Last night, Smart Comm. officially launched the Netphone 701, their very own branded Android phone that’s exclusively hooked up to the SmartNet. Check out our first impression of the device and thoughts regarding the Netphone ecosystem after the jump.
While we’ve already discussed the hardware used for this project (a ZTE Blade) and the dedicated internet plans and prices under the Netphone line, here are some more information we gathered during our interview with Smart reps yesterday.
It is obvious that Smart is aggressively shifting its focus towards IP connectivity, seeking out that sweet spot where customers can comfortably migrate to. Revenue from text messaging and calls (most especially SMS) has significantly gone down in the past couple of years because of the internet with Facebook and Twitter as the major culprits.
The Netphone attempts to address that widening gap by offering very affordable “always on” internet plans to access popular social networks and enable IP-based messaging. We’re not categorically calling it a “walled garden” since there’s a possibility that, in the future, any Android device can actually join in.
The Hardware: Netphone 701
The handset used in this roll-off is very intriguing. It’s not the top of line in terms specs but it’s pretty decent. With a prepaid price of Php9,990, the closest Android handset in this price point would be the Samsung Galaxy Fit S5670, Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 Mini Pro and LG Optimus One P500.
Smart Netphone (a.k.a ZTE Blade)
3.5â€³ LCD display @ 480Ã—800 pixels
600 MHz ARM 11 processor
Adreno 200 GPU
Qualcomm MSM7227 chipset
HSDPA 7.2Mbps; HSUPA 5.76Mbps
WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, WiFi hotspot
Bluetooth 2.1 w/ A2DP
3MP autofocus camera
FM radio tuner
GPS w/ aGPS support
Li-Ion battery 1250mAh
Android 2.2 Froyo
The Netphone 701 is actually a pretty decent handset considering its price. The original equipment manufacturer (OEM), ZTE, is a relatively known company and the ZTE Blade V880 is among the top selling, mid-range Android smartphones in China.
The handset is well made, pretty solid construction despite the plastic body and decent performance running Android Froyo (worth noting that it’s actually got 420MB of RAM).
Our Quadrant benchmark gave a score of 422, just a bit below the Xperia X10.
Some noticeable shortcomings include a slightly lower battery capacity (1250mAh) and a very narrow virtual keyboard.
The catch here is that you’re only able to subscribe to the special Netphone plans when you use the Netphone 701 so comparing it to other Android handsets becomes moot.
The Netphone platform and SmartNet
The Netphone platform sits on top of Android 2.2 and acts like a collection of Android apps so, essentially, you can copy these apps (the APK files) to another Android handset and they should work. In the case of the Netphone 701, some functionalities might not work since there’s an OEM API that’s attached to it.
In the future though, Smart intends to make these collection of apps available to anyone for download straight from Smart itself (OTA) or via Android Market.
When you first boot the device, you are asked to login with your Google account (or create one) the same way you do with other Android devices. You will also be asked to register your name to the SmartNet along with a photo. This information is then stored to the Global Directory of Netphone users.
The Smart Global Directory is still somewhat free for all eYellowPages — it allows you to search for people with Netphone and add them as friends on top of your existing contacts, and them chat with them for free (think BBM) as long as you’re online and logged in to SmartNet.
Downside though is that there’s no identity verification so any prepaid user can just sign in using any name (so I’m sure there will be a lot of people posing as celebrities in the network) so it could be prone to abuse.
The internet plans are attractive and very affordable if you’re heavy on Twitter and Facebook.
Our initial assessment?
The handset is pretty decent, not really an aspirational device but we might see more models in the future — which could be either a cheaper, entry-level device or a high-end flagship model. For the meantime, OEMs such as ZTE or Huawei are the likely candidates as sources for future products but it’s possible we might see one coming from HTC too (it’s all about how many units you can commit to sell, right?). The nomenclature (701) will hint of the phone’s capability (same as how Nokia is doing with their handsets) and OEM origin.
The Smart Netphone is a brave attempt at capturing a niche market. The service is currently free until end of the year so we have yet to see the baseline cost to customers who want to remain in the network after that time. The concept is innovative, even at this early stages and could spark a followwing the same way RIM’s BBM did in Indonesia.
What would really catapult it to mass-adoption is when they finally release the SmartNet apps in the Android Market for anyone to download and use.
Smart isn’t selling a handset here but the mobile internet service (they say they actually partially subsidized the units) so I say allow everyone else to gain access to that service thru readily downloadable apps. When that happens, Smart might have a winner here.
Disclosure: The unit used in the photos above was among the 10 raffle prizes Smart gave away during the media event last night.