

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