ZTE Racer review
Android 2.1, 2.8in 240x320 display
Mobile operator 3 has a habit of bringing out unique phones from little-known manufacturers - for example, the idiosyncratic INQ1 and the Skypephone series. It's no surprise then that it's turned to another largely-unknown handset maker, ZTE, for its entry into the budget Android market. ZTE is actually one of the world's largest providers of telecommunications equipment, but it has only recently started selling handsets in Europe.
Like the HTC Tattoo and Vodafone 845, the Racer has a small 2.8in display with a resistive touchscreen interface, rather than the capacitative screens seen on more expensive models. Image quality isn't great – with a low resolution of 320x240. The larger pixels are obvious in places, especially in the rounded edges and shading effects used by Android's interface.
The screen's not too small to do basic web browsing and write emails; however it lacks support for multi-touch gestures, so you have to use the browser's built-in zooming controls or double-tap to zoom all the way in or out. Browsing mobile sites was comfortable, but larger sites such as the BBC's news site were rather unwieldy.
Unlike those other budget phones, the Racer's screen has extremely fussy viewing angles; viewed at a slight (2-3 degree) angle in portrait mode, the image is relatively good; viewed square on, contrast is lost. This is most evident when you flip the phone to landscape mode, where an iridescent effect is notable across the whole screen. The glossy finish doesn't help matters, either.
Touch control is responsive, however, and the phone's processor seems capable, managing to run several applications at once while still scrolling through the application tray smoothly. Despite its budget price and design, no smartphone features have been skimped: there's GPS and WiFi, as well as an FM radio and Bluetooth. The 3.2-megapixel camera lacks a flash however, and its pictures are fuzzy and noisy. They do reproduce colours fairly accurately, though.
The Racer lasted for over 22 hours in our light-usage test, which is great for an Android handset. With careful use of power-hungry components such as WiFi and GPS, you could potentially go a couple of days without having to charge.
Design-wise, it's more the size of the phone than its materials that signals its budget status. A rubberised black plastic case sandwiches an aluminium central block, into which are built a 3.5mm headphone jack, lanyard hook, power button, microUSB port and volume rocker. There's quite a bit of flex in the back casing, which is a little worrying.
Touch-sensitive buttons under the screen cater to Home, Menu and Back functions, and there's a slim silver rocker for phone dial and hang-up. Thankfully these last two can be used to wake the phone up, as the power button is frustratingly small and set flush with the top of the case.
3 has left Android pretty well alone, and thankfully it's the reasonably current 2.1 version, so it supports multiple Google and Exchange accounts, as well as the ability to integrate 3rd-party accounts such as Facebook and last.fm. There are web shortcuts to 3's home page, a set of suggested sites, and a link to Yell's web directory. There are no interface tweaks however, and no clever linking of contacts on differing social networks, as offered by HTC's Sense software.
3 no longer offers 18-month contracts, but its £13-per-month, 24-month contract is excellent value. Better still, you can also buy the phone for £100 on pay-as-you-go (PAYG). However, if you’re looking for a budget phone on contract then we'd opt for the Samsung’s i5700 Galaxy Portal for £17 per month also from 3; or HTC's Wildfire, widely available for £15 per month.