It’s small, it’s light and it looks more like a pocket calculator than a mobile phone. But the Vodafone 150 is, according to Vodafone, the lowest cost, fully functioning mobile phone anywhere on earth.
OK, it’s not going to win prizes for the 25mm (1 inch) 96 x 64 pixel monochrome display screen. And if you are used to even fairly standard Nokia, HTC or Sony Ericsson phones of the last few years, let alone today’s smart phones, this will feel inadequate.
But that’s not the point. With an unsubsidised price at the local currency equivalent of less than US$15.00 the Vodafone 150 is designed to take mobile phones to people and places they have never been to before.
And while it lacks features such as Bluetooth, infrared and a web browser, it is a dual-band GSM device and comes complete with SMS, polyphonic ringtones, alarm clock, organizer, voice memo, currency converter, two embedded games and a built-in torch. Features like this were limited to high end phones until only a few years ago.
Moreover it has a 500 mAh battery which should deliver about 5 hours of talk time and 16 days of standby time.
When you hold the 150 it feels remarkably robust and well put together considering the low price. Drop it onto a hard surface from face height and it bounces rather than splits open. The keys have the rubbery feel of pocket calculator keys and the gaps between the panels are small so it should keep out the dirt well, important in dusty remote areas.
The Vodafone 150 is available now in India, DRCongo, Kenya, Mozambique, Qatar, South Africa and Tanzania. According to Vodafone, other countries will follow later this year.
Low cost mobile phones are not a new idea and the Vodafone 150 is not dropping the price bar by much: it’s been possible to buy unsubsidised new phones in the price range of US$20-25 retail in a number of emerging markets for a couple of years now. But whether the suppliers and manufacturers have been making money on them is another question.
With the 150 you get the feeling Vodafone really can supply it at this price and still make enough of a profit to sustain and grow the market. In that sense I believe this really may be a breakthrough for emerging markets.