Can excellence be had in a sub-$100 Smart Phone?
Telstras first attempt at a sub-$100 Android handset was the original Smart Touch, a phone manufactured by ZTE which from all accounts was a pretty basic affair offering a resistive touch screen and fairly sluggish performance. The Telstra Smart Touch 2 is their second attempt at an Android phone in the sub $100 category, also manufactured by ZTE although with a couple of improved features over the original such as the capacative screen.
First impressions of the phone is that it looks and feels like a sub $100 device. The phone is quite thick and the plastic casing on the phone feels pretty cheap. The Smart Touch 2 comes with a charger, headphones, microUSB cable, quickstart guide and warranty card as well as a Mobile Muster recycling bag to recycle your old mobile phone. Telstra have put the manual on the phone which can be accessed once you have signed in using your Google account by going to the App drawer > Filer and opening the file ‘Telstra Smart-Touch 2 User Guide.pdf’ in the PDF-To-Go app that is included on the phone as part of Documents To Go.
The phone itself is a fairly basic design, on the front of the phone is a 3.5″ capacative touch screen with 3 physical buttons located below the screen : Menu – Home – Back. On the top there is a power button and 3.5mm headphone jack and on the left is the volume +/- rocker while on the left hand side of the device is the microUSB port. The back of the phone shows the lens for the 2MP camera poking through the removable backing which is also adorned by the Telstra NextG logo located on the bottom.
The software included is a lightly skinned version of Android 2.3 with a few modifications showing such as quick settings in the notificatons area. Telstra has included applications such as Documents to Go, FM Radio, Garmin Navigator with free trial and Sound Recorder. In terms of Telstra apps the Telstra Big Pond app is included and links to the Telstra Big Pond webpage, Games, Downloads, Big Pond Music and Foxtel are also present as icons on the phone. The phone also comes with access to the Google Play store so that aspect is covered as well.
- Capacative Screen
- 3.5mm Headphone jack
- Poor Camera
- Slow Performance
The capacative screen was quite nice to look at although at 320×480 resolution you are really stretched to actually get much content on the screen, it responded well to touches with the occasional miss which I can forgive at this end of the price range. The screen doesn’t have the best viewing angles however when viewed front on there are no issues seeing what is on the screen whilst inside however outside this becomes a different matter with content on the screen disappearing almost completely. The upgrade to capacative in the Smart Touch 2 from the resistive screen in the original is a definite plus and makes for a much better experience.
With the NextG Network powering the device there was almost no issues with reception, however taking the phone to places such as west NSW did stretch the connection in some cases but these black spots were few and far between and not really a fault of the phone. Call quality was excellent but there is no HD Voice here although I did not expect that from this handset. Bluetooth performed as expected with no issues connecting to headsets and the Wi-Fi connected and remained connected with no issues whatsoever.
Sound quality was fine, playing back MP3s and podcasts caused no issues and was relatively fine although nothing to be listed as a major selling point. The speaker is a pretty low-end affair offering a fairly basic output but with a fairly small opening for the speaker on the corner of the phone it isn’t too bad. FM Radio I used for a few minutes and received a decent signal but really FM Radio is FM Radio.
GPS worked well with the phone able to track my runs around various places quite accurately. To answer a question by Cathy in the announcement post we did when Telstra first released the Smart Touch 2 the phone runs Zombies Run quite fine and has me quite addicted to the app although the lack of integration with Pocket Casts leaves me unable to use it, but I digress.
The phone has a couple of minor tweaks to the stock Android operating system which for the most part are unobtrusive, the main feature I felt did improve the user experience were the quick settings in the notification tray, a simple swipe down and you could access all your frequently used settings by either swiping right or left.
Performance wise the phone does an adequate job however you would not be using this phone to do anything except perform minor functions. When loading applications there was a noticeable lag on-screen. Running Gingerbread is about the highest end software that this phone could probably manage and there is no mention of any intention to upgrade it beyond there, but in the long run I think that this is possibly the wisest decision.
The Phone is cheap, therefore when handling the phone you are constantly reminded of the fact that the phone is made of some pretty cheap material. Whilst the fit and finish of the build on the phone is quite decent, overall it retains a feeling of being manufactured at the lowest possible cost, this is not totally a bad thing as the phone as mentioned before feels like it’s up to taking a bit of a rough life.
After using the phone for a week I did start to tire of the physical buttons located beneath the display. After using the soft on-screen keys of Ice Cream Sandwich/Jelly Bean and even the capacative buttons on higher end Gingerbread phones the jarring reality of having to actually press a button to go home, bring up the menu or go back was quite annoying and noticeably interrupted the experience of using the phone. This is again further evidence of cost saving by utilising physical keys to maintain the cheap price.
The biggest let down of the whole phone was the 3.5MM headphone jack which accepted the connector but would consistently push it back out, leaving me with only left hand audio, for a phone to be doing this with a standard connector is quite insane, I have been able to test this with another Smart Touch 2 phone in a Telstra store and experienced a similar issue, in the store display model the headphone sat in but any touch and the jack popped out just enough to go to mono sound.
The camera is bad. Yep, that about covers it, at 2MP it is about the same as most high end phones have as their front facing video conferencing camera and that is about all it is really suited to. Again this would be a cost saving measure as a bump up to 3MP probably would have pushed the phone above the $100 mark and still not made a heck of a lot of difference. For capturing a basic photo it is ok, however no-one will mistake the camera in this phone for a high quality shooter either.
For the first time in a long time using Android phones I actually encountered issues installing applications because of lack of space. With only Tweakdeck, Pocket Casts, Zombies Run, Pocket and My Tracks installed all of which were using the Move to SD card function, I was left with a grand total of 26MB out of 170MB of space and was then confronted numerous times with the Out of Space error when trying to install anything else.
Battery life on the Smart Touch 2 is pretty average, considering that the phone is only powering a 3.5″ display and pushing a pretty small resolution of 320×480, after a day of making phone calls, SMSing, web surfing, syncing 2 GMail accounts and Twitter, tracking my runs on My Tracks/Zombies Run and WinAmp the phone battery lasted from about 7am till 2pm when it began to demand to be plugged in to charge. This sort of usage would be considered fairly heavy so with minimal usage of data intensive applications you may actually push out a full day of usage, but if you actually want to use it as a Smartphone you probably will have to recharge at some point during the day.
- 3.5″ 320×480 HVGA capacitive touch screen
- 2MP Rear camera
- 2GB microSD Card expandable to 32GB
- WiFi 802.11 b/g, Bluetooth, FM Radio
- Android 2.3
- 1500mAh Battery
- Talk Time: Up to 180 mins
- Standby Time: Up to 200 hrs
- 113 x 61.5 x 12.5mm @ 129 grams
At this end of the price range there is no reason to not recommend this phone as a phone for your kids or someone looking to enter into the Smartphone market to see what all the fuss is about. The screen is decent enough, it runs the basic apps such as Twitter, Facebook and basic web surfing a little slow but it does run them. Network performance with the NextG Network is quite good and there is no reason why you would have issues with it.
ZTE who make the phone have been doing so for a fair while, making them a pretty reliable manufacturer albeit at generally lower priced and specced phones. Whilst the Smart Touch 2 is a cheaply manufactured unit, it also feels like a solid enough device and should be quite a reliable phone and at the end of the day the phone makes phone calls, sends/receives SMS and can maintain a data connection quite well so there is nothing wrong with it unless you’re looking at high end use, which means you’d certainly not be looking at this price range.
Telstra are selling the Smart Touch 2 through retailers such as Dick Smith and in either Black or fashionable Pink for $
7959 so if you really are looking for something basic in an Android phone, this would certainly be a great option to consider.