Review: Smart Netphone 701

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Smartphones are everywhere nowadays. What once was a gadget reserved for the wealthy and the elite is now firmly within reach of the masses, with some models breaching the Php 10,000 barrier. Unfortunately, data plans are still a bit pricey for the normal pinoy, and while both telcos have outed relatively affordable internet plans for the prepaid market, data is still seen by many as a stumbling block to smartphone adoption. Smart’s recently unveiled Netphone 701 aims to solve this little quandary while providing consumers with a decently priced smartphone.
The Netphone 701 is your typical mid-market, Android powered smartphone. The 701 is actually a re-branded ZTE Blade that first shipped in November of 2010. The overall build quality and feature set isn’t bad: it sports a 3.5-inch LCD capacitive screen, 600 MHz ARM 11 processor, 3 megapixel camera and is powered by Android 2.2 (aka Froyo). While the choice of OS seems dated, keep in mind that this particular device is aimed at new smartphone users that usually don’t notice details like that anyway. Unlike phones made by HTC and Samsung, the Netphone sports only 3 physical buttons on its face – home, menu and back.
The right side of the device holds the volume rocker, while the right side houses the USB port. The top of the device sports a 3.5mm jack and the power button.
What really sets the Netphone 701 apart from other devices is the addition of SmartNet, which is Smart’s ecosystem of apps built for the Netphone family of devices (yes, there will be other Netphone branded devices coming soon). The SmarNet app is featured prominently on the home page of the device, and includes widgets like the Social stream (a social network aggregator for SmartNet, Facebook and Twitter), chat and messaging.
One nice feature about the SmarNet app that prepaid users will like is that it shows you your current prepaid load (while it updates automatically, it’s not real-time).
One issue that most new users have with smartphones is the bill shock that’s associated with enabling data all day. Once again, Smart has you covered with their patented Safe Browse button in the Netphone. One push of the Safe Browse button and it turns off all active internet connections save for the whitelisted apps (which includes the SmartNet app) in the device. Smart makes you register into their SmartNet Global directory when you first use the device, with no option to opt out.

While users don’t incur data charges with the Safe Browsing feature on, you’re pretty much limited to checking your Facebook and Twitter feeds. While technically it does give you free internet access as long as you have the Safe Browse feature on (I never added to my Php 1 load during the time I had the device), you won’t see tagged or embedded pictures nor be able to go to external links.
Smart has also simplified the way you send load to other prepaid customers. Just click on Pasaload on a person’s contact page and load away.
And though it may seem like SmartNet doesn’t give users a lot of value, keep in mind that we’re just in the the ecosystem’s infancy. The idea of providing white listed apps constant internet access without charging users means that Smart can probably monetize SmartNet in a way that hasn’t been done before. For instance, imagine a TV5 app that automatically updates in real-time, delivering headlines straight to your phone, or being able to order food through a Jollibee app (which consequently I found on the device lent to me while rooting around). Yes, some of you will point out that there are already apps that allow you to do this on the Android market, but Smart’s approach is the first time you’re able to actually use those apps WITHOUT being charged for data. The possibilites are endless and to be honest, I’m genuinely excited to see how the SmartNet will turn out. 

Of course, the big question is this: should you buy the NetPhone 701 now? Well, if you’re the sort of person that likes to keep on top of everything your friends do and are absolutely addicted to both Twitter and Facebook, I say go. The Netphone 701 is a nice, solid mix of innovative software and dependable hardware that’s priced pretty decently (it’s available for Php 9,900 for prepaid subscribers and is available in a number of plans for post-paid users, go here for more details) that has a lot of appeal to first-time smartphone owners.

What’s Hot:
Affordable
SmartNet ecosystem
Free internet access as long as you have Php 1 in your account
Safe Browsing mode saves you from unintended data charges

 

What’s Not:
SmartNet still in its infancy, not a lot of SmartNet apps available
Facebook and Twitter feeds are limited on Safe Browsing mode
OS is limited to Android 2.2

 

Bottomline:
Smart’s NetPhone 701 is a good starting point for users new to smartphones, and while still in it’s infancy, the SmartNet ecosystem holds a lot of promise.

 

Buymeter: 8.6

TECH SPECS
  • Operating System: Android 2.2 (Froyo)
  • CPU: 600 MHz ARM 11 processor
  • LCD size: 3.5-inch capacitive LCD
  • Physical Dimensions: 116 x 56.5 x 11.8 mm
  • Weight: 110 g
  • Band:  GSM 900 / 1800 / 1900, HSDPA 900 / 2100