Smart recently launched their very own Android smartphone called the Netphone 701. Most people would ask, “Why did Smart create it’s own Android phone?”
On it’s own the Smart Netphone 701 is just a plain-looking Android phone. In fact it’s just a re-branded ZTE Blade. 3.5″ display, 600MHz, Android 2.2 Froyo, it’s your typical mid-range Android smartphone. Nothing exceptional in terms of specs but it’s decent enough for somebody who wants to try Android. So what’s so special about it?
The beauty of the Netphone lies on what Smart calls SmartNet. You may call it a service, a site, a platform or even an app but it’s a whole new, different world Smart is getting into. Go to SmartNet.ph and sign up for an account and you will be greeted with a Facebook or Google Plus-like interface. Before you think that it’s just another social networking site tied up to your Smart account, well yes but it’s also a gateway to things that you would love.
First of all, SmartNet also serves as a global directory. All Netphone owners must sign up on SmartNet in order to fully utilize their phone. Your account will be tied up to either your phone number or your e-mail address. Once signed up, other SmartNet users can find and add you (with your permission) so you will be added to their Contacts. If you don’t want to build another contact list, I believe they’re coming up with some sort of Friend Finder based on e-mail address or phone number from your existing contact list.
Here’s something most people don’t know about the Netphone. It is tied up to the Smart network, the SIM card you used to register it, and the handset itself. The first SIM card you used to register to SmartNet will be the only number your Netphone will recognize (you can use your existing Smart SIM). If the phone gets stolen, or you decide to give it to another person, the owner must first call Smart support to have the Netphone unlinked so that another Smart SIM can be used on it. And if somehow you get it unlocked, you still can’t use SmartNet on it.
Since PLDT/Smart also owns Chikka (actually Chikka developed the SmartNet site), one of the attractive features of the NetPhone is IP Messaging. You can chat or message other Netphone users on your contact list for free as long as you’re on the Smart network and have at least a peso load. No need to consume your load for SMS as long as your buddy is also part of SmartNet.
I talked with one of the SmartNet developers who also revealed that VoIP is also in the works. Free calls between SmartNet users? Yes please.
Not only is SmartNet its own social network, it’s also feed aggregator. Right now, you can link your Facebook and Twitter account so you can view status updates from both accounts through SmartNet. You can reply or post updates yourself through SmartNet which will also post it on either your Facebook, Twitter or both. Photos also work by the way. Upload photos to your SmartNet account and it will be mirrored on your Facebook.
It also features its own instant messaging and an option for you to attach your Yahoo! account.
Remember that access to the SmartNet is free for Netphone users so in effect, managing your Facebook and Twitter (in a limited way) is also free as well as messaging your Yahoo! friends. I hope other popular online services will also be incorporated, Foursquare please? I believe LinkedIn is already on its way.
Obviously the biggest hurdle for Smart is adaption. The Smart Netphone 701 is going to be available on September 10 but we were told a lot of people are already pre-ordering it. Then there’s also around a thousand units released to select people to give the userbase of SmartNet a jumpstart.
But how many people will actually get a Netphone only to chat for free with a handful of their buddies? The Netphone 701 is priced at Php9,990 for a prepaid kit which is actually nice for Smart subscribers who are planning to go with Android. It is also available for free for Plan 1000 and Plan 800 postpaid subscribers. They are also going to release a cheaper and a high-end version soon but no forecast on that yet. (Prepaid and Postpaid plans)
What about people who already have their Galaxy S2’s or HTC’s or those with BlackBerries and iPhones? Those who are happy with BBM, waiting for iMessaging or the new Samsung ChatON. What would make them decide to get their own Netphone? Smart is going to bring SmartNet as an app to the Android market and other platforms but it won’t have the same free access that Netphone owners enjoy. I don’t think Smart is planning to convert these consumers to Netphone owners but instead convert them to Smart subscribers with some sort of data plan just so that their Netphone-toting friends can communicate with them for free.
It’s a really different ballgame Smart is playing with the introduction of this NetPhone. It’s also scary to think that they can try a lot of pricing combination for their Netphones, the SmartNet and the services it can offer but I hope that whatever they decide to do or how they would want to do things, always keep the “masa” in mind since that’s the goal of the NetPhone in the first place — making the smartphone accessible and attractive to a lot of people.