The smartphones under R500 that can use WhatsApp

Every year, there is a new flood of smartphones launched into the global market. Some of these devices boast hefty price tags and the latest features, while others simply offer great value paired with basic smartphone functionality.

Many South African mobile operators are focusing on this value smartphone offering in an effort to convert more of their customers to smartphones. The more smartphone-wielding customers a mobile operator has, the more data they will sell.

While the smartphone market in South Africa is growing rapidly, the barrier to entry is still relatively high, with even the cheapest smartphones on the market priced at over R1,000.

Pair this with relatively expensive data prices due to a lack of available spectrum and it becomes difficult to buy and run a smartphone with a limited income in South Africa.

Recent software launches such as Android Go and Kai OS have changed the game, however, and smartphone features are beginning to roll out to devices priced below R500.

There are two devices currently available in South Africa which support smartphone features such as WhatsApp and Google Maps and are priced at below R500 – the MTN Smart S 3G and the Mobicel Astro.

We have outlined the features and limitations of these two devices below.


MTN Smart S 3G – R249

MTN’s ultra-budget smartphone is named the Smart S 3G, and it is priced at only R249.

It includes support for various “smart” applications through the KaiOS operating system, which is more lightweight than Android but substantially less powerful.

The MTN Smart S 3G comes with numerous smartphone apps installed – including WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube, and Google Assistant.

When it comes to hardware, the MTN Smart S looks like a feature phone-smartphone hybrid, with physical buttons and a display that is relegated to the top half of the phone, above the keypad.

It has both front and rear cameras, though, and boasts up to five days of battery life in addition to GMS radio features and dual-SIM support.

Below are the specifications of the MTN Smart S 3G, which is available from MTN stores in South Africa.

MTN Smart S 3G (10)

MTN Smart S
OS KaiOS 2.5
Display 2.4-inch
Processor SC7731
RAM 256MB
Storage 512MB, microSD up to 32GB
Main Camera 1.3MP
Front Camera 1.3MP
Connectivity Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, 3G
Ports microUSB, 3.5mm audio jack
Battery 2,000mAh
Price R249

Mobicel Astro – R449

Mobicel’s Astro smartphone is around R200 more expensive than MTN’s hybrid option, but it has many more features.

This is thanks to its use of the Android 8.1 Go operating system, which is a lightweight version of the standard Android OS found on most expensive smartphones.

It offers similar functionality, including support for many Android applications and data saving features which would be ideal for budget smartphone owners.

The Astro is also a more modern device than the MTN Smart S 3G, and includes a touch screen and a more powerful chipset to deliver a traditional smartphone experience.

There are still some limitations compared to smartphones which run full versions of Android, but these are limited to high-end features and apps which should not affect daily use too severely.

Below are the specifications of the Mobicel Astro, which is available from retail stores across South Africa.

Mobicel Astro
OS Android 8.1 Go
Display 4-inch 800 x 480 LCD
CPU SC7731E
RAM 512MB
Storage 4GB, microSD up to 32GB
Main Camera 2MP
Front Camera 0.3MP
Connectivity Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 3G
Battery 1,400mAh
Price R449

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The smartphones under R500 that can use WhatsApp