The original MTN Steppa was 2013’s surprise smartphone package. At just R499 it was the first sub $50 smartphone we had ever seen and for the price it was a lot of smartphone. It was so good in fact that MTN completely sold out of its entire stock of 200 000 Steppas in a few short months leaving some customers confused as to where the phone had gone.
Roll the calendar forward another 12 months and MTN and Qualcomm are back with the Steppa 2, a smartphone with vastly better specification but a price that has doubled in the time since to accommodate the new found hardware prowess.
Are the changes enough to justify the steep price increase? Is this the best budget smartphone you can buy at the moment? Will there be enough stock to satisfy the market? All these answers, and some more, can be yours for the low, low price of just scrolling down to read on.
As uninspiring as the Steppa 2 originally appears, it’s actually rather pleasant once you get it in hand. The curved edges lend to a very comfortable grip and the plastic makes for a rather grippy hold that should limit the number of times the Steppa hits the floor.
The capacitive buttons underneath the display are of the old Android variation with ‘home’ and ‘back’ joined by a ‘menu’ button instead of an app switcher which needs to be activated by double tapping home. It’s definitely a backwards step from where Android is currently heading and makes for a slightly less useful smartphone.
The MTN Steppa 2 runs on budget smartphone hardware of that there can be no doubt, however, what passes for budget hardware these days is vastly different to just 12 months ago.
A dual core 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 processor with 512MB of RAM is responsible for running the show and, while it would have been nice to see an increase in the memory size from the original Steppa but there were seldom times where the OS lagged substantially to justify the extra expense it would have incurred.
There is 4GB of internal storage – a four-fold increase in capacity from its predecessor – which can be expanded with a microSD card to accommodate media files as well as a 5megapixel camera at the back and a VGA front facing camera.
It has a 4inch display with a 480×800 resolution and is kept alive by a 1 500mAh battery which comes with the first generation of Qualcomm’s Quick Charge technology. That allows the phone and the included charger to regulate the flow of electricity into the battery, optimising how fast it recharges to get more battery life from less time plugged.
Smaller than expected RAM capacity aside it’s truly remarkable to see how much can be crammed into a R1 000 phone in terms of sheer hardware power, especially when you look at how much MTN and Qualcomm have managed to get done in just a year.
Gone is that ghastly custom skin that MTN threw over the beautiful Android OS in the original Steppa. For the sequel, it’s been replaced with a near-vanilla version of Android 4.3 with a smattering of MTN branded bloatware.
With only 512MB of RAM it was surprising to see that the Steppa 2 wouldn’t launch with Android 4.4 preloaded, as the newer version of the OS was specifically designed to drastically improve performance on phones with a minimum of half a gigabyte of memory. MTN has said that an update is on the way, though, so there should be a tasty performance boost in store for new owners soon (if it’s delivered, of course).
The 4inch display is both larger than the 3.5inch one in the original Steppa and higher resolution. With a 480×800 resolution it is also beats the 320×480 resolution of its predecessor.
Viewing angles are still pretty abysmal though. The screen does seem a bit brighter than before and more colourful, but look at it even a hair’s breadth away from dead on and things become pale and washed out.
It’s a pity that the display is not up to the level of the rest of the components because it’s the one that is most directly used by anyone who has the phone.
The 5megapixel camera takes respectable enough images but the interface is atrocious. The photo app has been much improved in newer versions of Android, so you’re going to want to grab something like Instagram from Google Play for better photo taking options.
Qualcomm’s influence in the battery of the Steppa 2 is already apparent with the inclusion of the Quick Charge technology in the phone and the charger.
However Qualcomm has also thrown in some software into the Steppa 2 in the form of Battery Guru which analyses your smartphone and app usage habits over three days to learn how you use the Steppa 2. Battery Guru then enables location based WiFi connectivity which only turns on your WiFi when the Steppa 2 knows you’re near a hotspot you can connect to as well as batching background app refresh.
To make even better use of your battery power and data Battery Guru also prevents apps from fetching new data whenever they want to and will instead control the schedule globally to make sure that the Steppa 2 wakes up to fetch data fewer times in the day. You can of course exempt apps from this if you want a specific one – like WhatsApp – to be able to fetch data any time it wants. It works a treat and helps keep the Steppa 2 running for far longer than its 1 500mAh battery would suggest it should.
So the Steppa 2 is a worthy upgrade to its predecessor and generally a better phone all round. There is, however, one big kicker to this review: all those improvements come at a price. Whereas last year’s model was under R500, this is almost double that at R999 cash. You do get 200MB of data a month for the first year with that thrown in, but there’s a lot of competition out there for less including Alcatel OneTouch’s Pixi 2 at R649 and arch-rival Vodacom’s R899 Smart 4 Mini which comes with 250MB of data once off for your troubles.
If you’re not on a supertight budget, though, we’d still recommend the Steppa 2 over these, mainly because the Snapdragon processor is simply that much better than the Mediatek one used in its rivals. And if you do splash out, the Steppa 2 is fantastic example of what can be achieved with a bit more than the bare essentials. The only pity is that the memory is limited until the arrival of Android 4.4 and the display will forever be crippled by those terrible viewing angles.
Display: 4 inch, 480×800 resolution LCD display (233ppi)
Operating System: Android 4.3
Processor: 1.2GHz dual core Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 processor
Memory: 512MB of RAM
Storage: 4GB expandable with a microSD card
Battery: 1 500mAh
Camera: 5 megapixel rear camera, VGA front-facing camera
Networking: 802.11 WiFi, Bluetooth