China-based Xiaomi, India’s No.1 smartphone brand, has been forced to start an aggressive TV campaign after its biggest rival, BBK Electronics, introduced its own no-frills handset RealMe 1.
With this, BBK Electronics — which owns brands such as Oppo, Vivo and OnePlus — has successfully used Xiaomi’s own strategy to challenge the No.1 smartphone brand.
And going by user feedback and our own review, the RealMe 1 is indeed a superior option for price-conscious mid-range buyer than Redmi Note 5 Pro.
In terms of specifications, the two phones are largely even, though the RealMe 1 has a more powerful processor. It comes with the high-end Helio P60 octa-core processor, which has been made on the 12 nanometer process, and has four powerful Cortex A73 clocked at 2 GHz and four low-power Cortex A53 cores, also at 2 GHz.
In comparison, the Redmi Note 5 Pro comes with the Snapdragon 636 chipset clocked at 1.8 GHz.
In terms of raw performance, the Helio P60 is 20% more powerful than the Snapdragon 636, and scores about 5,850 points on Geekbench, compared to 4,850 for the Snapdragon 625. We also found the vivid and bright display of the RealMe 1 too impressive.
Most of the other specs are similar, except for the battery and camera.
The cameras are possibly the only real area of strength for the Note 5 Pro. The Pro comes with a dual-camera (12+5 MP) setup on the back and a 20 MP shooter on the front.
As for the Oppo RealMe 1, the phone has a good, 8 MP camera on the front, but the 13 MP shooter on the back is run-of-the-mill. But given the right lighting conditions, the back camera will do what it’s supposed to.
Another point of difference is that the Note 5 Pro has a 4 Ah battery, while the Oppo model has a 3.41 Ah battery. Does the smaller battery matter? Not as much as it used to, because the new model comes with a 12-nanometer chipset which is twice as efficient as the earlier 28 nm chipsets.
In our tests, the RealMe1’s battery is enough to last 1 day of medium-to-heavy usage. If you want a phone that can last two days of moderate-to-heavy usage, then perhaps it may not fit you need, but it’s enough for 99% of users who charge their device daily.
But the real headline of a comparative review of the two smartphones is not in the processor or the camera or the battery, but the overall package and approach to the market.
And it is here that Xiaomi must do some serious rethink.
The Chinese smartphone maker started out as a provider of high-technology phones at an affordable price. Not only did it deliver the best of mass-category hardware, it did so at an affordable price.
It was able to do so by sticking to certain core philosophies and practices.
Instead of selling 6-10 models at a time like Samsung, Xiaomi focused on 1 or 2.
Instead of spending money on television and print advertisements, it saved the money for its consumers and kept the price low.
Instead of relying on TV campaigns to say how good the phone was, it relied on its consumers to do so.
Instead of paying commissions of Rs 1000-2,000 to retailers and distributors, it spent Rs 250-300 to distribute the phones using online retail.
With these practices, brands like Xiaomi and OnePlus dethroned Samsung.
But in the last two years, Xiaomi’s has started deviating from these principles, resulting in a ‘price creep’, as the prices of the devices are starting to go up.
While the initial Notes were launched in the Rs 10,000-12,000 range, the brand is now nudging consumers towards the Rs 13,000-15,000 range by offering variants with 4GB of RAM only at these levels.
It has also started spending money on TV ads, diverging from its earlier philosophy of depending on the quality of the handsets to do the talking.
It is in this context that BBK Electronics has stepped up with the same efficiency-focused, no-frills strategy, and delivered the Oppo RealMe 1 at a starting price of just Rs 8,999 for the 3GB version and 4GB version at Rs 10,999, compared to Rs 14,999 for the Redmi Note Pro.
In fact, the 4GB (64 GB) version of the OPPO device is often available for as little as 9,999 as part of flash sales and so on.
The strategy is not new for BBK. It has been using it successfully in its OnePlus business, which is now the unquestioned No.1 in the premium device category.
For BBK, the new venture seems to be a realization that the same strategy that works with OnePlus will also work with at the lower end. It is also a realization that the strategy of spending hundreds of crores on marketing and sponsorships may not be make it the No.1 in a country obsessed with saving costs.
Will BBK be able to continue with the strategy? Only time will tell.
For now, though, it’s clear that it has hit the correct note in addressing the tech-savvy smartphone buyer.