The Jio Phone has been one of the most anticipated product launches in India this year. First declared at Reliance’s Annual General Meeting earlier this season, it is a 4G and VoLTE empowered attribute phone, but the main reason behind the frenzy about it is that it is effectively free – the hardware, at least. Buyers will need to pay Rs. 1,500 as a security deposit, but that’s refundable after three years if you go back the phone and fulfill all of the terms and conditions.

It seems and feels like a basic feature phone but includes a couple of smart capabilities that make it stand out. With Jio’s entire lineup of programs supported, you can play movies and songs on the go. Additionally, the tariff program includes enough free information for folks to really make use of these capabilities. While this all seems impressive, what is it like to really live with the Jio Phone? We tell you all about it.

Reliance Jio Phone look and feel
The Jio Phone looks and feels like a standard characteristic phone, with a little screen and a numeric keypad on the front. The whole thing is constructed from plastic and we have to say that it is obviously a fantastic quality. Weight is manageable and it fits nicely in the hand. The curved sides and borders mask the size of this phone quite well and it does not feel bulky to hold or carry.

Vertical viewing angles are bad and colors appear washed out, but that’s to be expected keeping the price of this device. There’s a recessed earpiece and a VGA front-facing camera over the screen. Here it are two function buttons, a D-pad, phone and disconnect buttons, and the number pad. The buttons are well spaced and easy to reach, and offer good feedback when pressed.

The back of the Jio Phone has just the 2-megapixel camera and loudspeaker. The rear cover is removable and so is the 2000mAh battery. There’s a Micro-USB port at the bottom along with a 3.5millimeter headphone socket. At the top, there’s an LED torch which may be activated by long-pressing the up button on the D-pad.

In the box you receive the Jio Phone and a charger with a connected Micro-USB cable. Predictably, an Airtel SIM failed to be recognised.

The Jio Phone is a feature phone but the specifications do look relatively impressive. It is powered by a dual-core processor manufactured by either Qualcomm or even Spreadtrum, also has 512MB of RAM. There is 4GB of internal storage from which just about 1GB is available to the consumer. Jio has booked 1GB for apps while the rest of the area is for software updates and app caches. Storage isn’t an issue as you can use a microSD card of up to 128GB. It is possible to transfer files to and from a PC using a USB cable later enabling USB mode.

For connectivity, the Jio Phone has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Bluetooth may be used to move files to or from other devices, and streaming music to a car head unit also worked. The Jio Phone can connect to Wi-Fi networks to access the Internet without using mobile data. These connectivity options aren’t always encouraged by characteristic phones, which aids the Jio Phone stand out. There is 4G and VoLTEsupport and the phone pops onto the Jio network quite quickly. But, there is no hotspot feature so users hoping to make use of their daily free data allowance on additional devices will be disappointed.

We have observed a lot of questions regarding the operating system that the Jio Phone runs on. To clean them up, the Jio Phone runs on KaiOS, which is a branch of Firefox OS. It looks like a lot of work has gone into improving the software, because the Intex Cloud FX (Review) running on Firefox OS needed some rough edges. There’s a grid-style menu with easily identifiable app names and icons, and you utilize the D-pad to navigate around it. You can not reorder the icons but you can pin favourites to the top of the list. The Jio phone comes with an app store called JioStore, but it has nothing but Jio apps at the moment.

On the home screen, the four buttons of this D-Pad in addition to the function and phone buttons double up as app launch shortcuts. All of these are predefined, and we could not find any way to remap them to programs of our choosing. Alerts from all programs are clubbed together and could be obtained using the left function button on the home screen. The Settings program is nicely laid out and options are simple to find. There’s a software update feature for over-the-air updates, which is uncommon in the feature phone segment. This ought to enable Reliance to introduce new attributes for the Jio Phone with time.

The characteristic phone has geolocation which utilizes GPS, mobile tower triangulation, and Wi-Fi information if available to pinpoint locations. The Jio Phone additionally has NFC for obligations but this isn’t now available and might be enabled via a software upgrade in a later stage.

There are also other nice touches in the software – stored contacts are auto-suggested if you type in a number to dialup, there is T9-style predictive text input for typing, there is a quick settings panel which you could get to by hitting the up arrow on your homescreen, you can launch video calls quickly by long-pressing the call button, and you will find granular security and privacy controls in the Settings menu. But, navigation is a little slow and you need to forego expectations of smartphone-level functionality. After the phone was muted, we were able to form quicker.

The phone comes with multiple Jio apps preinstalled. There is JioCimena, JioChat, JioGames, JioMusic, JioTV, JioPay, and JioXpressNews, JioVideoCall, and the names are self-explanatory. And We were able to stream music using Jio Music without some issues. JioTV and JioMovies may also be used to stream TV shows and movies respectively. The fact that the subscription to them all is currently free is a big bonus for anyone who buys this phone.

However, the display is tiny and isn’t suitable for watching movies at length, especially because of its bad viewing angles. Streaming video plays in landscape in the Jio programs, but files on our microSD card just played in portrait using the video player app. In both cases there were enormous letterboxes and no method to rotate or harvest video to fill the screen. There will be a TV cable attachment, which should prove to be a good investment. It also isn’t easy to adjust the volume, due to the dearth of physical buttons. This is true when playing media as well as just generally using the phone.

The phone also includes a voice assistant named HelloJio which can be triggered by long-pressing that the D-Pad’s select button. It can understand basic commands to dial a contact by their title or start a specific program, but it is slow. This is a handy feature for individuals unfamiliar with technology, helping them do things without having to know the phone’s user interface.

Popular social media apps like Facebook and WhatsApp are not available on the Jio Phone at the moment but the company is reportedly working to add them. However, you do get an inbuilt Web browser that can be used to log in to Facebook. During our review period we also managed to find the Web version of this Telegram messaging program to operate on the Jio Phone, and we can also use YouTube exactly the same manner without any difficulties. Hotstar and Amazon Prime Video, however, were unusable in the Jio Phone browser.

With the combination of bare-basic hardware and KaiOS, speed definitely isn’t going to match even the cheapest price smartphones, and while you will have to wait for programs to load, the consumer experience isn’t frustrating. Needless to say, you can only run one program at a time. We did play a couple of games on JioGames and while they are incredibly basic, they didn’t seem too bad. The performance of the Jio apps is dependent on Internet connectivity. We had good 4G coverage during the review period and didn’t need to wait more than a couple of minutes to get a movie or tune to begin streaming, but this might change when millions more Jio Phone users are on the network.

The phone sports a 2-megapixel camera in the back with no flash, and a VGA camera in the front. The camera program is quite basic and just gives you options to shoot stills and videos, plus a self timer. However, the phone takes shots in portrait orientation when held upright and can’t detect rotation, so even if you hold it sideways, you end up with vertical frames and your articles tilted 90 degrees. You’ll need to rotate stills and videos in software later.

Photos taken with the 2-megapixel rear camera have a resolution of 1600×1200 pixels. Landscape shots lack detail and there is fair amount of noise. Close-ups are much better in comparison. Motion blur is unavoidable no matter the conditions if you are shooting anything that isn’t perfectly still. Nighttime camera performance is strictly moderate and you will need a steady hand to have a good shot. Subjects are visible only if there is sufficient lighting, and will hardly be visible in low light. Photos look much better on the phone screen than on a pc when seen at full size. You may choose your video resolution – high quality translates to a resolution of 720×480. Again, the quality isn’t horrible and videos are useable, but you can not expect any fine details. Motion isn’t smooth and you can’t place the exposure or focus.

Selfies have a much lower resolution of 640×480 pixels and have noise like the back camera. It would be unfair to compare the Jio Phone to modern-day smartphones, but photos are often blurry and shaky unless you’ve got a perfectly steady hands and adequate lighting.

Tap to see full-sized Jio Phone camera samples

We were curious to see how the Jio Phone would perform in terms of battery life. It has one of the biggest batteries for a feature phone at 2000mAh, but at exactly the same time has 4G, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GPS which are known to drain power. With regular usage which included calls, a little bit of internet surfing and streaming tunes from JioMusic, we discovered that the phone would still have approximately 80 percent of its power after 24 hours, which would mean that with judicial usage, the phone might last for four full days (if not more) before needing to be charged.

After a 15-minute voice telephone, we discovered the battery drain to be 2 percent while a 30-minute call resulted in a 5 percent drain. This is good considering that the 4G data connection is still running in the background. We also streamed TV shows, and a 30-minute episode streamed over 4G resulted in a 7 percentage drain. A similar test using Wi-Fi led in a 6 per cent drain. Leaving the phone untouched for 12 hours also resulted in just a three percent drop. If you want to conserve battery life there is power saving mode which switches everything off, turning this into a basic feature phone.


Jio Phone in pictures

The Jio Phone isn’t targeted at smartphone users however at first-time buyers and attribute phone users that wish to upgrade without spending much. It is aimed at bringing people from well-known tier-II and tier-III cities online, especially those who have never touched a computer and cannot dream of paying for Internet access even at present prices. Could it succeed? The short response is that it will have the potential to do this. The hardware is competent and the software delivers a fantastic enough experience.

The Jio apps sweeten the deal further as you get completely free access to movies, TV and music. The ability to receive OTA updates means that more attributes can be introduced in the long run. But you should read the fine print on Jio’s website, which details the hidden expenses of this tariff program as well as the terms and conditions of claiming the refund, prior to making a decision. Also, availability is likely to be constrained for a while, and long term reliability and durability remain to be viewed.

For people looking for a means to find online and communicate with other people in a rock-bottom price, the Jio Phone really doesn’t have direct competition. The combination of this phone hardware, the system and the tariff strategies might be a force that really changes our society – and are already making the competition perform harder. With all its features, it can truly be called a intelligent feature phone, and if you have successfully pre-booked one, you won’t be disappointed.


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