You lazybones (and other profane adjectives), are you trying to save space by writing one huge review instead of three?

Perish the thought. This is the Web so unlike print, space is not the final frontier. We just did not want to risk your wrath by writing the same thing again and again, and believe us, that increasingly seemed like the case.

You mean to say…these three Android One phones are THAT similar?

In a word, yes. They all have a similar display: 4.5 inch (854 x 480). They all are powered by the same 1.3 GHz quad core processor from MediaTek They all have 1 GB of RAM They all have 4 GB of storage (expandable to 32 GB) They all have dual SIM connectivity with 3G They all have 1700mAh battery They all have a 5.0-megapixel rear camera and a 2.0-megapixel front-facing one (and you cannot take any photographs using them unless there is a microSD card inserted in them)

They have almost the same length, breadth and height, and well, put them front face up and you will find it tough to distinguish between them – even the bezels surrounding the displays are of similar size and all of them have speaker grilles located above the display with the front facing camera to its left. All peas of a pod, really. Yep, that similar.

But don’t you guys claim that hardware is just a spec sheet, and performance also depends on UI and a host of other factors?

Yes, we plead guilty of said sentiment. However, what we have here is almost the same hardware, with the same stock Android OS on it – all of them run Android KitKat. The only difference is in the wallpapers on the devices, and a few preinstalled apps from the sellers and manufacturers – if you bought yours from Snapdeal, you would get a Snapdeal app on it, the Spice Dream Uno device comes with the Spice Cloud app, the Micromax Canvas A1 with the M!Live app and so on. All of them, after all, use Google’s stock reference design. These are clones under different names, believe you us.

But they all LOOK different…

You put your finger on the one point that distinguishes them from each other: design. They all have the same innards and the same software, but they look slightly different. The Karbonn Sparkle V has colourful back covers and a slightly box-y look on the sides, while the Micromax Canvas A1 and the Spice Dream Uno are more curved on the sides. Button placement is dead similar – power/display button above volume rocker on the right side, and all three have backs with a 5.0-megapixel camera and a LED flash just below it on the top left corner. The cameras look a bit different though – the Spice Dream Uno has preferred not to add any design elements to it, the Karbonn Sparkle V has the camera component in a slightly raised rectangular box, and the Micromax Canvas A1 has the most spectacular looking camera of the three: in a metal coloured, raised disc. Oh, and the speaker grilles on the back are slightly different too – the Dream Uno and Canvas A1 have spherical ones, while the Sparkle V has a slightly long-ish one. The Dream Uno’s volume rocker and display/power buttons are part of the phone body and not the back cover.

And there the differences pretty much end. Even the 3.5 mm audio jacks are placed on the same side (top left corner, when seen from front). Oh and the micro USB ports are in similar locations too (bottom right corner, seen from the front). Get rid of the back cover and sides, and Shakespeare could do a Comedy of Errors with these, we tell you!

What do they feel like, to hold and use? Similar again?

Very similar. For the record, we LOVE the fact that these phones do not have massive displays designed to stretch pockets and palms. They all are very comfortable to use one-handed. All three feel reassuringly solid, and are reasonably slim too. Speaking purely on a personal basis, we felt that the Canvas A1 had the most premium feel to it. It just felt more smoothly and cleanly finished. The Sparkle V has a slight, edgy feel to it because its sides are not curving outwards, and the Dream Uno feels remarkably normal. All in all, we have no complaints in the touchy feely department.

On to what matters: performance. How well do they do in that department?

What about the camera? And don’t use the ‘similar’ word again!

(sigh) We honestly expected the cameras to be different on the three devices, notwithstanding the similar megapixel count but really, the results were once again, astoundingly similar (so, sorry, but there is no other word for it). We found all three delivering reasonably decent results in good light conditions – not on par with the 5.0-megapixel shooter we saw on the Lumia 630 – but good enough for sharing on social networks. Performance too was smooth enough, with pictures being taken with reasonable speed (there is a slight pause, though). The interface is stock Android and HDR results are not too bad either. Good enough for social photography, definitely, but no competition for the likes of the Redmi 1S, which has a terrific 8.0-megapixel shooter on it at a lower price. If we had to pick one of the three, however, we would go with the Spice Dream Uno – it just seemed to get marginally better results and handle reflections slightly better. Check the sample images below – we tried to take similar shots to make things clearer. In all the comparison shots below, Karbonn Sparkle V is on the left, Micromax Canvas A1 in the middle and Spice Dream Uno on the right. Also, click on each of the images for full-sized versions hosted on Flickr.

What about sound and multimedia?

In a word, mediocre. Sound on the loudspeaker was adequate for all three devices, but we think the earphones deliver a much better experience. Watching films was again a middle of the road experience – we did see slight lags in some HD films, but by and large, things went off well once again. YouTube videos work well and the displays are decent enough for Web browsing and even the odd spot of reading. Call quality is good rather than great – we think the Moto E and the Lumia 530 score over it quite comfortably in that department.

What sort of benchmark scores did the three devices get?

You will be tired of hearing this, but that word again: similar. Mind you, they are very respectable for this price point. Here you go: feast your eyes. Again, Karbonn is on left, Micromax in the middle and Spice on right.

What are the strong points of the trio?

Android, Android and more Android. If you had told us a year ago that we would be getting this level of performance in devices that cost slightly more than a hundred US Dollars, we would have put you a breath analyser test. Having used this threesome, there’s no getting around it – these are among the best performing Android devices we have seen at these price points. They did run into some trouble in some games and we noticed that as the SD cards started filling, there was a slight dip in speed, but by and large, these are brilliant at handling most apps and regular tasks like social networks, browsing and mail. The fact that they are unhindered by ‘skins’ makes the interface much smoother. Yes, you can do the ‘Ok Google’ thing with all three.

Give us the bad news then: weaknesses?

Weaknesses we would say are battery life and the camera. If you end up using 3G and keep notifications on, you will run out of charge very fast. The cameras on all three devices are also mediocre at best – you will get pictures that are Facebook-worthy in good light, but we would advise against expecting too much when evening descends.

I need a smartphone under Rs 6,500. Are these my best options?

Massive, HUGE question. At the time of launch, the Karbonn Sparkle V and the Spice Dream Uno were priced at Rs 6,399, while the Micromax Canvas A1 came with a Rs 6,499 price tag. At the time of writing, there has been a slight erosion in their prices, and the Sparkle V is actually available for Rs 5,999, but by and large, the prices have not changed much. They are all well under the Rs 6,500 point. We have been using the three Android One devices for a while now and while there is no doubt that they deliver a very good Android experience, we still think that the likes of the Asus ZenFone 4 and the Xiaomi Redmi 1S have the edge on them in terms of display quality, camera and interface – both of which are priced at Rs 5,999. Yes, our geek blood hums happily at the sight of vanilla Android, but many mainstream consumers seem to prefer the more stylish Zen interface of Asus or the MIUI of Xiaomi. And both devices have much better cameras. Speaking of which, there is also the little matter of the Moto E, which is also priced at Rs 5,999 and while it does lag on the camera front (fixed focus alas), it trumps the Android One trio in display, build and in sound quality too. The ZenFone 4 and Moto E also are running on Android KitKat so the Android Ones don’t have a massive edge over them right now in the OS department. But yes, if being updated to the latest version of Android all the time DOES matter to you, you would be hard pressed to find better options.

Right, I want an Android One phone. Which one should I go for?

With performance, hardware and software being pretty much similar, the key difference is the design. We discussed the design of the three handsets in some detail in an earlier post. But to summarise:

Those who love colourful phones will love the Karbonn. The funky crowd. The Micromax Canvas A1 had the most premium feel in terms of design – good finish and that disc around the camera is a neat touch. The executives. The Spice is for those who prefer their Android plain and simple and are not phone flaunters. It is reassuringly solid. The geeks.

Suppose I want to bide my time. Are there going to be more Android One phones coming?

Yep. We are hearing of devices coming from Xolo and Intex. And while there is unlikely to be too much change in hardware and software, we certainly are expecting some design tweaks, especially from Xolo, which is forging a bit of a reputation for itself in this regard. The action has only begun on Android One. Coming days could also see devices from Lenovo and HTC, both of which are part of the Android One movement.