Phones

First budget Android One phone arrives in UK, but faces stiff competition

The Sparkle V from Indian firm Karbonn Mobile is the first phone to launch in the UK that follows Google's Android One spec for low-cost smartphones -- but it's not as cheap as you might think.

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The Karbonn Sparkle V is the first Android One phone to launch in a developed country. Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The Sparkle V, from Indian brand Karbonn Mobile, is the first smartphone to hit the UK -- or any developed country -- that follows Google's Android One specification. Made in partnership with manufacturer Santok, the delightfully named Sparkle V will cost only £130 unlocked (around $205 or AU$240).

Android One is a standard -- or a set of requirements, if you will -- laid out by Google for manufacturers to follow in order to create cheap phones for emerging markets. The idea is to set a minimum spec that can still enable full participation in social media, apps and the wider Web. Android One was unveiled in Delhi, India and it's towards quickly developing countries such as India, Indonesia and the Philippines that Google initially targeted these low-cost phones.

Karbonn Mobile, however, has other ideas. The Sparkle V will be available exclusively from Amazon UK and is only £99 during Amazon's Black Friday deals. Afterwards, the phone will cost £130, SIM-free. For that relatively small price, you get a 4.5-inch display, a 1.3GHz quad-core processor and 4GB of storage -- not exactly outstanding specs, but the price goes some way to making up for them.

While it's much cheaper than flagship phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S5 or HTC One M8, it faces stiff competition in the UK from a plethora of budget phones with better-known brand names attached.

The EE Kestrel , for example, is only £100 ($160, AU$185) on pay as you go, but has better specs all round -- particularly 4G LTE connectivity for fast data. The HTC Desire 510 has a 4.7-inch display, a capable 1.2GHz quad-core processor and 4G as well, and is only £80 ($130, AU$150) on pay as you go with the O2 network. For only £10 more than the Sparkle's asking price, the superb 4G Motorola Moto G can be yours -- and that's one of CNET's all-time favourite budget phones.

The Sparkle V will be joined in Britain by the Karbonn Titanium S6, Karbonn A19 and Karbonn A5S, all of which will cost less than the Sparkle V. None of the phones have 4G LTE, which is something of a problem in the UK, where takeup of fast data services is rocketing. The bottom-end Karbonn A5S costs only £50, however, so this omission is unlikely to put off prospective buyers.

"While 1.75 billion people around the world already have a smartphone, the vast majority of the world's population -- over 5 billion more -- do not," writes Sundar Pichai, Senior Vice President, Android, Chrome and Apps in a blog post for the announcement of Android One earlier this year. "Even entry-level smartphones still remain out of reach for many."

Android One was never intended to see a UK launch -- it's not an emerging market after all -- but Karbonn Mobile itself is hoping to expand its foothold across Europe and the Sparkle V, as its flagship product, was deemed to be a suitable device to launch, regardless of the initial intentions of Android One.