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article image$5 smartphone goes on sale in India, already mired in controversy

By James Walker     Feb 17, 2016 in Technology
As announced yesterday, Indian smartphone company Ringing Bells today launched the Freedom 251 for just $5. However, demonstrators sent out to the media look nothing like the phone on the firm's website, which appears to have copied Apple.
Yesterday, Ringing Bells promised a "true testimony of success" for India's Made In India digital campaign with the announcement of the Freedom 251. It said the phone would cost less than 500 rupees, around $7 USD. The BBC reports the price has since fallen further though, with local Indian media reports putting it at 251 rupees, or $5 USD.
According to Ringing Bells today, the phone has a 4-inch 960x540 display, 1.3GHz quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM, 8GB of internal storage, a 3.2MP rear camera and 0.3MP front selfie-shooter, 3G Internet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS. The surprisingly capable hardware is powered by Android 5.1, a relatively recent release of Google's ubiquitous mobile operating system.
Press agency AFP cited a spokeswoman at the company who called the device its "flagship model" and a handset that "will bring a revolution in the industry." The phone is assembled in India using parts sourced from abroad. However, Ringing Bells hopes to be able to build its phones entirely within the country before the end of the year, reinforcing the government's campaign to get the population online.
What Ringing Bells hasn't explained is how the Freedom 251's price is possible. Even with substantial government subsidies from the Make In India campaign, the hardware appears to be worth considerably more than the $5 price tag.
After a high-profile launch involving India's Union Minister of Defence, Shri Manohar Parrikkar, the waters surrounding the "Freedom 251" became even murkier earlier today. Until only a few hours ago, Ringing Bells' website was advertising a sleek and stylish device, claiming it could be pre-ordered from tomorrow.
The Freedom 251 review units that press outlets have received look rather different though. The Huawei-reminiscent design shown in the original pictures is nowhere to be found. Instead, the device has giant display bezels and looks evidently copied directly from Apple's iPhone.
The Hindustan Times pressed Ringing Bells for comment but was turned away. A spokesperson refused to answer the site's questions, "stating they have not actually seen the phone."
The actual Freedom 251 (left) - wearing Adcom branding and evidently an iPhone clone (Photo via The ...
The actual Freedom 251 (left) - wearing Adcom branding and evidently an iPhone clone (Photo via The Hindustan Times)
The Hindustan Times
Even more concerning are allegations that Ringing Bells hasn't even built the device itself. It is currently being accused of stealing a design from another manufacturer, itself building a phone that is an obvious iPhone clone.
The review unit sent to the Hindustan Times had no Ringing Bells branding, instead wearing the logo of New Delhi-based IT importer Adcom. The device is a widespread model sold for around Rs. 4000 on various websites. To hide this fact, whoever sent the phone to the paper had covered the Adcom logo up with a layer of whitener.
Adcom's marketing head was more willing to speak than Ringing Bells. Deepanjali Arora told the paper: "We have no idea that our branding is being used on the Freedom 251. We will look into this."
So far, the Freedom 251 doesn't seem to be the Indian success story Ringing Bells originally promised. With the company currently unwilling to comment, the handset is looking increasingly like a resold iPhone clone sold without the permission of its original manufacturer. Ringing Bells may have some explaining to do.
More about Smartphone, freedom 251, India, Phone, Android
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