Gadgets for humans

Budget carrier FreedomPop gets into branded hardware with sub-$100 smartphones and tablets


FreedomPop, a wireless operator that’s trying to shake up the industry with free plans, has announced its own line of handsets at tablets, all priced below $100.

In the past, FreedomPop has sold refurbished handsets from third-party manufacturers in order to keep prices down, but customer demand outstripped the supply of available second-hand devices. As such, the company decided to build its own.

The first such device is the FreedomPop Liberty, an $89 Wi-Fi tablet. Since FreedomPop is VoIP-based with Sprint’s network as a backup, the Liberty is technically a phablet, but, at 7 inches, I’d say it’s more of a phone that can make Wi-Fi calls and send texts.


In October, the company will release an LTE version of the Liberty for $99. Both devices will come with a tiny 4GB of flash storage. Finally, FreedomPop will release an $89 LTE Android phone in “the coming months.”

FreedomPop CEO Stephen Stokols said the company decided to create its own sub-$100 line of devices after watching the market segment grow in developing markets. He realized that the company could produce $100 phones and tablets with specs that would have been top-of-the-line just two to three years ago.

Of course, the quality of a low-end phone won’t compete with the latest flagships from Samsung and Apple, but Stokols asserted that the devices are “good.” I’ll have to see that with my own eyes to believe, but the products should at least be a step up from the feature phones that many budget conscious customers are using.

To put it into perspective, Stokols compared the new products to buying a Kia instead of a Mercedes. Not everyone wants a Kia, but it works well enough for those who need one.

Controlling the supply of tablets and handsets could help FreedomPop accelerate its growth. Stokols said the firm is prepared to order up to 100,000 devices a month if necessary. FreedomPop is also in talks with schools to possibly provide affordable tablets for classrooms.

The US is ripe for the arrival of truly low-end handsets. Frankly, FreedomPop still won’t be the best solution for the majority of consumers, but the company’s hardware play will help it better serve the growing segment of the market where it is.

Published October 1, 2014 — 13:00 UTC