With its new Android-based Smart-Touch smartphone selling for just $99, Telstra has symbolically broken through the last major smartphone hurdle: price.
One of the things telcos like to be seen to offer is 'freedom'. Freedom to choose the plans, products and payment options that suit you. And, in truth, they offer it - and then some. Indeed, most of the time they bamboozle us with a cornucopia of choices, options, plans, bonuses, bundles, add-ons and packs. 'Spoilt for' puts it mildly.
But it's only very occasionally that something comes along from one of the major carriers that truly does seem to offer a new degree of choice to users, and Telstra's new Smart-Touch
smartphone, announced this week, fits the bill. Why? Because, despite the device's inherent humbleness, by breaking that $100 price barrier, the Smart-Touch signals to a huge range of pre-paid mobile users still on feature phones that they too can afford a smartphone.
Telstra's Smart-Touch, available 22 March.
These are the droves of people who have likely heard a lot about Android, the iPhone and smartphones generally in the media, but who couldn't justify the expense of such high-end (and, up until recently, expensive) models themselves. And while Apple's iPhone's pricing won't be coming down to earth any time soon, Android's open availability to manufacturers has seen a huge range of phone makers release devices at a huge range of prices, resulting this week in a pre-paid smartphone that you can buy for just $99.
Now, it's true, we've seen budget-oriented smartphones before, notably from Samsung, HTC, LG and Huawei among others, but we haven't seen them in this country for under a hundred dollars, and that's why the launch of the Smart-Touch this week (the device will retail nationally from Tuesday 22 March) is a watershed moment in personal technology.
So what do you get for your hard-earned cash? The Smart-Touch runs a slightly older version of Android 2.1 ("Eclair") and features a 2.8-inch resistive touchscreen. 2.8 inches is certainly on the small side for a smartphone display, and resistive screens are generally perceived to be less preferable than capacitive touchscreens. But the Smart-Touch also features a GPS, MP3 player, FM radio and Wi-Fi, plus a 3.2-megapixel camera with video-recording capabilities.
It ships with a 2GB MicroSD card, but storage space is expandable up to 32GB, and it's available in midnight or grape colours (and is locked to the Telstra network). All in all, it's not the kind of device to have the iPhone 4 or HTC Desire HD quaking in their boots, but for first-time smartphone users there's an awful lot of new functionality to explore.
Huawei's IDEOS U8150, also available for $99 from Crazy Johns.
Now, to be fair, phone retailer Crazy Johns actually beat Telstra to the sub-$100 punch by a matter of days with its own online $99 special
on the Huawei IDEOS U8150. It's an online-only deal from a significantly smaller retail operation, and as such it isn't attracting the same media attention as Telstra's in-store effort, but it's still a great bargain (and is APC's pick specs-wise of the two models).
The Huawei IDEOS U8150 features a lot of the same specifications as the Smart-Touch, but in two areas it's significantly superior. Firstly, it's got a capacitive touchscreen (as opposed to the Smart-Touch's resistive display), which is the sort of touchscreen featured on high-end smartphones like the iPhone; and secondly, it ships with a newer version of the Android operating system (2.2 "Froyo"), which incorporates a number of improvements and new features. You can read more about the IDEOS U8150 here