First announced at Reliance’s Annual General Meeting earlier this year, it is a 4G and VoLTE empowered attribute phone, but the main reason behind the frenzy around 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 return the phone and meet all of the terms and conditions. Reliance began accepting pre-bookings to the smartphone in August with deliveries promised to begin in September.

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

Reliance Jio Phone feel and look
The Jio Phone looks and feels like a standard characteristic phone, with a small screen and a numeric keypad on the front. The entire 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.

The screen measures 2.4 inches and has a resolution of 240×320 pixels. Vertical viewing angles are poor and colours appear washed out, but that’s to be anticipated keeping the price of this device. There’s a recessed earpiece and a VGA front-facing camera over the screen. Below 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 provide 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 your 2000mAh battery. This phone has a single Nano-SIM slot and a microSD card slot. There is a Micro-USB port in the bottom along with a 3.5mm 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 plus a charger with an attached Micro-USB cable. Predictably, an Airtel SIM failed to be recognised.

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

For connectivity, the Jio Phone includes Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Bluetooth can be used to transfer files to or from other devices, and streaming music to a car head unit additionally worked. The Jio Phone can connect to Wi-Fi networks to access the Internet without using cellular data. These connectivity options aren’t always supported by feature phones, which helps the Jio Phone stand out. There is 4G and VoLTEsupport and also the phone latches onto the Jio network quite quickly. However, there is absolutely no hotspot feature so users hoping to make use of their daily free data allowance on other devices will be disappointed.

We’ve observed a great deal of questions regarding the operating system the Jio Phone works on. To clear them up, the Jio Phone runs on KaiOS, which is a fork of Firefox OS. It looks like plenty of work has gone into improving the software, since the Intex Cloud FX (Review) running on Firefox OS needed some rough edges. There is a grid-style menu with easily identifiable app names and icons, and you also use the D-pad to navigate about it. You can’t reorder the icons but you can pin favourites to the top of the list. The Jio phone comes with an app store called JioStore, however, it has nothing but Jio programs right now.

On the home screen, the four buttons of the D-Pad as well as the function and call buttons double up as program launching shortcuts. These are all predefined, and we couldn’t find any way to remap them to apps of our choosing. Alerts from all apps are clubbed together and could be accessed using the left function button on the home display. The Settings app is nicely laid out and options are simple to find. There is a software update attribute for over-the-air updates, which is uncommon in the feature phone segment. This should enable Reliance to introduce new attributes to the Jio Phone with time.

The characteristic phone has geolocation which uses GPS, cell tower triangulation, and Wi-Fi information if available to pinpoint locations. The Jio Phone also has NFC for payments but this isn’t currently available and might be empowered via a software update in a later stage.

There are also other nice touches in the software – saved contacts are auto-suggested when you type in a number to dialup, there is T9-style predictive text input for typing, there’s a quick settings panel that 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 have to exude expectations of smartphone-level functionality. When the phone was muted, we were able to form quicker.

The phone comes with multiple Jio apps preinstalled. Additionally, there are basic calculator, unit conversion, notes, FM radio, video player, and gallery programs. And We had the ability to stream music using Jio Music without any issues. JioTV and JioMovies may also be used to stream TV shows and movies respectively. The simple fact that the subscription to them all is now free is a big bonus for anyone who purchases this phone.

However, the display is tiny and isn’t suitable for watching movies at length, especially because of its poor viewing angles. Streaming video plays in landscape in the Jio apps, but files on our microSD card only played in portrait using the video player program. In both instances there were huge letterboxes and no way to rotate or crop video to fill the display. There will be a TV cable accessory, 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 has a voice assistant called HelloJio which could be triggered by long-pressing that the D-Pad’s select button. It can comprehend basic commands to dial a contact by their title or start a specific app, but it is slow. This is a handy feature for individuals unfamiliar with technologies, helping them do things without having to know the phone’s user interface.

Popular social media apps like Facebook and WhatsApp aren’t available on the Jio Phone in the moment but the company is reportedly working to add them. However, you can get an inbuilt Web browser which can be used to log in to Facebook. During our review period we also managed to find the Web version of the Telegram messaging program to operate on the Jio Phone, and we can also use YouTube the same manner without any problems.

Reliance Jio Phone performance, camera, and battery life
With the combination of bare-basic hardware and KaiOS, speed definitely isn’t going to match even the cheapest cost smartphones, and while you will have to wait for apps to load, the consumer experience isn’t frustrating. Needless to say, you can just run one program at a time. We did play a couple of games on JioGames and while they are incredibly basic, they didn’t look 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 have to wait more than a few seconds for a movie or song 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. At this price, the inclusion of two cameras is infrequent, but we still didn’t have high expectations from them. The camera program is quite basic and only gives you options to take stills and videos, and a self timer. However, the phone requires shots in portrait orientation when held upright and can’t find rotation, so even if you hold it sideways, you wind up with vertical frames and your content tilted 90 degrees. You’ll want 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 deficiency detail and there is fair amount of noise. Close-ups are better in comparison. Motion blur is unavoidable regardless of the conditions if you’re shooting anything that isn’t perfectly still. Nighttime camera performance is strictly moderate and you will require a steady hand to get a fantastic shot. Subjects are visible only if there is adequate lighting, and will hardly be visible in low light. Photos look far better on the phone screen than on a pc when seen at full size. 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 not place the focus or exposure.

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

Tap to see full-sized Jio Phone camera samples

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

After a 15-minute voice call, we found the battery drain to be two percent while a 30-minute call resulted in a 5 percentage drain. This is great considering that the 4G data connection is still running in the background. We also streamed TV displays, and a 30-minute episode streamed over 4G resulted in a 7 percentage drain. A similar test using Wi-Fi led in a 6 percent drain. Leaving the phone untouched for 12 hours also resulted in just a 3 percent drop. If you would like to conserve battery life there is power saving mode which switches everything off, then turning this into a basic feature phone.


Jio Phone in pictures

Even the Jio Phone isn’t targeted at smartphone users but at first-time buyers and attribute phone users that want to upgrade without spending considerably. It is aimed at bringing individuals from well beyond 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 brief answer is that it will have the potential to do this. The hardware is competent and also the software delivers a good enough experience.

The Jio programs sweeten the deal farther as you get free access to movies, TV and music. The ability to receive OTA updates implies that more features can be introduced in the future. However, you ought to read the fine print on Jio’s website, which details the hidden costs of the tariff program and the terms and conditions of claiming the refund, before you make a decision.

For those looking for a way to find online and communicate with other people at 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 could be a force that really changes our society – and therefore are already making the competition perform harder. With all its characteristics, it may truly be called a smart characteristic phone, and if you have successfully pre-booked one, you won’t be disappointed.