MTN’s R499 Steppa smartphone reviewed

MTN has released its own entry-level Android smartphone for just R499, hoping to get the technology into the mass market. But is the device any good? Nafisa Akabor finds out.

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MTN has released a low-cost Android smartphone with a touch screen at an affordable R499. It’s aimed at those who’ve never had a smartphone before.

The Steppa handset has a 3,5-inch TFT colour screen, with a 320×480-pixel resolution. It’s powered by a 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon single-core processor, has 512MB of RAM and 1GB of ROM, and has only 350MB of storage available to the user. However, it is expandable by up to 32GB via the microSD card slot (no microSD card is included in the box).

The phone has an accelerometer, FM radio, assisted GPS, proximity sensor and a 3,5mm audio jack. Connectivity options include 3G up to 7,2Mbit/s, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0 and USB.

The 2-megapixel camera and video recorder can only be used after inserting a microSD card. Other features include Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync, Gmail, preinstalled apps and MTN’s own AppsFire app store. The handset runs a dated Android, version 2.3.5.

The handset is smaller than most smartphones, with a 3,5-inch screen. It has dimensions of 121,4mm x 63,2mm x 11,8mm and weighs 125g. It doesn’t feel cheap and actually looks quite decent. The black handset we received for review has a silver band across the edges and an MTN and Qualcomm Snapdragon logo at the back.

When you first switch it on to set it up, MTN has a welcome screen that allows you to choose between a new number or a Sim swap. Once that’s out of the way, you are prompted to restart the phone. It’s here that another pop-up screen appears with MTN’s terms of use. You have to provide MTN with personal information such as your gender, employment status, age group, favourite sport, preferred TV platform, languages spoken and social media channels used. Annoyingly and stupidly, there is no option to skip this invasive survey.

steppa-280The first thing you are greeted with once you’re finally able to use the smartphone is a banner ad on top of the screen. It takes up the top fifth of the screen, which could prove to be deal breaker for some.

You can go into the “banner list” to see what the eight ads are, but there is no option to turn it off. Ads appears on all home screens and, thankfully, not inside apps.

The 3.5-inch screen is very basic and has four buttons beneath it — home, search, edit and back. The handset has three home screens. The one to the left lets you add widgets, the middle/main one lets you customise icons, and the one to the right contains all your apps listed alphabetically.

The main home screen has round icons, which display shortcuts you can edit. It has an additional four quick-launch icons at the bottom of the screen, which are also customisable.

While the touch function works okay, the buttons below have a slight lag. Pinch to zoom and other multi-touch gestures are supported.

We played a few games of Fruit Ninja and the touch screen worked well. However, it did have a bit of lag when the fruit appeared on the screen, no doubt due to the slow processor and lack of RAM. It didn’t take away the experience of the game, though. Watching YouTube videos is very basic, but you can’t expect high quality from a 320×480-pixel display.

Preloaded apps include Facebook, Gmail, Google+, Maps, News24, Opera Mini, the Play Store, Soundhound, Twitter, Traffic Monitor, WhatsApp and YouTube.

MTN exclusive apps include AVG AntiVirus, MTN’s own app store called AppsFire, the MTN app and Sim toolkit. Sim toolkit provides access to MTN Loaded, Mobile Money, Banking and other services.

The handset has a fairly decent battery: 1 300mAh hours. It will take you through the day and night, and has a very good standby time — up to 624 hours on 2G and 421 hours on 3G. If you don’t switch it off overnight, you’ll barely notice a change in the battery level by the next morning.

Overall, the handset is great value for money. It provides access to e-mail, social networks and browsing, even though it runs a dated version of Android. If prospective buyers can look past the ads on the homescreen and the sometimes slow rendering, then it’s worth considering. And the price is hard to beat. For the market it’s targeting, we think MTN is onto a winner here.  — (c) 2014 NewsCentral Media

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  • Aadil Lakhi

    This is brilliant for the price. Kudos to MTN. Hopefully, this floods the mass market and replaces Blackberry. Internet penetration can go up sharply. The target market for this device will be scared away by the idea of spending 100′s of Rands per month on data, so the networks need to provide decent price bundles or flat rated BIS type packages. The last thing we need is people turning their data connections off because they’re afraid of the OOB shark.

  • Lumina SS

    6 months later it will freeze, battery failure and support will be nowhere to be found from MTN. A single-core processor explains it all.

  • RegsWatcher

    Thanks for the review. One question: Is the phone locked to the MTN network?

  • priscilla

    Am using it as we speak,i bought it ths mrng am lving it its owesome

  • Nic Bolt

    Think we can pretty much assume that. Im actually looking for a cheap android, but as the writer of the article indicates, the ads are a deal breaker for me.

  • Evan James Knowles

    … keyboard not great though?

  • Piet Le Roux

    My wife finally decided to try an Android Phone and we did consider the Steppa and Y220 but I did not like the screen resolution and available memory of the latter so we decided on The Huawei Ascend Y300 for R1000, it has a 480 x 800 pixels, 4.0 inches (233 ppi pixel density) display. Someone over 50 (like us) can surf the web comfortably with it. If I had known about the adverts I would not even have considered it.
    typical MTN!

  • The Underdog

    Nope, not at all

  • Queena

    but where can i find it i have been in shops in and out they dont have it

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