The Mingtong Digital Mall in Shenzhen provides the answer for how cheaply can you make a phone, with the answer being $12 on the Gongkai phone, which isn’t exactly a smartphone with plenty of features, but does offer a quad-band GSM, Bluetooth, MP3 playback, and an OLED display plus keypad for the UI.
$12 Is the price paid for a single quantity retail, contract-free, non-promotional, unlocked phone, coming along with a charger, protective silicone sleeve and cable. How is this possible? Maybe they’re using animals who don’t require pay to create this phone, but it’s also about hardly using anything that isn’t necessary for the function of the phone.
For example – no screws. The whole case snaps together. Everything from the display to the battery is soldered directly to the board; for shipping and storage, you get to flip a switch to hard-disconnect the battery. There are almost no connectors on the inside.
There are also the electronics, consisting of just two major ICs – the Mediatek MT6250DA, and a Vanchip VC5276. It almost sounds as if you can build a phone like this, given the right schematics and plans, on your own. If you know a bit of Chinese, and know the right websites to go to, you can download schematics, board layouts, and software utilities for something rather similar to this phone it’s possible to try and build this one at home for a minimal cost.
It might not be your primary cell phone you use every day to play stupid games on while riding on the subway, but it’s hard to find a better price for something to serve as your useful backup phone.