Android Go is the build of our favourite mobile operating system that is optimized for use in devices with meagre system resources – low-end processors that can’t handle all the demands that their more powerful counterparts can, little memory (1GB or less) and limited storage space.
Since its introduction, it has gained quite some traction especially locally where almost every major smartphone brand (the exception to this rule is OPPO) offers a device or two that are powered by a Go edition of Android. Towards the end of 2018, we saw holdouts like Samsung and Huawei finally join the fold. The start of 2019 was equally promising with Chinese device maker Xiaomi also joining the Android Go bandwagon and Samsung expanding its footprint.
As such, just like the Android One programme, Android Go looks likely to be here to stay, at least for now. With that in mind, it is only fair that we explore the best offerings under that programme that one can get.
In no particular order, the following 15 devices powered by Android Go can be bought locally:
1. Nokia 1
In just a few weeks, the Nokia 1’s thunder will be stolen by the all-new Nokia 1 Plus unveiled recently at Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2019. However, until that happens, HMD Global’s most affordable smartphone so far to be made available in the Kenyan market, remains unbeatable.
Sure, the Nokia 1 is not perfect – it is bedeviled by some pretty terrible battery life, for instance – but it does provide value for money and, unlike most devices you will encounter on this list, is guaranteed updates for at least another year.
The Nokia 1 may not be everyone’s cup of tea, more so given the slightly less than Kshs 10,000 price tag it started selling at when it became available locally but, at just Kshs 6,500 right now on Masoko and elsewhere (as of the time of publishing this, pricing will definitely change with time), it is a good deal. A good first smartphone. A good present. A good secondary device for #teamturnup.
2. Nokia 2.1
For those that find the Nokia 1’s feature set inadequate or have a little more cash to spend then the Nokia 2.1 is ideal.
With a price tag of just over Kshs 10,000, the Nokia 2.1 makes clear the intentions of its maker, HMD Global, to dominate the local smartphone market.
It is much more likeable than its predecessor which has been caught up in a circus with regards to receiving updates, something that is quite unlike Nokia smartphones but which is unavoidable due to its limited hardware specifications.
The Nokia 2.1 doesn’t suffer from all that. While it still retains meagre system resources – there’s still that 1GB RAM which is why the device stays on this list – it’s quite the upgrade from the Nokia 2.
It has a significantly better processor (a Snapdragon 425 chipset compared to the Snapdragon 212 found on the Nokia 2) which results in performance improvements of over 50%, a bigger display (a 5.5-inch panel compared to the 4.5-inch unit on the Nokia 2) and still maintains that mammoth 4,000mAh battery that everyone loved on the Nokia 2.
The Nokia 2.1’s biggest advantage over its predecessor, however, is the software.
It runs Android Go while the Nokia 2 arrived with the standard Android build which wasn’t really meant to play nice with devices that lacked quad-core processors and upwards of 2GB memory.
3. Tecno F1 and Tecno F2
It is almost a year since Tecno unveiled its F-series devices – entry-level smartphones with basic features and powered by Android Go.
Unlike what the naming scheme seems to suggest, the Tecno F1 is not exactly the most superior of the trio and its local availability, which I can confirm anyway, has been limited.
Like the F3 highlighted next on this list, the Tecno F2 also can connect to LTE networks but that happens to be the most that it has going for it besides the obvious: it is powered by Android Go.
4. Tecno F3 (POP1)
For anyone keen on getting a Tecno F-series device that they can slot in their 4G SIM (not JTL’s Faiba 4G, though), the F3 is probably the device to get. Not only is it the superior of the trio, it also has 4G radios to make access to 4G networks possible. This, normally, is not a big deal but given the sub-Kshs 8,000 price that this device regularly finds itself priced at, it’s really a big deal. For context, some of the devices on this list have shunned novelties like 4G to save on costs.
There’s a “Pro” variant of this device that doubles the onboard storage to 16GB.
5. Tecno Spark 2
For a low-end smartphone that is supposed to take care of just the basics and not much else, the second-generation Spark made quite the impression when I took it for a spin last year.
The camera blew me away, its battery lasts and lasts and its added features, like the face unlock, work surprisingly well. Add that to its good design and you have a winner, right?
The party is spoilt by, first, the lack of 4G LTE which is not unreasonable given the amounts of money in question but, we’ve seen cheaper devices arrive with 4G so, what gives? Secondly, the device’s sluggish performance is quite the party-pooper.
Still, that may be some of the best money one spends on a low-end smartphone.
6. Infinix Smart 2
With the distinction of being the first smartphone from Infinix to arrive running Android Go, the Infinix Smart 2 sought to keep the pace set the previous year (in 2017) by its predecessor which introduced a whole new device lineup.
Since the whole premise of the Smart smartphone series is to bring the Infinix experience to the masses at the lowest price, it made perfect sense that the Smart 2 would take advantage of the existence of Android Go (which wasn’t there when its predecessor hit the market) and run with it.
However, while that is so, that only extends to the Smart 2 and its “HD” sister made available this year. The “Pro” variant (pictured above), which addresses the Smart 2’s biggest omission – the lack of 4G LTE connectivity – runs on the standard version of Android 8.1, Oreo, and not the Go edition which is understandable as that device has twice the memory of its siblings.
For just under Kshs 10,000 one can buy the Infinix Smart 2 HD, the natural replacement to the OG Smart 2 which appears to have been phased out.
7. Safaricom Neon Kicka 4
Safaricom has had its entry-level Neon smartphone lineup for a few years now. However, the fourth-generation Neon Kicka smartphone, available since August 2018, is what really redefined the lineup’s mission: to bring on to the data train as many Kenyans as possible.
The most affordable of all the devices on this list, the Neon Kicka 4 won’t be winning any awards for its feature set or other factors like buttery smoothness or features like long battery life.
It was never meant for that, anyway. It trades a lot of the features that are key advantages for the other devices on this list for affordability. At just Kshs 3,500, it goes where other smartphones have so far failed to go; where other phone brands still reserve for their feature phones.
What makes the Neon Kicka 4 a darling of ours is that it essentially democratizes Android by taking advantage of the platform’s unique offerings like Android Go. With Go, devices like the Neon Kicka 4 can cut all the corners they want in the world in their quest to be priced at a song and still come out of the other end of the tunnel with something. This is what happens here even though there are still some ugly heads like the extremely meagre internal storage that users have to contend with.
Naturally, Masoko is the one place you can expect to grab the Neon Kicka 4 even though Safaricom shops are also highly recommended as it is in the latter where one can take advantage of the unique arrangement Kenya’s largest network operator has set up to allow those who can’t afford the Kshs 3,500 asking price in full to pay for it in manageable installments.
8. Huawei Y3 2018
As if the half year gap between its announcement and availability in other markets like South Africa and its local availability didn’t send a strong enough message about Huawei’s intentions with its first Android Go smartphone, the lack of any marketing weight behind it from the company locally says everything you need to know about it: just hanging in there.
Still, depending on how your pockets are structured, the Huawei Y3 2018, may be just what the doctor ordered. However, since it hasn’t popped up elsewhere since Safaricom offered it during one its open day sales last year where it went for a reasonable Kshs 8,000, Masoko and Safaricom shops remain the only place you can find it. And the price went up, by the way.
9. Huawei Y5 Lite
While the Huawei Y3 2018 was clearly the black sheep of the Huawei device family locally, the Y5 Lite quickly came into the picture to take over from where the Y5 Prime 2018, which did very well in the local market if figures from the company are anything to go by, left.
Like its predecessor, its biggest selling point is its price: just under Kshs 10,000.
Todate, the Huawei Y5 Lite, at just under Kshs 9,000 (on Masoko and Jumia), much less than the Y5 Prime 2018 ever went for, remains the Chinese company’s most affordable smartphone and, with its sights set on the first-time smartphone buyer, it’s doing a good job offering the much needed choice and variety in the bottom segment of the smartphone pyramid.
10. itel A32F
Sure, the Safaricom Neon Kicka 4 is quite the gamechanger with its Kshs 3,500 price but, as already noted, far too many corners have been cut for the device to provide a half-desirable experience to its users. That is if they dare ask for something more than casual browsing (WhatsApp and a few Google searches here and there) and use of Safaricom services.
itel’s first Android Go smartphone is much more suited for such albeit for a few thousand shillings more. In fact, before the Neon Kicka 4’s arrival, the itel A32F held on to that crowd of being the most affordable Android Go smartphone locally.
What the A32F has going for it is in terms of the customizations that Google allows devices who preload Android Go on their devices to do. They are the A32F’s beacon as it’s pretty much an average device in everything else – the camera, performance, etc.
11. itel S13
There’s not much to write home about the S13 as it keeps much of the A32F’s feature set while improving on the hardware to allow it to work well and provide a much better experience to its users.
With just a Kshs 1,000 price difference separating the two, at least as of the time when each launched in Kenya, not much can be expected to be different. The battery is still bang-on average while the software customizations that make the A32F stand out remain the same. The biggest difference is in the camera department as the S13’s main highlight is providing a much better camera experience. Whether that comes to fruition or not is something one will have to find out by themselves.
12. Alcatel 1
The Alcatel 1X was on the lips of everyone post-MWC 2018 because it dominated headlines at the trade show as the first smartphone to be launched that ran on Android Go.
A year later, while its mother company, TCL, is still trying to keep the device’s shine by adding able successors to its family, it remains unrecognizable to most Kenyans. In the country, a (superior) variant of the 1X, the Alcatel 1, has been on sale exclusively through Safaricom for half a year now.
However, as luck would have it, Safaricom has been offering the device through its expansive retail store network in the country as well as online via its e-commerce platform, Masoko.
The 5-inch device, which is going for Kshs 7,000 on Masoko, is as basic as basic gets save for a few highlights like the brushed metal finish, which makes it one of the best-looking devices on this list, and software features like “Social Share” which makes it easy for one to share snaps they take using the device’s 8-megapixel camera on their social media feeds.
13. Samsung Galaxy J2 Core
The Galaxy J2 Core has the distinction of being the first smartphone running Android Go from the Korean device maker. Long expected but constantly delayed as Samsung mulled on whether to continue with its Tizen experiment for the lower spectrum of mobile, it finally showed up in August 2018 then made it to our shores a month later.
My personal experience with the Galaxy J2 Core, which I used on and off for over a month, wasn’t particularly good as I came off feeling that I was trading buttery smoothness for a stuttering mess but, is there much to expect when you’re parting with just Kshs 10,000 (give or take a few hundred shillings)? This is exactly where we were with the Tecno Spark 2 though for the latter, it at least redeemed itself with the excellent battery life and insanely good looks, things that are a rumour on Samsung’s entry-level device.
The one thing that I liked, though, is that it has a removable back which means that it is possible to swap batteries. Who still does that, though? Also, this is not exactly unique to the J2 Core as other devices, like the itel A32F and the Safaricom Neon Kicka, also allow users to do the same.
14. Samsung Galaxy J4 Core
The Galaxy J2 Core’s successor also happens to be the very first smartphone to be launched in Kenya in 2019 by the Koreans.
It features several improvements that buyers will appreciate. The display gets a bump up to 6-inches, the resolution goes a notch higher to HD+ and onboard storage gets doubled. Still, the Kshs 13,000 that Samsung is asking for a device whose software support is non-existent, seems to be quite a lot of money. You’re probably better off holding onto your cash and wait to see how HMD Global prices the Nokia 1 Plus in a few weeks time.
15. Redmi Go
Xiaomi sub-brand Redmi is looking to carve its own unique identity away from its mothership this year and, is there a better way to do so than by introducing itself to tens of millions of people who’ve never known it through a device they will not only like given its feature-set but also be able to afford?
Xiaomi Kenya has promised to avail the Redmi Go in the country soon and, while we remain in the dark about its pricing, some third party retailers have already started selling it for under Kshs 8,000, the price around which we expect it to start at.
Which one is your pick?