The introduction and success of the 5-inch Samsung Galaxy Note in 2011 opened up a new market for phone makers. They saw that not all smartphones need to be as small as the iPhone, nor did they really have to be approaching tablets in size—there was a mid-sized segment, and it was very attractive for prospective phone buyers and phone makers alike. Soon, that segment was flooded with alternatives, with Samsung itself launching new versions of the Note, Apple experimenting with an iPad Mini and a larger-than-normal iPhone 5. But these were expensive products. Cheaper alternatives were needed, and that’s where companies like Spice Mobile and Micromax stepped in.
Spice Mobile’s entry into the mid-size segment the Stellar Virtuoso MI-495 is what you would expect if Samsung took the Note and sold it for R10,000 or thereabouts—no frills, but certainly coming with all the basic requirements. The first thing you notice about the Stellar Virtuoso is its large screen. The front of the phone is dominated by the 4.5-inch capacitive touchscreen; there’s not a single physical button on the front, not even a back button. The next thing you notice is the silver metal band running along the sides of phone, which lends it a stylish appeal. The overall look thus created, it must be said, is very reminiscent of the iPhone. The sides also come with the normal volume and power/screen lock buttons and the various ports needed for headphones and charging. As far as looks go, I would strongly recommend this phone.
Now, let’s get to the actual performance. The Stellar Virtuoso’s dual core processor is sufficient to run the Android Ice Cream Sandwich OS loaded on the phone; the apps don’t lag or freeze and the device remained quick even while multi-tasking. One little niggling problem was with the camera. It doesn’t come with a dedicated physical button that clicks the photos; there’s only a touch button, and it is not easy to hold the camera steady and press the button at the same time. Simply doing what Apple or Samsung do, linking the volume button to the camera while the camera is on, would have been a good step here as well. Otherwise, the 8 MP camera does a wonderful job, even in low light conditions. And the fact that the LED flash can be kept on for upto a minute while filming a video is very useful.
One major downside of the phone is its battery life. Either it is because of the large screen, or due to the dual-SIM nature of the phone, or a power-hungry processor, but the 1,700mAh battery can barely keep the phone charged for 24 hours. This is a major drawback as even the notoriously battery-hungry iPhone lasts longer than this.
Overall, though, priced at R10,499, the Spice Mobile Stellar Virtuoso is a fantastic phone for its price. The deficiencies it does have can only be fixed with more costly inputs, which would drive up the cost of the phone. If you want a mid-sized smartphone on a budget, this phone is for you.
Estimated street price: Rs 10,499