ZTE Racer Review : The £99 Android Handset

Our first encounter with a ZTE phone came earlier this year with the F102, a phone that stayed with us for several months and is still UK's cheapest 3G handset on the market.

The Chinese company is looking to shed its image as a dirt-cheap, entry level, no-name handset manufacturer and aim for more expensive market segments where profits are significantly higher; such a strategy worked perfectly well before for another company, HTC.

The Racer is the company's first Android handset and one which has been keenly priced at £99 on PAYG from 3 UK, a price that includes a £10 http://threestore.three.co.uk/payg/default.aspx?zte=1 top-up. It is also available from as little as £13 per month on 3's http://threestore.three.co.uk/handsets.aspx?tariffid=1560&mixnmatch=1 Internet Talker Time 300 which gives 300 minutes or texts, 5000 3-to-3 minutes and 500MB internet

The Chinese company is looking to shed its image as a dirt-cheap, entry level, no-name handset manufacturer and aim for more expensive market segments where profits are significantly higher. Such a strategy worked perfectly well before for another company - HTC.

The Racer is the company's first Android-based handset and one which has been keenly priced at £99 on PAYG from 3 UK - a price that includes a £10 top-up.

It is also available from as little as £13 per month on 3's Internet Talker Time 300 which gives 300 minutes or texts, 5000 3-to-3 minutes and 500MB internet.

The Racer has a slightly tapered plastic body with a rubber back adorned with Android and 3 logos. The front is home to three touch sensitive keys (menu, back and home) plus a silver bar to make and end calls. On top is the power button and the audio jack.

At 100g, the Android handset is only slightly stockier than the F102 and that's an excellent thing. Sadly you have to remove the back cover, a difficult thing in itself, to access the microSD card.

Presented as a smartphone that will bring Android to the masses, the phone comes with a 2.8-inch display with a resistive touchscreen, one which can display 320x240 pixels and is fairly standard at this price range; don't expect anything like the Retina display on the iPhone 4 in terms of colour reproduction or digital control.

The rest of the configuration is pretty much what we'd expect for £99.99 - there's a 2GB microSD card (courtesy of Verbatim) that can be swapped for one up to 8GB, 256MB memory, an ARM-based processor (Qualcomm MSM series clocked at 600MHz), a microUSB charger and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

It also sports an FM radio, HSDPA compatibility, Bluetooth 2.1, GPS, accelerometer and 802.11b/g Wi-Fi. The 1100mAh battery has a stated standby battery life of 200 hours and 210 minutes worth of talk time respectively Unfortunately we were not able to test either of those.

The 3.2-megapixel camera is a rudimentary model with no flash. We suspect that it is the same one as on the F102, which translates into grainy, poorly detailed pictures, especially in the dark and in artificial light.

The picture of an iPhone 4 (see below) appears to have been taken through a thick fog, and, like most entry level optical solutions, moving the device only slightly produces a fuzzy image. You will be able to alter the brightness and colour settings as on most other handsets at this price.

This, being a smartphone with a resistive 2.8-inch display, trying to control tiny icons appeared to be less intuitive than on the iPhone 4. You have to PRESS hard on the screen to execute any movements; no miracles here. We had issues with the built in accelerometer - it failed to work properly on Youtube but not on the messaging app.

T3 reports that it causes a playback glitch, something we haven't been able to replicate during our test. Our review model came with a number of bundled apps, with more readily available from the Android Marketplace. The usual suspects, including Google's extensive array of services, the Webkit based web browser, Yell and Docs to Go are all bundled.

The onscreen keyboard was average; you have to press hard when typing in the letters and chances that you will end up typing something other than the desired character are high because of the size of the screen.