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Goldstuck on Gadgets

The best non-smart phones you never noticed

While cutting edge 5‚” devices drain wallets and batteries, a range of great handsets can be had for less than a tenth of the cost of the flagships, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

As the holiday season arrives, the cutting edge elite are settling into an intense debate about the merits of the new iPhone 5s vs the Samsung Galaxy S4 vs the HTC One vs the Sony Xperia Z vs the Nokia Lumia 1020 vs Blackberry Z30.

A crucial element of the debate that tends to be played down is price. In South Africa, every one of those devices will set you back from R8000 (or should that be R7999?) upward. Some even break the R10 000 barrier.

The noise generated by the debate gives less demanding users the impression they don’t have any choice but to select one of these wallet-busters. The truth is, however, that there are many superb phones that cost less than one-tenth of the top-end.

These include feature phones that provide Internet access and basic apps: and basic phones. Even at the most basic entry-level, the phones on offer are excellent for their purposes. And they can all be had for less than R700.

Once upon a time, when you heard the phrase, ‚”Basic phone‚”, it meant you could only make a call and send an SMS. Today it means no Internet access, but it typically comes with FM radio as well and, in the case of Nokia’s entry-level devices, even a torch. Two of my contenders here are both from the same manufacturer:

Nokia 1280, at R159 from Pep Stores, offers all that, with a free headset to listen to radio (but the speakers are good enough to listen without). Oh, and a speaking alarm clock.

Nokia 105, at R179 from Pep, adds a vibrate alert and polyphonic ringtones to that package, but gets an added boost from a dustproof, splashproof and aesthetically pleasing casing and colour screen.

Samsung E1050, at R129 from Pep, is the Asian answer to the 105, at two-thirds the price. The features are almost identical, except that it isn’t dustproof.

The most surprising bargains lurk in the basic Feature phone space between these basic phones and smartphones. My contendors in this category for bargain of the year are both QWERTY keyboard phones, meeting a strong aspirational demand at the entry-level:

Samsung Texto E2222, which can be had for R399 at Edgars. And that’s for a dual-SIM phone (it takes SIM cards from two different networks at the same time) with QWERTY keyboard, VGA camera, memory card (microSD) slot and FM radio.

Alcatel OneTouch 3000, going for a mere R277 at the Notebook Company, but look out for even cheaper deals soon. The QWERTY keyboard, microSD slot, and FM radio make it a worthy successor to the manufacturer’s so-called ‚”Alcaberry‚”, as its more expensive predecessor became known.

Then there are the high-end feature phones that cost the same as entry-level smartphones, but tend to be more solid. Here, too, the same manufacturer contributes both contendors:

Nokia Asha 201, going for a bargain R699 at CNA, is probably the best low-end QWERTY phone on the market. With hi-res display, 2MP camera, Bluetooth, microSD, FM and music player, it has that BlackBerry Curve type appeal that still drives massive sales in South Africa.

Nokia 2055, at R579 from CNA, is a lot cheaper, and comes with the same feature categories, but each is a little lower specced, and you can feel the price difference.

One more thing: all of these phones are vastly superior to the high-end smartphones in one area: battery life. Even if you are in the market for a contract phone, all of these make great back-up devices for when your 5‚” display kills off your battery.

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