Sub-$50 Android smartphone hits South Africa as MTN launches Steppa


South Africa's second largest mobile operator, MTN, has launched an own-brand Android smartphone with dual SIM capabilities and a Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU. The new phone, which is branded as a Steppa, is sold unlocked for pre-pay customers through local supermarkets and MTN stores for R499, making it one of the first true smartphones available for less than $50.

The Steppa is a white label Qualcomm reference design, featuring a 3.5-inch screen, 512MB of RAM, an FM radio and a 1,300mAh battery which is specced to last for up to 627 minutes of talk time. It also features Google Play integration, HSDPA, Bluetooth 3.0 and A-GPS.

The downside to the new phone is that it has a single-core 1GHz CPU and ships with the Gingerbread version of Android. MTN representatives have told customers hoping for an update to Froyo, Jelly Bean or KitKat that the firmware will not be upgraded.

The sub-$50 price tag, however, is a major milestone for MTN. The Steppa undercuts the cheapest of Nokia's popular Symbian-based Asha phones by around $30 while offering similar access to services such as WhatsApp and Facebook. BlackBerry Messenger support for Gingerbread is due sometime in the next month.

Steven Ambrose, founder of South African analysts StrategyWorx, describes the Steppa as a "game changer".

"As a statement and a key tool to bring true smart devices to the market this phone from MTN is a game changer for the price," Ambrose says, "We expect to see more $50 and below smartphones hit the market in the coming year. MTN is also well placed to take this device into its other African markets and this will create opportunities for other markets to benefit from the smartphone revolution."

Early reports from users who have bought the phone have been positive, although some have complained about the heavy MTN branding on the homescreen.