Using WhatsApp on a R249 smartphone – Not for the faint-hearted

As the owner of a modern smartphone I’ve grown used to the feature-rich and smooth experience when using WhatsApp.

WhatsApp offers a host of impressive features, from in-line GIF searches to real-time location sharing and end-to-end encryption.

I did not realise how many of these features I took for granted however, until I installed WhatsApp on MTN’s R249 Smart S 3G smartphone.

At this price, you’re not getting a touchscreen device running Android 9.0 – but you do receive¬†smartphone capabilities via its KaiOS operating system.

This is a lightweight Linux-based OS that supports WhatsApp, Facebook, and Google Assistant.

As WhatsApp support is a highly-demanded feature in the low-end smartphone market, I braced for the ride ahead and opened the messaging app on the Smart S.

Interface and typing

Logging into WhatsApp was quick and easy using the platform’s SMS verification system, but once you have set up your profile the difference between the Android and KaiOS versions are noticeable.

Gone is the easy-to-use tabbed touch interface, and I was presented with a single Chat screen with a search field at the top.

The menu has to be navigated using physical keys below the screen and messages must be typed using the device’s keyboard.

If you ever feel nostalgic about the good-old-days of phones with number keys, I encourage you to try tapping out WhatsApp messages using a T9 (Text on 9 keys) keypad.

After sending a few messages on the Smart S, I was completely cured of said nostalgia and longed for the speed of my full touchscreen keyboard.

The app is not slow or difficult to use, though, but is more time-consuming. Additionally, the small resolution and size of the screen makes it difficult to view multiple messages and images.

Despite these drawbacks the basic WhatsApp features offered by the cheap smartphone are functional, making the Smart S a good choice for those on a serious budget.

WhatsApp in chat

Missing features

While WhatsApp on the Smart S includes the ability to send messages, images, voice notes, and videos, there are a number of features missing from this version of the app.

Most notably, video and voice calls are not available – which means owners will be forced to use more expensive traditional voice calls.

Emojis are also missing from the application, with none of the emojis sent from a standard Android smartphone visible in the KaiOS app.

The missing features include the following:

  • File sending
  • Voice calls
  • Video calls
  • Emojis
  • Status
  • GIF searches
  • File attachments

While it is impressive that such a cheap device can run WhatsApp – with a good selection of features enabled – the Smart S 3G is difficult to use if you are accustomed to high-end smartphones.

However, as an entry-level device delivering smartphone capabilities at R249, it is a great bargain.

Now read: WhatsApp adding feature to ignore hidden chats

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Using WhatsApp on a R249 smartphone – Not for the faint-hearted