he display is not exactly hi-res, but definitely usable.
Flagship smartphones are getting more and more expensive. Apple, as usual, started this with the $1,000iPhone X. Samsung followed with a $950+ Note 8.Huawei, as per usual for Huawei, took it to the extreme with a ridiculous €1,550 (roughly $1,845) Porsche design Mate RS (basically a P20 Pro with Porsche branding slapped on top and some aesthetic tweaks).
But people are buying them — at least in typical major markets such as the U.S., Hong Kong and Japan. In developing regions such as India or Africa, however, a big chunk of citizens rely on budget Chinese smartphones. And though Google’s Android can run on those phones, the software isn’t exactly optimized for the relative lack of power.
Google recognized this problem and, as I reported last December, worked with Taiwanese chipset maker MediaTek to develop a leaner version of Android named Android Go that’s specifically optimized for less powerful devices.
The back of the phone feels very plasticky.
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I recently got the chance to test out one of the first Android Go device out of Shenzhen’s phone scene, made by Blackview, the company known for making very rugged phones. The device, which costs just $60, is named the A20. The handset has a plastic back cover that can be removed with just a pull, and the overall unit feels sturdy but petite.
Powering on the device I immediately noticed the far from hi-res screen (resolution: 480 X 960). Coming from my Quad HD Samsung Galaxy S9, I could almost pick out individual pixels on the A20. Inside the phone is a MediaTek MTK6580 processor clocked at 1.3Ghz, with 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage. It’s been nearly a decade since I’ve used a computing device with that little RAM and ROM, and I was expecting the A20 to run terribly.
The Blackview A20 has a removable back over with a removable 3,000 mAh battery.
But to my surprise, the phone performed admirably. I noticed animation stutters when jumping between several apps and there’s a slight delay before launching Instagram or switching camera modes, but overall it tended to move swiftly as I put it through its paces.
During my interview with Android’s product management director Sagar Kamdar last year, he told me Android Go was optimized to run on memory as low as 512MB. I took that claim with a grain of salt at the time, but the A20’s performance is showing Google has delivered on that promise.
The 5-megapixel camera on the back works about as well as a $60 phone should: meaning it can snap passable images with good lighting, but at night the camera produces images that are full of noise. The lens are also very slow to focus compared to other phones I’ve tested, but really, is comparing a $60 phone to a $900 really fair?
A low light photo sample taken by the A20, notice the noise and the graininess.
Daytime shots fare a bit better.
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All the other smartphone things we take for granted works on the A20 too: there’s a proximity sensor; the earpiece and loudspeaker works (though the sound is quite muffled), and data connections and cellular receptions are passable. The phone does not support 5GHz wireless bands though, but the 2.4GHz standard is much more widely used anyway.
The highlight of the A20 is probably its 3,000 mAh battery, which given the low specs means it can definitely power the device for an entire day handily. Another plus is the phone’s software, which is very lean with almost no bloatware (a rarity for Chinese phones). But that’s Android Go in a nutshell: it’s Android stripped down to the core to run on the most basic of devices. Google’s vision of allowing everyone — regardless of economic background — to use Android smoothly is a savvy move that should help it dominate a market that Apple can’t reach (due to its inherently high prices).
Is the A20 a phone I would use? Of course not. But I’m thankfully able to afford more expensive phones. For those who consider even $150 phones are a bit out of their reach, Android Go and Blackview has provided a very capable new alternative at just $60. Who can argue with that?