Both Lava and Micromax are trying to make their presence felt outside the “economy" segment that these handset makers are known for. The latest Android versions from both, released last month, are solid efforts. They are now competing with brands such as Samsung, HTC and Motorola, and while they might not be the best in their class, the handsets offer real options for shoppers.

Lava S12

Lava S12: The phone looks good but isn’t a top-of-the-line performer.

It’s a stylish phone—with a brown, leather-backed case and a slightly curved design that fits nicely in the hand. The Android buttons at the bottom are physical buttons, which makes it easy to use even in the dark, but the build quality around the buttons is not the best—they can stick sometimes, and don’t register clicks at other times.

The phone runs Android 2.2 with a custom 3D interface, which is a simple but slow interface. Switching between homescreens is done on a 3D cylinder layout, which is visually pleasing but a little confusing because it accelerates when it turns, making it hard to get the screen you want unless you scroll slowly. At 120g, it is also fairly heavy considering that it has a compact 3.2-inch screen.

Scrolling is not smooth either, and given the size of the screen, this is a problem because you’re going to need to scroll and zoom a lot on websites to read the text on the screen. This is made slightly worse by the fact that the display is nothing special.

The phone does, however, come with a reasonable 5 MP camera that can produce decent results in good lighting. When it is even slightly dark, though, be prepared for grainy, out-of-focus photographs.

The battery life isn’t particularly impressive—the company claims 10 hours of talktime on 2G, but even without any data usage, it was barely able to stay on beyond 6 hours of use.

For its price, the Lava is a competent handset, but the 3D user interface (UI) quickly becomes a nuisance. The phone looks a lot better than similarly priced Android handsets, and consumers will likely appreciate that. The problem is that it is around Rs1,000 more expensive than the similar Galaxy Y from Samsung. It’s also a lot bigger and heavier.

Micromax A85 ‘Superfone’

Micromax A85: A powerful phone let down by its weak battery.

The phone has a maximum retail price (MRP) of Rs25,000, but you can get it for around Rs19,000. It has a 1 GHz dual-core processor and an Nvidia Tegra 2 graphics card that makes it extremely useful for 3D rendering. The phone comes with 8 GB of on-board storage—fairly standard at that price point— which can be extended to 32 GB using an SD card.

The Android interface is nothing special, running Android 2.2, but according to the manufacturer, an upgrade to 2.3 is in the works. There are no details about whether the phone will be upgraded to Android 4.0, the next phone OS from Android.

The 3.8-inch screen is big enough for comfortable Web browsing, videos and games— the phone is particularly good for gaming because of the Tegra processor, and comes with the Nvidia app that helps users find high-end games easily.

The screen has a reasonable resolution, but the contrast and richness of colours is not as good as we have seen on other brands such as Samsung or Sony.

It is thicker than other phones with similar specifications, such as the LG Optimus 2X or the Samsung Galaxy S, and even though it is actually 3gms lighter than the Samsung, it feels heavy because of the extra thickness.

The phone has a 1,500 mAh battery that will be completely drained in around 6 hours with normal use, so keep your charger handy at all times.

The verdict

Both the phones look good, but their performances are varied. The Lava S12 doesn’t compare well with Samsung’s Galaxy Y. The front panel is a little too big for the size of the screen, and the custom UI is something users will quickly grow tired of. The real draw of the phone is that it looks a lot fancier than others at the same price.

Micromax fares a bit better, but the specs will really matter only to a small niche of users. The hardware is great for running 3D games or watching full HD movies—but the A85 lacks an HDMI output, to play these on the big screen.

If you still want the muscle, the A85 is a great pick, because other Tegra phones cost almost Rs5,000 more.

The apps that benefit most from a dual core processor are 3D games. If you plan to use the phone for less graphically intensive tasks, the Motorola Defy Plus and the Samsung Galaxy S are also excellent options, and both come for the same price as the A85.

Bare minimum

While Micromax and Lava have launched their most expensive handsets, MTS has announced its cheapest, the Livewire, a 5,000 Android phone. It is, however, locked to MTS, and only available in Maharashtra and Karnataka.