To help us provide you with free impartial advice, we may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site. Learn more

ZTE Open C review

ZTE Open C header
Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £39
inc VAT

It's super-cheap, but the Open C's terrible battery life, poor screen and sluggish OS make it a highly compromised handset


Processor: Dual-core 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 200, Screen Size: 4in, Screen resolution: 800×480, Rear camera: 3.15-megapixel, Storage: 4GB, Wireless data: 3G, Size: 126x64x10.8mm, Weight: 125g, Operating system: Firefox OS 1.3

At £39 SIM-free, the ZTE Open C is one of the cheapest smartphones around. It’s also the world’s first phone to come with Mozilla’s FireFox 1.3 OS, which is even more simple and pared back than Google’s ubiquitous Android mobile operating system.

For instance, there’s only a single button on the front of the phone, which lets you return to the home screen. There’s no Recent or Back button, but these actions can still be performed by holding down the home button and using onscreen controls built into the phone’s Firefox browser. This can feel a strange when you’re so used to Android, but it didn’t take us long to familiarise ourselves with the phone’s control scheme.

This is mainly because the rest of Firefox 1.3 OS functions in a very similar way to stock Android. Big app icons fill the screen, there’s a search bar across the top, and a customisable launcher bar along the bottom. There’s no app tray, so you must fit all your apps on the home screens, but you can still access a Notification menu by swiping down from the top of the screen.

The Open C’s tiny 4in display has a resolution of 800×480, giving it a pixel density of 233 pixels-per-inch. This provides plenty of definition, but its overall image quality left a lot to be desired. We wouldn’t expect much from a £39 phone, but our colour calibrator showed it was displaying just 65.3 per cent of the sRGB colour gamut, which is below average, even for a cheap handset. Other budget handsets typically score at least 80 per cent at full brightness, so to see such washed out and vapid colours was a little disappointing.

Viewing angles weren’t much better, despite a measured contrast ratio of 930:1. The screen was constantly changing from light to dark depending on how we looked at the phone. We found the most comfortable viewing angle was face on.

Black levels were more encouraging at a measured 0.37cd/m2. While this meant blacks weren’t exactly the same shade as the phone’s dark bezels, text still looked sharp and legible. Admittedly, whites were slightly blue in tone, but the phone’s peak brightness of 349.7cd/m2 meant we could see the phone clearly outside on both maximum and medium brightness settings.

Unsurprisingly for a budget phone, the Open C only has 4GB of internal storage, about 1.5GB of which is available to the user. However, unlike a typical Android phone, the Open C has designated space for apps and media. This limits how much you can put on your phone, particularly when apps are given almost double the amount of storage space as media files. Ideally, we’d have preferred it to be the other way round, but luckily the Open C is compatible with microSD cards up to 32GB.

New apps can be downloaded from the Firefox Marketplace, but these are in rather short supply. There’s SoundCloud for listening to new music, YouTube, Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, Here Maps and Box for cloud storage, but that’s about it in terms of popular services. There’s also OpenWapp, Mozilla’s answer to WhatsApp, as well as a handful of popular games such as Cut the Rope, Candy Crush and Fruit Cut Ninja, but it’s a pretty poor offering compared to both the Google Play Store and even the Windows Phone Store.

Fortunately, there are a few more preinstalled apps in the Open C’s Music, Games, Social and Showbiz folders, including Spotify, Google +, Reddit, FourSquare, Flickr, Tumblr and IMBD, but most of these are simply shortcuts to the respective web page rather than a full-blown app. There’s also BBC iPlayer in the Showbiz folder, but you can’t watch anything because the phone doesn’t support it.

This leaves the Open C feeling not particularly smart, and it’s fussy, slow interface doesn’t help matters either. When browsing through the MarketPlace, the touchscreen would frequently ignore swipes to the side to browse other menus. It also proved unresponsive when we tried to flick through new windows at speed.

This is a shame because the Open C’s web browsing performance was pretty good. Its dual-core 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 processor scored a respectable 1,587ms in our SunSpider JavaScript benchmarks, which puts it squarely in the middle of our current budget favourites, the £145 New Motorola Moto G which scored 1,478ms and £90 Moto E which scored 1,658ms.

In practice, web pages were quick to load and image-heavy pages such as The Guardian’s desktop home page showed few signs of hesitation when we scrolled up and down, even if whole chunks of the page would often take a second or so to load fully. The screen’s small resolution meant that zooming in was often mandatory for reading finer text, but we were able to pan round the screen perfectly with hardly any problem at all. It’s just a shame the Open C can’t sync with your desktop Firefox browser so you can keep using your favourite bookmarks and tabs.

Sadly, the Open C’s battery life will barely last you through the day, as its 1,430mAh battery lasted just 4 hours and 52 minutes in our continuous video playback test. This is disappointing, even by budget phone standards, as the Moto E lasted just three minutes shy of 10 hours under the same conditions.

The Open C’s 3.15-megapixel camera was equally terrible. Outdoors, photos looked muddy and blurred, showing very little detail. Skies were also overexposed and the edges of buildings were completely lacking in definition.

^ The pictures we took on the Open C were very blurry and lacked a lot of definition

^ Even on a cloudy, overcast day, the Open C struggled to expose brighter patches of sky correctly

The ZTE Open C is very cheap, but its terrible battery life, token camera, poor screen and limited selection of apps and services place it very much at the bottom of the bargain bin. It’s also only available SIM-free as an eBay exclusive from ZTE’s eBay store, making it more difficult to get help if something goes wrong. If you can spend a little more, the £90 Motorola Moto E is a vastly superior phone that’s much better value.

ProcessorDual-core 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 200
Screen size4in
Screen resolution800×480
Screen typeLCD
Front cameraNone
Rear camera3.15-megapixel
Memory card slot (supplied)microSD
BluetoothBluetooth 4.0
Wireless data3G
Operating systemFirefox OS 1.3
Battery size1,400mAh
Buying information
WarrantyOne-year RTB
Price SIM-free (inc VAT)£39
Price on contract (inc VAT)N/A
Prepay price (inc VAT)N/A
Contract/prepay supplierN/A
Part codeOpen C

Read more