A new contender has tossed its hat in the handset market ring. Icon Q, a company that until recently made Bluetooth and Qi wireless charging accessories (and a couple of tablets), announced a $199 smartphone called the Q5.5.
A Traveling Phone
Unlike so many brands jostling for a shred of the saturated "every day" smartphone U.S. market share, Icon Q has a slightly different plan of attack. It's marketing the Q5.5 as a handset for world travelers.
The key feature in that regard is the phone's dual SIM capabilities. The phone supports 3G GSM, so it can work on AT&T and T-Mobile in the U.S., as well as on networks in countries around the world. (Unfortunately, you can't use it on Verizon, Sprint, or US Cellular stateside.)
If you've ever traveled internationally, you understand how handy that is; you can keep your old SIM in the Q5.5 while adding a new locally-bought SIM from a country you're visiting to save on high data charges or international minutes. For instance, in Thailand it only costs $8 to get unlimited data for a month, while Verizon charges $40 for only 40 MB when you're traveling abroad.
Icon Q also noted that dual-SIM is a useful feature to have if, for example, you want to keep a home number and work account separate but use the same handset. But that raises the question of whether or not you'd want to use the Q5.5 in your day-to-day life.
For $199, the specifications point to some solid value. It has a 5.5-inch (1280 x 720) 5-point capacitive multitouch display with an octa-core Mediatek MTK6592M (1.4 GHz) SoC. It runs Android 4.4 (KitKat) and offers 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of onboard storage (with a microSDHC slot that offers another 32 GB).
The cameras are the most impressive part of the features list; the rear camera is 13 MP and the front is 5 MP, which is better than expected for a handset at this price point. Other features include 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 for wireless connectivity, and the phone has the requisite microUSB port. The 2100 mAh battery promises 5.5 hours on a charge (which is an unfortunately low number).
There's definitely some give and take with the specs, most notably on the SoC and battery life, but all told, I wouldn't mind strolling around Barcelona with a phone with these specs in my pocket. It costs too much to be a burner, but I'd rather spend a couple hundred bucks on a handset that's both a nice backup at home and something I wouldn't be devastated to lose abroad (assuming one has a high-end flagship device for daily use).
Seriously, why would any fledgling company bother trying to dent the already-saturated U.S. smartphone market? "We really felt like it was ideal timing with the unlocking phones legislation last year, which would give brands a better playing field," an Icon Q rep told us. She added, "With everything converging on mobile, it's also a space that's very relevant for all consumers, whether they're tech enthusiasts or not. That matters to us."
The company believes that it has found a niche with the travel angle. "We definitely know that the market is crowded, but felt like on the consumer side, there still isn't as much awareness about unlocked phones and other brands besides the dominant players," we were told.
"With this phone, we targeted travelers, because we feel that's a demographic that gets unlocked phones."
Icon Q worked with an (unnamed) supplier in designing and manufacturing the handset, but that's to be expected with a small company. New York-based Icon Q is new (it launched in 2013) and has a core of just 4-5 people.
One of the seemingly curious omissions of the Q5.5's feature set was LTE. We asked if Icon Q thought that would negatively impact people's buying decision. "When we were deciding on features and cost, we opted in favor of 3G only because we felt that it wasn't critical for travel use," we were told. "Some countries also don't yet support LTE. However, there's definitely been feedback that people want to see LTE, so we'll be working on updated models with that feature."
This summer, Icon Q will launch a full lineup of handsets and continue to improve upon this first handset. The company did not specify whether or not any of this summer's devices will offer LTE, but it's reasonable to expect that at least one SKU might.