MWC – ZTE takes us back to the 90s

Allan Swann
February 28, 2013

ZTE went for broke at Mobile World Congress, setting up a big stand which dominated the entrance to Hall 3 (one of the main halls, by the way). Then like something straight out of a 90s video gaming convention, filled it with booming music and models dressed in flimsy white dresses.

It was hilarious. Especially since these women, dotted throughout the stand (at one point I counted 15 of them on the job), had no idea about any of the phones. They were literally eye candy in the most sexist form of the word. It also did a good job of ensuring that the stand was mostly female free (amongst visitors, I mean) and full of lecherous old men giggling like school boys. That was also funny.

ZTE were also quite generous – there seemed to be a near constant stream of giveaways, competitions and generally loud speaker noise that drew attendees like moths to a flame.

So, ZTE was going for broke – but how were its phones? Much like every other Android phone on show, just filled with more superfluous apps and bloatware. To be fair ZTE is a budget smartphone maker, that is following Huawei’s business model (just a year or so behind), that is, dominate the low end (also sell white label to other companies), move into the mid-range and one day pop out some premium devices.

ZTE haven’t really produced any top shelf devices (yet), and its low end devices have sold very strongly in emerging markets – it is now the fourth biggest phone maker in the world.

So bearing this criteria in mind I spent some time playing with the new ZTE Grand S LTE phone (its new flagship smartphone) and the ZTE Grand Memo (its new 5.7-inch phablet). As readers know, I’ve never been a fan of the phablet concept (that is, oversized phones that fit somewhere between tablets and smartphones) and the Grand Memo isn’t terribly different. It is truly huge.

It is a monster.

The ZTE Grand Memo is a monster.

Surprisingly it doesn’t feel as cheap as I’d expected, the build quality is similar to Samsung’s original phablet, the Galaxy Note (and its successor), and its internals are impressive. Despite a poor screen (it comes in at 1280 x 720 – visibly low for a large screen), it is the first ever device to use Qualcomm’s newest system on a chip Snapdragon 800, and will have quad core Krait CPUs running at a whopping 1.5GHz. To power a screen and processor of this size, ZTE have thrown in a huge 3200 battery. To the company’s credit, the device still didn’t feel terribly heavy, nor had it added too much thickness to the body. It also gets a 13MP camera (which we couldn’t really test inside a convention centre), 4G LTE support and 2GB of RAM.

Despite its average screen, the phablet blasted through all apps on show seamlessly, and games such as Riptide GP all worked flawlessly.

The device is expected to launch in the second quarter of this year, but specs will vary between countries and regions, ZTE said. The spokesperson would not comment on UK release dates or pricing – so it’s hard to make a call on it as a value proposition.

The ZTE Grand S was unveiled at CES, and again, while impressive under the hood (although we don’t know pricing) the Android skin/theme ZTE has used is full of bloatware and unnecessary features – they have thrown everything at the wall to see what sticks. There are low budget photography apps that barely work, silly 3D animations all through the front end (and on the homescreen) that do little more than annoy and knock off versions of apps such as office, it just work well and makes for a messy user experience.

More impressive was the budget Mozilla Firefox phone the ZTE One, which using a free and open source OS makes sense in emerging markets. It will only be available to South American customers at this stage. It functions fairly well for a low end device, but is otherwise not outstanding.

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