Let’s get this out of the way now – the Aspera Gem is not a fancy phone. It doesn’t have NFC, wireless or fast charging, face unlock, uses micro USB, is gonna be slow, there’s not gonna be many updates if any and the camera is a potato – but let’s keep that in perspective considering it’s just $149 down at Big W or Amazon AU with a full Australian warranty.
What the Aspera Gem does have however, is a very acceptable quality screen, dual SIM capability, a goddamn 3.5mm headphone jack, a fingerprint reader and a removable battery. It runs Android 9 (albeit with security patches only up to September 2019) and has access to the full Google Play Store.
After a few hours tooling around with the Gem, it’s obviously not a phone I’d be comfortable with using day-to-day. Apps are slow to load, running too many at once (e.g: swapping between Twitter, Facebook, Slack, OneDrive and a few tabs open in Chrome) grinds things to a halt and the camera is very average.
But if all you do on your smartphone is make calls & SMS, watch a bit of YouTube, drive around with Google Maps, chat to your mates with whatever messaging platform takes your fancy and you’re on a budget – the Gem will be good enough. Slow, but with its 2GB of RAM it’ll be better than basically every sub-$99 phone that only packs 1GB and is totally unsuitable for anything besides a glorified calculator.
The real question is how does it compare to what else is on the market for around the same price?
There’s heaps of no-name Chinese phones with better specs either via eBay or Gearbest/Banggood/DealExtreme that are alluring but they’ve got suspicious firmware, don’t have the Google Play store enabled and won’t have any warranty if they die (and they do).
Right now Coles is selling the Telstra Evoke Plus for $129 or the Optus X Wave 4G for $119. Deals like this pop up often and they’ve got similar specs to the Aspera Gem with the bonus of coming with some credit, but they’re locked to that telco, usually have bloated firmwares and don’t have dual SIM capability.
Officeworks, JB Hi-Fi, The Good Guys and Harvey Norman are the least hassle places to buy an unlocked smartphone from. In this $150 price range there’s not much that has 2GB of RAM is dual-SIM. The Alcatel 1X and Nokia 1 Plus hang around here and they’re definetly not as usable as the Aspera Gem. Kick the price up to around $200 and the Nokia 2.3 is a little snappier than the Aspera Gem and will get regular updates, but costs more.
My usual recommendation for most people on a budget that want a smartphone that doesn’t suck is a Xiaomi Mi A3. It’s just $295 from Xiaomi’s official Amazon AU store (so if it goes tits up, it’s easy to return), has double the RAM, will get updates for a while because it’s an Android One phone, is wayyyy faster and the camera is pretty good. The Mi A3 is basically the cheapest phone I’d use day to day with no complaints.
However, if $300 is still reaching too far for you and your needs are extremely basic, the Aspera Gem is a way better option than basically everything else brand new in the $150 price range unless the $199 Nokia 2.3 goes on sale at some point in the near future.