A couple of weeks ago, I came across news reports that MTS, a Russian mobile provider, was coming out with its own Android phone. My first thought was: Russians making smartpones, seriously? But then I decided to see for myself what the whole deal was about. Unlike other Android devices, this new phone is going to run on GLOSNASS - the Russian military's equivalent of GPS. Find out more about Russia's attempt at breaking out onto the Android scene.
The MTS 945 GLONASS Android (can't Russians make anything sound NOT Soviet?!) is a low-end Android smartphone that runs Android 2.2. From the looks of it, it doesn't look very interesting. It has basically everything you'd expect from a cheap Android device: 2MP camera, micro SD card, a 3.2 inch display. So what's the big deal? Well, the difference is that this phone uses both GPS and Glonass for navigation. Glonass was a navigation system developed by the Russian military in the Soviet era in order to compete with the American GPS system during the Cold War. Finally, high-level Russian government officials have put millions and millions of dollars into improving the system and making it available to the public.
Now Russia is trying to compete with the rest of the world with its new system. The MTS 945 will be able to navigate using both Glonass and GPS, which is supposed to give more accurate results. So far so good, right? Well, there's one big problem with the device: it costs $400 without a contract! Who the hell would pay that much money to get a cheap run of the mill Android phone that uses Russian military technology? Although the phone has been advertised as Russia's first Android phone, the device is actually being made by ZTE - a pretty obscure Chinese company that specializes on low-end Android phones. So it's not even Russian? What a dissapointment!
I decided to call up some friends back in Moscow to get some reactions on the MTS 945. "The phone isn't anything special at all. It's just a PR mode by the government to market its new navigation system," a Russian friend of mine told me over the phone. And apparently, Russia's super hyped up navigation system isn't even all that great. Police officers and ambulance drivers have been constantly complaining about problems with Russia's Glonass system, which it is now mandatory to use on all government vehicles.
So there you have it. Russia may know how to make good ballistic rockets, but it still has a long way to go before it can come up with a decent Android device. I hope prime-minister Putin doesn't have me arrested for saying that :)