MTN Steppa – One way to skin a phone

Let’s get something out of the way right now. That rating you see? It isn’t really representative of what MTN’s custom Steppa smartphone is. What it represents is a comparison to the other high-end smartphones on the market today and that’s not what the Steppa deserves, because it’s aimed at a whole other market. How do we know this? Probably because you can pick one of these devices up for, oh, R500. Say what you like about Sony, Apple, Samsung and Nokia, none of them are going to give you an Android smartphone at that price point worth a damn.

With that little hurdle cleared, let’s examine what MTN has on offer here. The Steppa isn’t a major player with regards to specifications but it’s perhaps the best value you’re going to get while still having a fully-functional smartphone in your pocket.

The fully-functional smartphone isn’t going to feature the latest and greatest in technology though. The Steppa has a Qualcomm processor (just which one it is isn’t specified) that is a single-core chip running at 1GHz. 512MB of system memory and 1GB of storage are the other main features but there’s an option for a microSD to expand your storage.

MTN’s display is a 3.5-inch colour screen. It doesn’t have the world’s greatest resolution, clocking in at 320 x 480, and the whole lot is powered by a 1,300mAh battery that has a surprisingly lengthy powered-on time. The other feature of note is a 2MP camera which features an autofocus system. It’s not splendid but it gets the job done. Lastly, running on the Steppa is a very customised version of Android 2.3.5 Ginger Bread.

MTN has made the Steppa very easy to set up and use, though we’re at a loss to explain why they felt the need to make the initial boot-up feature an unskippable questionnaire asking about the user’s personal interests. It might have something to do with the advertising banner that displays on the Steppa at all times. The ads, which we assume are part of the reason why the Steppa is so cheap, cannot be removed and rotate through a series of possibly-targeted promotions. For the review, most of these had to do with MTN products but that’ll probably change over time.

The custom Android Ginger Bread OS is very simple, with only three screens available to users. One is the main screen, which has some quick-launch shortcuts, the other is a list of your apps and the final screen is the only one can be customised with widgets. Getting into the settings menu takes some finding, using one of the soft buttons will bring up a settings option that lets you into the Steppa’s back-end. More or less.

There you have it. The Steppa isn’t the world’s best smartphone but it might be the easiest entry-point into the world of smartphones. It’s definitely the cheapest. For its target market, the Steppa is probably the ideal phone but it will probably act like a gateway drug. But, in order to get one, you’ll have to put up with a fair amount of advertising all the time. If you can get past that, the Steppa isn’t all that bad.

Stuff South Africa's online editor and print assistant editor, Brett Venter has churned out more words on more titles than most journalists will in a career. He's kind of shy.

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