ZTE V969 review: ZTE 'debuts' in Australia


WhistleOut
10 June 2014

You may not be familiar with the name ZTE, but you're bound to have encountered its products. For example: anything branded with a carrier logo released over the past few years is likely to have been a ZTE device. It’s been a bit of a sleeper manufacturer in Australia, quietly making gadgets for other companies without taking any of the credit.

Now, ZTE is going to be using its own name in Australia, starting with the ZTE V969. This isn’t a powerful flagship. Rather, it’s a nuts & bolts affair aimed at giving you a solid smartphone experience without breaking the bank. It's available exclusively through Dick Smith for $299 outright, which makes it an ideal candidate for a SIM-only plan with no lock-in contract and better-value monthly fees.

Ultimately the it does pretty well. We weren't astounded by its cost-to-quality ratio like we were with the Moto G or Nexus 5, but it’s definitely an affordable, usable smartphone for an appreciably low price. It's also a great option if you have overseas family, thanks to its dual-SIM support.

Design

In terms of look and feel the ZTE V969 is every bit the cheap handset. It’s a bit thicker, a bit heavier and much more plasticky than you’d generally find in the market these days. The bezels are wide and the screen is protected by a bendy plastic, rather than glass.

That being said there’s nothing particularly inelegant about the design. It’s functional, the lock button is easily reached and everything is fitted securely.

The capacitive buttons below the screen work well. The right-side volume rocker and lock buttons feel secure, and weren’t partial to accidental pocket activation.

The dual SIM slots are located under the black plate, meaning you have to remove it to get at them. Interestingly, these are full-sized SIM slots, which are mostly unused in western markets. Both slots can be tricky to get at, thanks to the non-removable battery, but it will only really become a problem if you plan on regularly replacing the SIM cards.

The microSD slot is also accessible when you remove the back cover, but it faces off to the side and isn’t hampered by the battery in the same way.

User experience

Overall, the V969 is a reliable device. It’s not particularly fast, but it isn’t plagued by random bouts of lagginess either. As such, it’s easy enough to become accustomed to the speed at which it operates and not become frustrated by unpredictable freezing or app crashes -- something you might expect from a cheaper device.

The 5.5 inch qHD (540x960) display is definitely a step down from what we’ve become used to lately. Normally we wouldn’t fault an affordable device for a low screen resolution, but when the much-smaller (and more affordable) Moto G hit shelves last year with a 720p resolution screen, it’s hard to be content with the fewer pixels on offer here. This is only made more obvious by the big 5.5 inch size, which stretches things out to a mere 200 pixels per inch, compared to the 326ppi of the Moto G.

Take special notice of the on-board storage, which is just 4GB. If you want to put more than just your standard apps, or a sprinkling of music on this phone then you'll need to make use of the MicroSD slot. This, of course, adds to the total price you'll be paying for the V969 and bumps it up in to the realm of the excellent Google Nexus 5 (AU$349 from the Google Play Store); a phone with which it simply cannot compete.

One problem we didn’t realise we’d have is with the plastic screen. We’re all for cheaper phones, but swiping your finger across the V969 feels cheap. It’s a constant reminder that you have a budget alternative, rather than the real-deal.

As for general performance with multitasking and app-switching, the V969 did very well. There were no crashes during our tests and we didn’t have any problems with overheating or sudden battery drain when running multiple apps simultaneously.

The lack of 4G network speeds is disappointing, but leaving 4G out is still quite common in this price range.

Connectivity

The V969 is a dual-SIM phone, meaning that you can have two separate SIM cards with two different phone numbers active simultaneously. Unfortunately, only one of those SIM slots is capable of 3G speeds, while the other is a 2G (Voice-only) affair.

This combination makes it a great option if you have family or friends overseas that you call regularly. Some of the smaller network providers offer great rates on international calls, so you can use the 2G SIM for long-distance and the 3G slot for your day-to-day use.

The 3G itself is a bit limited. The V969 isn't compatible with the 850Mhz radio band which means it won't work on major parts of the Vodafone or Telstra 3G networks. Despite the phone being sold unlocked, this limitation means it is mostly suitable for use on the Optus Network only.

Being limited to Optus on a dual SIM device that has a 2G-only SIM slot is a little ironic in the wake of Optus’ new data sharing plans. If both slots were 3G-enabled then you could grab an affordable SIM for the kids, and throw a data SIM in the spare slot for emergencies.

Camera

The 5MP camera is predictably underwhelming. Long-range shots come out ok, but anything with a mix of close and mid-range is downright blotchy -- a word we’ve never used when describing a phone’s camera before.

It is the right word though. Trees especially look almost like a water-colour painting if they’re not the focal point of the shot. It’s a strange manifestation of lower-quality image sensing that’s totally new to us.

Pics also came out quite dark, even when taken on a particularly sunny day like the photo above. Night time shots are just a blanket no. There's too much noise and even the slightest amount of motion means significant blur.

The final product is a picture that could be passable on social media, but definitely not something that would appeal to the photographically-inclined.

Battery life

This is a big strong point for the V969. The 3200mAh battery lasted almost two days reliably, and all the way until bed time on the second night with some minor power management.

We wouldn’t go as far as to say this is a proper 2-day phone, but it’s close. At the very least you’ll never be worrying about your power bar if you charge it nightly. It’s a relieving feeling not to spare a thought to battery usage and it made this using phone a much more enjoyable experience.

Verdict

Overall the V969 could be summed up as “OK”. It’s very affordable to purchase outright, which frees you up to enjoy those better-value SIM-only plans. It’s also one of the few decent phones in this price range with a big 5.5 inch display, even if it is a little lacking in resolution.

This isn’t a phone that will let you forget that it was an affordable alternative. Everything about it screams “budget”, from the bulky design to the plastic screen to the low screen resolution.

On-board storage, or the lack thereof, is our biggest complaint. If the V969 were an 8GB phone then we could let it slide, but 4GB means you'll almost definitely need that microSD. This limits its target market to people that already own an expansion memory card, don't care about storage, or those who are absolutely desperate for that dual-SIM and bigger screen.

Even so, it is reliable, usable and will get you between charges without even breaking a sweat. We’d still recommend the Moto G or Nexus 5 if you’re after something in this price range, but if you definitely want a dual-SIM device or a bigger screen then it won't cause you too much anguish.


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