Reliance was expected to announce a feature phone in India that would run its celebrated 4G Jio SIM. But the JioPhone is more than just a feature phone. With quad core processors inside and a forked OS supporting current generation features like voice command and tap to pay, it is quite a deal even for its refundable deposit price of Rs 1500.

Relaince JioPhone is essentially a feature phone when you look at it. It has a T9 that is alphanumeric keypad like a feature phone with a small 2.4 inch colour screen, a speaker mic and earpiece. There is no touchscreen on the phone but, it does come with a headphone jack and a torch light at the top and bottom edges. But, it runs Snapdragon 205 chip and has a lot more to offer than just free 4G voice calls.

Also Read: Reliance Jio Phone at Rs 0: Here's how you can get the offer

A feature phone on steroids?

Jiophone does not run Android, but some new software that supports current generation features. It is has voice assistant like Google assistant. There is a dedicated button to fire the app and you can talk to the phone to make a call for example or listen to music, or even dictate and send SMS. It can even do web search as the company showed in the demo.

Also Read: Reliance 'free' Jio phone, new unlimited data plans: All you need to know

Currently, both Google and Apple take the help of algorithms built using artificial intelligence to carry out voice recognition. How Reliance does it on a tiny feature phone is sort of a mystery right now. 

Moreover its Hindi voice support is something of a surprise which no other smartphone company is offering right now, let alone a feature phone maker. It is something every Indian would have wanted; looking at how Indian English voice support came so much later than the European or American.

 Next, the JioPhone also supports apps like Jio music, Jio Cinema or Jio Tv, though we think it may be that seamless but they are not probably for viewing on the phone itself. JioPhone will have an option to mirror the phone to the TV screen. Unlike wireless mirroring, it will be done through a dedicated cable, which means it could be quite fast.

You can watch live TV, educational programs, movies and probably everything that Jio has in its library. We doubt if it supports YouTube, though a browser is definitely present on the phone. The screen grab of the interface revealed by the company also shows it supports Facebook

Jio also announced NFC payment feature on the phone using which you will be able to link your bank account with the app on the phone, add your account details and make touch-based payment directly from the phone at a POS on petrol pump or shopping mall. This means the phone has NFC hardware, which surprisingly many budget smartphone (read Galaxy J series) don’t offer. The feature on JioPhone will come later this year through a software upgrade, the company said. 

The phone also comes with SOS feature that, during the demo it was shown, will send quick SMS to emergency contacts with your location coordinates. A phone needs GPS to actually do that but Reliance didn’t reveal if it packs that technology. Could this also mean you would be able to use it for navigation though a light version of Maps app sometime later?

Though all these features wouldn’t compel you to switch from your smartphone but it’s a great second phone to have.

Or is it?

The hidden cost is the monthly plan without which the phone would not work. Similar to a contract phone in the US, you would need to pay Jio Rs 153 every month. You get free calls and SMS and 500MB data in return, which is, in a way, less than what you get with its current Dhan Dhana Dhan offer (84GB for Rs 399).

Though the mandatory monthly recharge is the cost you should take into account, it is not high if compared to current tariff plans, especially if you keep a separate phone only for hours of calling per day. And for people who don’t own a smartphone already, it is a great buy as it is.