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The price you pay for that Android One stamp of approval

Automatic  software updates are  great, but  do you want the  Google bear-hug that goes with it?
An IndiaTechOnline special
October 6 2014: Google  chose to  launch the first phones  manufactured to  its Android One platform in India: three Indian handset makers   came on board to roll out phones to the Android One specifications, all priced around  Rs 6400 -- Rs 6500 and  each  tying up with a different online retailer  for initial sales: the Karbonn Sparkle V  available at Snapdeal; the Micromax Canvas A1 at Amazon; and the Spice Dream UNO at Flipkart.
The Android One phones run the latest version of Android ( currently, it is 4.4 KitKat). They will be some of the first phones to get the new 'Android L' release  later this year — an update that will offer improved battery life, enhanced security features, and smarter notifications.  In future Android One phones will be automatically updated  with the latest OS.
In terms of hardware,  all the phones feature front-and rear-facing cameras, 4 GB ROM, 1 GB RAM  an  identical  quad-core processor from   MediaTek,  a microSD card slot for additional storage, as well as features important to Indians, like dual SIM slots and an FM radio tuner.  Google apps such as Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube, Google Search, and Google Translate will come pre-loaded on the phones.  So what's the big deal for customers here?
Google says a data compression feature on Android One’s Chrome browser will help squeeze the  data flowing between the phone and the Internet, thus  helping to keep  Net access bills down. In coming weeks, much of YouTube content will be available offline in India,  which means  people can download videos  from YouTube when they are on WiFi and enjoy  them later — great  for re-watching videos without using up the data plan. Indians  will applaud this.  But  this feature is  unlikely to be limited to Android One phones.
We  had a chance to try out one of the Indian Android phones  and  while it is a nice enough experience, we can't honestly say it  felt  much different from any other Android phone of similar vintage and OS version.  Android One design is said  to be frugal in its use of RAM -- around 300 MB when idle -- but these are things  that most users can't  feel.
The main advantage would seem to be tighter control exercised by  Google on the  specifications, thus assuring buyers of a minimum standard.  But let's face it:   not all innovation  has to come from Google -- Chinese makers have mastered the art of  tweaking Android, overlaying their own graphical interface to make  phones even more useful and intuitive -- remember the  Xiaomi MI3 and RedMi?
The   problem with dominant players like Google  straddling hardware, software and Internet is that   handset designs like Android One,  corner users into  patronizing the Google avatar of everything from  email, search, storage, social media, you name it. 
This is not unique to Google. Buy a Windows 8 tablet and you are asked  for your Windows Live ID.  Buy an Amazon Kindle and  the only online  shop it leads you to,  is   -- surprise, surprise -- Amazon.    So now, do you want  the Android One bear hug?
After howls of protest, Google no longer requires new Gmail users to sign up for a Google+ account.  But I am afraid  the undeniable  advantages of standardization that Android One offers, has a downside: We  suspect manufacturers   have to follow templates where Google apps have to be played up,  if they want  the Android One  chhaap of approval.That may also explain why feature for  feature, Android One phones seem to be costlier than plain vanilla phones.
No one's complaining it seems:  Acer, Alcatel Onetouch, ASUS, HTC, Intex, Lava, Lenovo, Panasonic and Xolo, as well as chipmaker Qualcomm, may soon   sign up under the Android one banner.  But nobody is going to ask  us, the customers, what we really want.




    


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