Off late, budget Android phones are being manufactured by the dozen by both local as well as International brands. And why not, they’re gaining a good momentum in the market, because of their pricing. Spice Mobiles recently launched the little brother to the Mi-350n that we reviewed earlier. A full 70 points down and sans the ‘n’ factor, the Mi-280 is currently selling for more than two grand less, than it’s elder ‘budget Android’. But does that mean it’s a worthy buy? Let’s find out.

Plastic looks

Plastic looks

Design and Build Quality

The Mi-280 isn’t the best of lookers. It’s covered in silver and black, but there’s no wow factor out here. With cheap phones, certain tradeoffs are definitely going to exist, more particularly in this section. There are a lot of plastics involved in the build of this phone, but it’s extremely light weight at 96 grams (according to the Spice website).

The front consists of the 2.8-inch capacitive TFT touchscreen with a resolution of 320 x 240 pixels. Underneath are four capacitive buttons – a dedicated call and end button and a directional keypad. Eleven buttons (five for the directional keypad, call, end and the four stock Android buttons) aren’t required to manoeuvre through a phone with touchscreen capabilities. Yes, the keypad is an absolute waste of space on the phone. 

Connectivity options

Connectivity options

Moving to the sides, there’s no dedicated camera shutter button and the only button is the volume rocker one on the left. The top consists of the 3.5mm headphone slot and a microUSB connector, whilst the speaker and the camera are located at the back. The build quality isn’t exactly something to write home about, but we’ll have to give this one to Spice, as the phone doesn’t look as if it’s going to fall apart or something. The plastic and glossy finish might give it that ‘cheap’ look, but the build isn’t all that bad.

Features and Performance

Interface

The Mi 280 runs on a 650MHz processor with Android 2.3.4 onboard and 134 MB of internal memory. So, the only thing that actually differs from the Mi-350n is that you get 170 MB of internal memory. The 280 is surprisingly quick in navigation. There’s no noticeable lag, whilst moving in and out of menus or even multitasking. The phone might slow down when a lot of applications are open, and that’s when your task manager comes in handy. Social networking integration is done using default Facebook and Twitter applications. The custom ROM that we saw on the 350n is pre-loaded in this smartphone as well. The best part about it is that it’s got a nifty drop down notification menu with a lot of options to toggle connectivity, profiles and power options.

The interface

The interface

The display might mar your Android experience on this phone. It’s extremely low resolution and 65k colours don’t really light up the screen, so that’s another trade off you’ll have to live with. Linpack gave the Mi 280 a single thread score of 8.377 and a multi thread score of 7.186 points. AnTuTu gave the phone a score of 1717, which means it’s in the same range as its elder brother, the Mi-50n.

Media

A strong set of in-built equalizers and in-ear headphones with good audio drivers automatically means the phone passes this section with flying colours. The stock player won’t impress you with the interface, but it more than compensates with some really good music playback via both, speakers and the in-ear headphones. MP3 and AAC+ are supported out of the box, and you’ll have to download third party applications for playback of more formats.

Strong performer in the media department

Strong performer in the media department

It’s a low-res screen and it’s small, so viewing movies isn’t really an enjoyable experience. MP4 and H.263 is supported by default, with more support requiring a third party player. A strong performer, definitely with that price tag.

Connectivity

The Mi 280 is a dual SIM standby phone (3G + 2G) with Wi-Fi (with tethering), Bluetooth 2.1 and GPS. The internal memory stands at 134 MB and the front camera supports video calling. In-call quality is pretty loud and clear on the 280. The browser doesn’t have flash support, so you’ll have to make do with that.

No flash support

No flash support

It’s a dual SIM standby phone, but the dedicated SIM management option will allow you to manually configure which services need to run on which phone. While it’s done pretty neatly, we couldn’t get the phone to change our data network between Loop and Vodafone. Though toggling was successful, data service couldn’t be swapped between the two operators. We had to manually restart the phone to use that particular data connection. However, this could also be an issue from the network side.

A front camera on a phone this cheap is only a good thing, right? But, there’s one problem. At the moment Skype doesn’t support the 280, and the app force closes everytime you try logging in, though VoIP calls work just fine with other apps, like Viber. We’re hoping that Skype support is added soon, because that will only sweeten the deal.

Misc. Apps

As always, Spice Mobiles spices up their mobiles (pardon the mini tongue twister) with a lot of pre-loaded applications. Apps include Bharat Matrimony, BSE stocks, Delhi Metro Navigation, eBuddy, Economic Times, iBiBo browser and farms, Hindustan times and Justdial. Phew!

Misc apps

Misc apps

There’s also Nimbuzz, inBollywood, Yahoo! Messenger, mig33, Mobile tracker, Rail Yatra, Reuters and Opera Mini. With so many pre-installed applications, you’re ready from the word go. Also, if you’re tired of these apps and find a way to delete them (read: root), you can free up some additional internal memory.

Camera

The phone is equipped with a 3.2 megapixel AND a VGA front camera (!). There’s no autofocus (you can’t have everything, right?) and images will look poor on the phone’s low-res screen. But, if you’ll get them onto a better display screen, they don’t look all that bad. There’s no LED flash, though, so for your images to come good, you’ll have to rely on a good amount of light. Macro shots didn’t fare too well, because the phone doesn’t really know what to focus on.

Decent snaps from the 3.2 mp shooter, no autofocus though

Decent snaps from the 3.2 mp shooter, no autofocus, though

Also, somehow, this VGA camera was slightly better than the one we saw on the Mi-350n. It’s choppy as well, but self portraits were brighter. Video recording is limited to 480p. The quality is pretty low, so we’ll not recommend you use this as your primary video capture device, unless there’s no option.

Battery Life

It’s a dual SIM phone with a 1000mAh battery. Doesn’t sound too good, right? In normal usage, with data connection and both SIMs on, the phone will barely manage to run for over half a day. But, if you’re having a single SIM activated at one period of time, the battery life improves considerably. In our test, with both SIMs activated, we managed to get 5 hours 45 minutes of video playback in our video drain test. In our loop test, the 280 barely managed to scrape through the first loop that included one and a half hour of calling, two hours each of audio, video and music streaming via Wi-Fi. That’s lower than the HTC Explorer that comes with a 1230 mAh battery. So, in a nutshell, the battery life isn’t too great in the dual SIM mode; but if you put one SIM in flight mode, and use it sparingly, you’ll get a substantially better battery life.

Brilliantly priced

Brilliantly priced

Verdict

The Spice Mi-280 is priced at Rs.5,250 (MOP). The pricing is definitely the USP of this product. If you’re looking for a phone with powerful capabilities, then you’ve been reading the wrong review all along. The Mi-280 is a compact phone, but it’s powerful in its own small way. For Rs.5,250 you get a pretty nifty Android phone with a slick interface, some good multimedia capabilities and some neat app support. If you’re looking for a powerful budget phone, then look no further than the Mi-280.

Publish date: February 13, 2012 5:11 pm| Modified date: December 18, 2013 9:35 pm

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