Systems developer Angus Gratton recently made a trip to Shenzhen, China where he purchased a $34 smartphone that boasted 4G connectivity, 8 cores, and Android 4.4 (Kit Kat). After running the Huami H3 through its courses, Gratton discovered that none of the above was true, but for $34, you might be surprised at what you get.

The software on the H3 runs painfully slow. Even scrolling down a list in the settings section causes skips and screen freezes. But, considering that the device is running Android 4.0.3 (not the claimed Kit Kat version) with only 200MB of RAM, it is chugging along reasonably well.


Gratton notes, “I’m amazed Android 4 is even halfway usable with such meagre RAM, given how terrible recent cheap smartphones with 512MB of RAM are!”

After digging around the software, Gratton discovered that quite a few of the original claims were incorrect. Not only was the About page modified with false information showing a faster processor with more cores, but the internal storage stats were falsified (only 1.2GB instead of the supposed 4GB) and the build strings that show Android’s Kit Kat as the operating system were all physically changed from their original build of Ice cream Sandwich.

Gratton also did a teardown of the H3 so we could see what is inside. The most interesting revelation is that none of the parts inside are from used phones. They all appear to be new chips, transceivers, and other bits of technology.

Overall, Gratton writes that, for the price, the H3 is “pretty remarkable.” Although he notes that it won’t be replacing his main phone. The device supports the idea that OEMs can make ridiculously cheap, carrier-free smartphones that work reasonably well, especially if they actually produce what they claim (or at least tell the truth about the tech specs).

While the price may be tempting (the Huami H3 has no carrier contract to lock you in), I’m not sure that one could consider this to be a useful smartphone as a main. It is nicely priced to be a working backup in case something went wrong with your main phone. It could even be hacked and repurposed as something else entirely. However, the headache that comes along with a device that can barely handle the software running it may not be enough to make you send your buddy into the “dodgy cell phone market” of Shenzhen the next time he takes a trip to China.

via /r/Android

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9 replies on “Are super cheap smartphones really worth it?”

  1. Wow why is this article even a thing? A smartphone in the $34 range is easily obtainable in the states

  2. Paint it white and stick an Apple on it. The Apple Sheeple will pay $600+ for it.

  3. a phone whose battery doesn’t last a LONG day, whose wifi and data radios are flaky, and whose screen is unreadable except in the dimmest light is useless. Once you’ve got those bases covered, you’re entering “niceties” territory (performance, camera, size…). I’m currently buying Moto Es by the bucket for everyone who wants a cheap smartphone, those things have got the basics right. 130€ though, not 40…

  4. He got just about what you would expect for the money and what you expect by buying off the street.
    Not that such phones are made for the US but if you take China for example they got maybe some 1.375billion people and the majority lives on 5$ or less per day, India is much worse. Maybe 80% of the world’s population lives on less than 10$ per day. When you barely find money for food it’s hard to aim too high.

  5. If you lack money but have time instead, try to snipe a second hand smartphone. I found a busted Moto G, the sim card reader was tilted, 3 minutes later it was functionning (and still is). 50$ total. 70$ average. 2x 35$ but also a lot more capable.

  6. Those chips are packaged carefully to allow for assembly line production using pick-n-place robotic arms. It would be too costly to handle used components and get them properly packaged for production and turn out working devices. That’s assuming you got the chips removed from the used devices and old solder cleaned off without damaging them – which would also be time intensive on a grand scale. Much cheaper to just use new components, which are cheap anyway.

    1. The parts themselves are cheap, it is the patent licenses that make up the bulk of the wholesale price of most modern electronics. Of course the Chinese grey market doesn’t worry about that detail. If you tried to export them from China in quantity to pretty much anywhere in the civilized world the rights holders would, rightly, have them seized at customs.

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