Samsung should feel bad for launching the Galaxy J2 2016.
Samsung is aggressively promoting its latest budget phone in India, the Galaxy J2 2016. Launched in July for ₹9,750 (~$150), the phone sports an outdated design and internal hardware no vendor would consider acceptable in mid-2016. The highlights include a 5-inch 720p AMOLED display, a Spreadtrum SC8830 SoC with four Cortex A7 cores, 1.5GB RAM, 8GB internal storage, microSD slot, and a 2600mAh battery.
India's largest handset maker — by a considerable margin — has deemed it reasonable to launch a phone powered by CPU cores that debuted in the first-gen Snapdragon 200 and 400 SoCs in 2013. On the GPU front, you get the Mali-400 MP2, another relic from a bygone era. Barring a few lackluster phones like the Galaxy Grand Neo Plus (which debuted in May 2015), the Spreadtrum SC8830 has been shunned by major vendors, and for good reason.
The J2 2016 fails to handle any processor-intensive tasks, and that's if you're able to install anything. It isn't powerful enough to run Snapchat (which says a lot about the phone), and while Instagram works, the 8MP camera at the back isn't great at taking detailed shots.
You get a measly 8GB of onboard storage, or just over 3.4GB for apps and games. There isn't enough space to install a half-decent game on the limited storage, but you can utilize all that time saved by working on your documents as the full Office suite — including Word, Excel, OneDrive, OneNote, and Skype — is bundled with the phone. I managed to install a total of 21 third-party apps (and zero games) before hitting the storage limit, which is 10% of the amount of apps I currently have installed on the similarly-priced Redmi Note 3.
There really isn't anything exciting about the Galaxy J2 2016.
The phone is also lacking when it comes to sensors. There's no ambient light sensor, no magnetometer, no gyroscope, no fingerprint sensor, no NFC, and the notification LED is at the back (more on that later). The display is limited to 2-finger multitouch, and there's no oleophobic coating. Fast charging? No. It takes an agonizing three hours to fully charge the phone.
The Galaxy J2 2016 is the first phone to feature Samsung's new Smart Glow notification system, which sees an LED ring around the camera sensor at the back. The LED ring pulses every time you receive a notification, and there's also the option to customize the notification color. You get several software-based features that leverage the LED ring, such as Selfie assist. The feature lets you use the rear camera to take a selfie, with the LED ring guiding you to the center of the frame. While it is a new approach to the standard notification light, Smart Glow's effectiveness is fairly limited as it is at the back of the phone, rendering it useless unless you place the phone face down. And like most of the Galaxy J2, there is a fundamental flaw to Smart Glow: it only works with select Samsung apps, and is not compatible with third-party apps, unlike Light Flow.
The J2 2016 fails to handle any processor-intensive tasks — if you're able to install anything in the first place.
The phone runs Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow out of the box, but it doesn't come with TouchWiz. What you get instead is a stripped-down version that's "engineered" with Turbo Speed Technology, a combination of app and memory management to prevent any slowdowns. As you can imagine, that isn't the case. There is a noticeable stutter during everyday tasks like web browsing, checking Facebook or Twitter, and even navigating the UI. A notable difference is the app drawer, which scrolls vertically, much like the Google Now Launcher. Samsung also baked in an ultra data saving mode that works system-wide, allowing you to save on data when streaming music or videos.
Samsung is known for recycling old hardware and passing it along as new, and it has managed to do that successfully over the years in India. Last year's Galaxy J2 went on to become the best-selling smartphone in the country, and in just a few months Samsung shipped 13 million units of the J2 2016. To put things into perspective, the J2 — which is available in select markets — outsold the standard variant of the Galaxy S7.
The Galaxy J2 2016 is the perfect illustration of Samsung's marketing might. The company inundated the airwaves with commercials featuring Bollywood A-list celebrities and used its strong retail presence in tier 2 and tier 3 cities to aggressively promote the phone. The Indian market is saturated with plenty of phones that offer great value for money, notably the Redmi Note 3, the Moto G4 Plus, and the Lenovo K4 Note, but no vendor has Samsung's reach or marketing budget. With the likes of Xiaomi and LeEco duking it out in the online space, Samsung is continuing to sell underwhelming hardware by the millions to customers making their way online for the first time.
Even though the J2 2016 retails for the equivalent of $150, the outdated hardware means that it costs next to nothing for Samsung to make the phone. With other vendors selling at near manufacturing cost, Samsung is able to eke out much better profits, even in the budget segment. We will likely see a shift in the coming years, as Xiaomi has announced that it will expand into the offline space. OPPO and Vivo are also aggressively expanding into tier 2 and tier 3 cities, but it will be a challenge for these vendors to offer competitively-priced hardware while dealing with the overhead associated with offline sales.
If you're in the market for a budget phone, you should just go ahead and pick up the Redmi Note 3. For ₹9,999, the phone offers a metal chassis, and excellent hardware in the form of a 5.5-inch Full HD display, Snapdragon 650 SoC with newer Cortex A72 cores and Cortex A53 CPU cores, 2GB of RAM, 16GB storage, 16MP rear camera, 5MP front shooter, and a massive 4000mAh battery. There is a variant with 3GB of RAM as well as 32GB storage that is available for ₹11,999. If you can stretch your budget by a few thousand, the 32GB model is highly recommended.