Skip to main content

Obi MV1: A Sweet Budget Phone with a Big Mission

BARCELONA, Spain - With the MV1, Obi Worldphone returns with its third phone that’s made for emerging markets but good enough for the developed world. In fact, the company says it hopes to release this cheap but attractive handset in the U.S. by mid-year.

Starting at just $139, the MV1 is certainly priced low enough to make smartphones more accessible, but that doesn’t mean it's not a quality device. It comes with your choice of Android 5.1 or Cyanogen OS, a 5-inch 1280 x 720 display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 212 processor, 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. There’s also a $149 model featuring an extra gig of RAM, and in case 16GB of storage doesn’t cut it, both versions support micro SD expansion.

MORE: Best Cheap Smartphones

That’s a set of specs that seems perfect for a budget phone in the good ‘ole US of A, even though the 2-MP and 8-MP front and rear cameras could be better. But at least at first, the MV1 Is destined for more tech-strapped places such as large parts of Asia and Africa. Before all the MV1’s could be sent away to faraway lands, I took a trip down to the Obi Worldphone booth at MWC 2016 to see them for myself.

The first thing that struck me about the MV1 is how sophisticated it looks. I bet few people would ever guess without knowing that Obi’s phone is a sub-$150 device, let alone a piece of hardware meant for people living on the outskirts of modern civilization. The lock screen is bright and cheery, and with its sort of retro-modern design, the MV1 pleasantly surprised me with a reassuring feeling of density and heft.

I can’t quite get on board with Obi’s decision to set the MV1’s screen on the chassis in a way that creates a pretty pronounced, and somewhat uncomfortable ridge, but its overall look is sleek. 

I'm thinking that a phone like this doesn’t need to be just for emerging markets. And Obi seems to agree, because after the company rolls out the phone to parts of Latin America and Europe after Asia and Africa, it’s hoping to sell the MV1 right here in the U.S., perhaps by this summer.