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Samsung Z1: The first Tizen phone (finally) arrives

After years of setbacks, Samsung has finally launched the first phone running its open-source Tizen operating system. The Samsung Z1 launched in India this week, and costs less than $100.

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Bollywood actress Huma Qureshi (L) and Samsung India Electronics president Hyun Chil Hong hold Z1 phones at a launch event in New Delhi.

Adnan Abidi/Reuters

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For years, Samsung has been trying to introduce its own mobile operating system to compete with Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android.

Though the operating system, named Tizen, found its way into some Samsung TVs, home appliances, and wearable devices, it never made an appearance in a phone – until now.

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After multiple setbacks and delays, the first Tizen-powered phone became available in India this week. The Samsung Z1 costs 5,700 Indian rupees ($92), and has a 4-inch display and a 1.2 GHz dual-core processor.

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Compared to powerhouse smart phones such as the iPhone 6 and even Samsung’s own Galaxy S5, the Z1 is pretty weak under the hood. But it’s also far cheaper than top-of-the-line smart phones, and Samsung is clearly hoping that its first-ever Tizen phone will attract customers at the lower end of the phone market. The Z1 also comes with three months of complimentary access to Indian entertainment services, so customers can enjoy movies and music for free.

The Z1 also features a unique SOS alert, which is triggered by pressing the phone’s power button four times in a row. When that happens, the Z1 begins broadcasting its location and automatically sends a request for help to the primary contacts in the phone’s address book. It’s possible that this feature was added to address growing concerns about the safety of women in India, as thousands have protested against the country’s high rate of sexual assault.

Tizen itself is designed to be a faster, lighter-weight operating system than either iOS or Android. Samsung says that Tizen allows the Z1 to boot quickly and conserve battery life, even though the phone’s hardware is low-end. Tizen is open-source, based on the Linux operating system, but so far not many other companies have embraced it. One exception is Facebook, which built a version of the WhatsApp message system for Tizen.

Tizen may face an uphill battle if customers shy away from an unproven operating system, so Samsung plans to emphasize its own well-known brand name in selling the phone. Google also offers inexpensive Android One smart phones in India, which have the advantage of being compatible with the more than one million apps in the Google Play Store. Android One phones will run a mostly-vanilla version of Android, and Google will send out software updates itself so users don’t have to wait a long time for carrier-specific updates.