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'World's Cheapest Smartphone' Goes On Sale For $4 In India

A Freedom 251 smartphone, priced at 251 rupees (less than $4), which went on sale Thursday. Its maker, Ringing Bells, says interest overwhelmed its website.
Saurabh Das
A Freedom 251 smartphone, priced at 251 rupees (less than $4), which went on sale Thursday. Its maker, Ringing Bells, says interest overwhelmed its website.

The Freedom 251 smartphone, which went on sale Thursday, has sparked intense interest in India and beyond. Priced at 251 rupees ($3.65), the 3G device is being called the cheapest smartphone in the world. But it's also sparking questions about how the phone works — and whether it's legal.

Made by a new company called Ringing Bells, the Freedom 251 has a 3.2 megapixel camera and a 4-inch screen; it runs on Android's Lollipop 5.1 operating system and has slots for two SIM cards. But the phone also looks very similar to Apple's iPhone 4 — even down to icons that copy the appearance of Apple's home screen.

That resemblance is no accident, reports the Hindustan Times, which says that Ringing Bells' technical head Vikas Sharma told it, "We used Apple's icons because Apple hasn't copyrighted its designs."

The Times adds, "This, of course, is completely untrue. Apple has patents for everything — including the rounded edges of the rectangular screen of the iPad."

There are also questions about the phone's hardware. According to Indian tech website Gadgets 360, which tested a review model, "the Freedom 251 unit we received bears the logo of Adcom, which has been covered with a sticker. Adcom is a Delhi-based importer of IT products that deals in smartphones and tablets."

Reviewers who've looked at the phone say it doesn't offer anything special, except for a price that's far below anything else on the market in India, where similar phones currently fetch prices of nearly $60. Noting the resemblance to an Adcom phone from two years ago, Gadgets 360 says it's possible the new phone might be made from old components from that device.

Further feeding uncertainty over the phone, its maker, Ringing Bells, has been in business for less than a year. "You might be forgiven if you've never heard of company till this week," says The Indian Express.

Its newness didn't stop Ringing Bells from holding a glitzy launch party Wednesday. The company also created a special website to handle orders for the Freedom 251, but it halted sales on Thursday, saying that "enormous response" had overloaded its servers, citing 600,000 hits per second.

The bargain smartphone is available only via pre-order, in a brief window that closes on Feb. 22; Ringing Bells says it will make all deliveries by June 30. In addition to its retail price, the phone comes with a 50-rupee delivery fee, raising its price to about $4.25.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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