ZTE isn’t a brand you’re likely to have heard of – yet. They’ve been active in various markets around the world under their own brand, but kept a low profile in Australia, producing whitelabel products for Telstra and occasionally, Optus. That’s changing now, as they’ve entered the Australian retail market with their first ever own-branded dual-sim smartphone – the V969.

The V969 is a phablet-class device with a 5.5-inch screen at a budget price sold exclusively by Dick Smith. Right now, it’s going for $274 on their site, attracting customers looking for a large screen at a low price.

In the same price range, you’ll find Motorola‘s Moto G or LG‘s L series of phones – none of these bring the V969’s large screen, but excel in other ways. Can the V969 stand up to this competition?

Pros

  • 5.5″ qHD screen is really bright and clear
  • Dual sim capabilities
  • Light weight feel and weight

Cons

  • 4GB on board storage leaves you only 1.5 GB without MicroSD
  • Android 4.2.2 – so early 2013
  • No LTE at all – 3G and 2G only

Hardware

The ZTE V969 takes various cues from Samsung with regards to both their design and build, utilising the usual plastic covers for the back and sides with a silver band on the sides giving the impression of a metallic finish.

On the left hand side just near the top is the microUSB charging port – a curious placement that smacks of convenience for the manufacturer rather than the consumer. Along the top of the device, also near the left corner is the 3.5mm audio jack. Volume rockers and power buttons are located on the right hand side of the device, near the top.

The main selling point of the V969 is right there on the front of the device – the large 5.5-inch screen, covered in toughened glass. Below it, you’ll find home, menu and back capacitive buttons. Above it, there’s a loudspeaker and the usual sensors located to the left. The front facing camera takes up residence on the right.

The back of the device houses the 5 MP camera in the right corners, with the LED flash just located just below. The back of the device also houses noise-cancelling microphones at the top and bottom. There’s also the speaker. The back cover can be removed to access the two SIM and MicroSD slots.

Screen

The V969 comes with a huge 5.5-inch screen – impressive for the price, bright and clear in daylight. When travelling out and about I was able to clearly see the screen and navigate around using Google Maps – for me, a big tick.

The screen is qHD – 960×540, 240 PPI, a fairly low resolution for its size. When playing games such as Angry Birds, Theme Park or Transport Tycoon, you’re aware you’re not looking at a 720p or above display. When watching videos it’s fine, as movement usually disguises the low resolution but looking at high quality images on social media will disappoint.

Connectivity

Given ZTE’s pedigree in communications equipment, the connectivity options on offer are a little disappointing – the V969 only comes with 2G and 3G connectivity.

As a dual-SIM device, you also need to be a bit careful – one slot is purely dedicated to 2G connectivity, supporting 900, 1800, 1900 MHz radio waves whilst the 3G UTMS supports 900, 2100 MHz and 21Mbps data (HSPA+). The phone’s designed to be used with one everyday SIM in it on 3G data and a cheap voice/text SIM in the secondary slot.

The V969 comes with WiFi b/g/n support, and Bluetooth 4.0. It’s got GPS, but not GLONASS.

Battery

The ZTE V969 comes with a large 3200 mAh Li-ion battery. That battery is sealed-in, so it can’t be swapped out if it runs flat – but then, that’s pretty unlikely. It’s rated for 200 hours standby and 20 hours’ talk time according to ZTE’s manual.

The phone lasted through a day comfortably with my usage pattern – calls, texts, Hangouts, social media and the occasional browsing. That’s to be expected given the size of the battery. I also found that lower usage it could around two days before needing a charge.

Performance

Let’s be honest here. Given that ZTE is aiming for the lower end of the market, I wasn’t expecting the performance of the device to be superb. The phone certainly lived up to that expectation, stuttering at best when trying to multitask.

The camera didn’t fare any better, with the UI lagging and really underperforming compared to both my 2-year-old Galaxy Note 2 and last year’s HTC One (M7).

Most of the blame for these performance woes can be placed at the foot of the 1GB RAM and underpowered CPU, but this isn’t a high end device and so we shouldn’t be expecting performance on par with the latest and greatest.

The bottom line is, if you don’t push the V969 very hard you won’t be disappointed by its performance. If you want a powerful device that can run multiple apps side by side without a problem, you’ll probably already be looking elsewhere.

Sound

Like many other manufacturers within the same market space that ZTE is aiming for with the V969, the smartphone comes with a rear facing speaker. Comparing it with other smartphones with the same build and speakers, the quality seemed the same. It’s nothing to write home about.

I did find the speakers lacked some quality when playing music, and making a phone call via the speaker-phone was a bit hard. The V969 doesn’t have HD voice compatibility, which is available on many new phones these days.

Camera

With a standard 5MP camera on the back of the device, we’re not expecting miracles. When there’s enough light, results are acceptable but when you head into the dark the camera struggles to focus and disappoints. One neat trick up the V969’s sleeve is its ability to stitch together multiple 5MP photos at 8MP.

While the pictures look good on the 5.5-inch screen, when viewed on a bigger screen they seem less impressive – colours aren’t as bright, and they come with a fair amount of noise. Night pictures are grainy at best.

The front facing camera isn’t any better, as it comes with 0.3MP, so if you’re a selfie addict then you may find taking that all important selfie a bit hard at best.

Software

This is the part that really lets the device down, and there’s no getting around it – the V969 is running Android 4.2.2. However, considering the price point and the fact that this is actually a mid-2013 phone in other markets we can probably forgive the old OS version. At least it’s not running 4.0 or 4.1.

It is unknown whether the V969 will see an upgrade past 4.2.2, but as a budget device we’re not holding our breath.

ZTE has kept the software experience close to stock android, with a slight hint of their own touches. They’re changes that don’t detract from the main Android experience though, like a long-press to unlock the homescreen and a couple of additional widgets.

ZTE V969

  • 5.5-inch, 960 x 540 (240 PPI) display
  • 1.3GHz quad core ARMv7 Rev 3(v71)
  • Adreno 225 GPU
  • 1GB RAM
  • 4GB storage, MicroSD up to 32GB
  • 5MP rear camera, 0.3MP front
  • Connectivity (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC)
  • Radios:
    • GSM: 900/1800/1900 MHz
    • WCDMA: 900/2100 MHz, HSPA+
    • 4G LTE: None
  • Android 4.2.2
  • 3200 mAh battery, sealed
  • 155 x 79 x 9.4mm. 195 grams

Conclusion

It’s hard to say that the ZTE V969 is a worthy dual-SIM smartphone simply because there’s other options out there, and these are sometimes cheaper and offer newer software (such as the Moto G) but without the large screen.

Dick Smith is the only retailer offering the ZTE V969 through their stores nationally and online, with an RRP price tag of a pretty reasonable $299, although that’s currently down to about $274. That price brings it into direct competition with the Moto G, and for a little more you can also get Huawei‘s Ascend G6 – both of these offer 4G connectivity, but again lack the screen size of the V969.

Whether or not the large screen is the selling point ZTE would like it to be is another thing entirely. The resolution to go with the size isn’t really there, although you have to wonder whether someone looking for a budget large screen device will care. Personally though, I found the phone’s size a bit of an issue, even when compared to my Samsung Galaxy Note 2 it’s fairly large and pretty chunky.

However, if you’re in the market for a larger-screen device without the hefty price tag that usually comes with them, and you don’t mind the lack of 4G, the V969 maybe the device you’re looking for.

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  • Me

    The Xiaomi Redmi Note is a much better phone if you can get it online for a similar price. Also a dual sim and 5.5 inch phablet but with better specs.