ZTE F930 £79.99
22nd Jul 2010 | 16:13
Another low-cost touchscreen handset hits the decks
ZTE F930: Overview and design
Touchscreens are where its at with mobile phones, and increasingly that means not just at the top end of the range but at the middle and lower ends too.
Take the ZTE F930, for example. It is exclusive to 3 Mobile at the moment, and it costs £79.99 on Pay As You Go. That £79.99 includes the usual 3 Mobile £10 of calls, so the handset is really just £69.99.
The phone is unashamedly targeted at the 18-25 age group. We'll say right at the outset that we think that is a bit wide of the mark. Our best guess is that this phone is better suited to teens and that anyone in their twenties is likely to want something more sophisticated.
Many people in the target age group look first to much fancier handsets like the iPhone 4, or the HTC Desire. Then they see the price and start compromising, maybe thinking about the less expensive Samsung Galaxy Portal, for example.
If these are still too expensive, the ZTE F930's £80 might appeal. But there's a lot of competition. For around that price you can now get the likes of the Samsung Monte and Nokia 5230 on PAYG, both of which give the ZTE F930 a run for its money.
And frankly they're both better than the F930.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Let's go back to the beginning.
The ZTE F930 is a white and silver handset. It looks quite cute – teenage cute rather than 18-25 cute. It is small in size at 105.7 x 12.6 x 46mm and it weighs a nice round 100g.
That is small and tidy for the hand – and ideal for the paws of the young, still-growing teens we think are more likely to go for this phone.
There's a neat design to the under-screen buttons with a diamond-shaped Menu button and the Call and End/power keys on a long strip. The Menu button doubles to give you access to open apps and to alerts when you give it a long press.
The sides are also well designed with some neat curvature accented by an off-centre silver strip that runs round the edge of the chassis.
The left edge houses a micro-USB mains charger and PC connection connector, while on the right is a camera shortcut button and a volume rocker.
The bottom is clear, and on the top there's a 3.5mm headset connector and screen lock button.
ZTE F930: Interface
As a touchscreen handset, ZTE has obviously tried to emulate Android and, in some respects, it's done a pretty good job.
There are three Home screens and you move between them by sweeping left and right.
The middle one offers the date and time, as well as shortcuts to the phone book, dialler, messaging and a whole host of online services. Tap the 3 icon and you get taken to a screen offering a choice between online options, for example Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and more.
There are further screens of bookmarks you can scroll to, offering the likes of Wikipedia, eBay, the 3 Music Store, Myspace – a host of bookmarks, in fact.
The screen on the right is set up out of the box for access to the 3 Mobile web site, Windows Live Messenger, and Skype services, which are free to 3 Mobile customers.
You can add more shortcuts by sweeping upwards and dragging what you want off an icons menu, which looks basically to replicate the entire apps menu. There are three screens of shortcuts to choose from, totalling 25 in all.
The left-hand Home screen is again customisable, though this time via a Samsung TouchWiz-like side menu from which you drag icons onto the screen. The widgets here can be animated and there's a live music control app that enables you to pause and play tunes.
The range of widgets is limited, but it does allow for a modicum of customisation.
Another neat touch is the unlock screen. Yeah, you could just simply press something or slide a button to the left or right. But ZTE has gone for quirky, and we like the system as much as we liked the fit-a-puzzle-piece-to-unlock system in the Samsung Wave.
In this case you move a sort of stylised key symbol over a similar lock symbol to unlock the handset. We like.
ZTE F930: Contacts, calls and messaging
The contacts database is fairly limited in terms of what it can store for each of your buddies. Name, number, email address and, under the 'other' category, postal address are all you have room for by way of contact data.
You can use a photo to identify each person and allocate both voice and video call ringtones, too, but that is your limit.
You need to remember to tap the save button after entering a contact's details to ensure that they're actually stored in the handset memory.
Voice calls were easy to make, and quality was good. Volume on the handset doesn't go quite as high as we'd like, so hearing in very loud conditions was not always easy, but that's a complaint we can level at lots of handsets.
There's a video calling option, though it's not really worth bothering with. There's only one camera on the device and its lens is on the back.
So when you make a video call you can either talk at the camera on the back of the phone so your interlocutor can see you, or look at the front of the phone so you can see them – but they can see whatever the phone's camera is pointing at. It's not very satisfactory.
When it comes to messaging, you've got Skype IM as well as the already noted Windows Live Messenger alongside SMS and MMS support. But there's no mobile email.
Creating messages requires the use of one of the tiniest on-screen keyboards we've ever had the 'fun' of trying. The screen of the ZTE F930 measures 2.4 inches across diagonal corners and it delivers 320 x 240 pixels.
It's neither particularly sharp, nor especially bright, but that's not what will stymie you here. It is the size that matters. With no wide screen mode you are left prodding away at a small T9-style keypad.
Fortunately, the resistive screen is quite responsive to the finger, and the predictive text system works well too. We can't say we were lightning fast at texting, but it wasn't too bad, and younger people with smaller hands than ours may get on more successfully.
If you do have trouble with the small keys, there's always the stylus. This sits in a housing on the back top right of the chassis, and it is quite effective for faster text entry.
Rather bizarrely, you can change the input language on the main text entry screen, choosing between French, Spanish, Dutch, Italian and English. We can't help thinking that option should be hidden away in the settings area, leaving a bit more room for an additional useful key on this cramped screen.
ZTE F930: Internet
This being a handset on 3 Mobile, it supports 3G. But don't for a moment let that fool you into thinking this is a good phone if you're a mobile web fan. It isn't.
We've already noted that the screen measures 2.4 inches and delivers 320 x 240 pixels. That ought to be enough to put most sane people off using the web.
But just in case you still think this is a viable browsing handset, take a look at what happened on one occasion when we tried to visit the TechRadar homepage (below).
This warning refused to go away despite repeated taps of the OK button, so in the end we had to power down and start again. Now, given that you don't know beforehand which web pages will be too much for the ZTE F930 to handle, that could get mighty irritating.
But it gets more interesting. On some occasions the TechRadar home page loaded without any trouble at all. So browsing bigger pages could be a bit hit and miss.
We did manage to get a few sites to load every time, with most success coming from sites designed for mobiles.
At least ZTE has tried to make the browser user-friendly. There are tabs along the top of the screen so you can have multiple pages opened at once, and there's a little menu you can open by tapping an icon on the bottom right of a page that offers options such as zooming and viewing a window fullscreen.
Fullscreen viewing means you can see a little more content, and zooming helps too, but the whole thing is far from ideal.
Twitter, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Bebo fans are all treated to shortcuts, but there's no live streaming of information straight into your phone. This isn't a smartphone, remember.
ZTE F930: Camera
The ZTE F930 camera is a 3MP shooter with a dual LED flash that adds a fair bit of light to indoor photography.
The side-mounted camera key is a bit of a fiddle to use, both because it's small to find with a fingertip and because it sits flush with the chassis. This is irritating because you need to use it to launch the camera and to take a photo.
Unsurprisingly, the camera isn't brimming over with features, but there are a few useful bits and pieces. There's a portrait shooting mode which has presets for shooting people – as opposed to scenes – and also a night shooting mode, which bumps up the amount of light the lens lets in.
You can also manually fiddle with the white balance and contrast, and add sepia and black and white effects. But that's your lot.
There is a very tiny amount of shutter lag, but not enough to make a difference in most situations.
We were quite impressed with what the camera turned out. We anticipated grainy images with poor capture of detail and what we got was completely the opposite.
WELL-LIT:Indoors, albeit in a large railway station with light streaming through the roof, the camera managed to capture this photo rather well. There is a little graininess to the image, but it's a lot better quality than we'd expected
OVEREXPOSED:The camera struggled in bright sunshine and overexposed this shot, but many phone cameras would have done the same. This photo was taken on one of the hottest and brightest days of the year so far
DETAIL:The camera managed quite well here, capturing the detail on those statues pretty well
INDOORS:Indoors, the camera struggled much more than outside. Without the flash, it couldn't really let in enough light to take anything more than quite grainy photos. With the flash fairly close, photos benefited, but if we were more than a metre away from our subject the effects started to diminish
The video camera shoots at 3GP and MP4 samples, and tops out at 320 x 240. You can record sound with your video if you want to, but judging from the quality of our tests we'd advise steering clear altogether.
ZTE F930: Media
Of course, the ZTE F930 plays music. We don't really like the way you have to horizontally scroll through a list to move between playlists, folders, albums and artists.
We found stroking this strip of icons a bit tricky because the phone kept thinking we were making a selection when we were simply trying to bring the choices that were not yet on the screen into full view.
Sound volume is fairly high through the speaker, and gets rather rough and tinny at the highest levels. Through the provided headphones, a cheap pair of flat in-ear buds, sound quality wasn't that great, but we improved it using a better set of headphones.
The equaliser has a real effect on what you hear, and we'd have liked more than the four presets it offers.
The music player will find album art if you have it properly organised. It has a neat little sleep mode feature too that you can set to turn off automatically after a set period of playing. It's a nice, intelligent little option that we'd like to see on more handsets.
Video playback is limited to 3GP and MP4 and when we tried to play movies in these formats it managed them without any jerkiness and with reasonable sound reproduction.
The player defaults to fullscreen a few seconds after a video starts running, and you simply tap the screen to get the playback controls back up.
ZTE F930: Battery life and applications
There is no Wi-Fi or GPS built into this handset and only 150MB of built in memory. However the specifications say the ZTE F930 will recognise microSD cards up to 8GB but we tried a 16GB card and the handset was quite happy to read data from it too
There's a fair range of additional software over and above what we've already mentioned. For example there is a calendar which supports appointments, memos and anniversaries, and a notes application to make jottings to yourself, if you can bear to use that small keyboard.
And a lot of the little extras we like to see on mobiles are also here. A stopwatch and timer, for example, and a voice recorder, as well as a calculator and unit converter.
The 1000mAh battery should keep the ZTE F930 going for 220 hours on standby and deliver 210 hours of talk time. After a full day of reasonable thrashing around, it had lost about a quarter of its power and we managed to get through three days between charges if we weren't too heavy on the 3G or music playback - which many people won't be.
ZTE F930: Hands on gallery
ZTE F930: Official photography
ZTE F930: Conclusion
The ZTE F930 is a low cost handset, and our initial expectations weren't all that great. There were some let-downs to be sure, but in some respects we were pleasantly surprised.
No, there's no Wi-Fi or GPS, and the general usability suffers a little because the small screen makes it tricky to enter text.
But there are some plus points, such as that neat timer in the music player and the way you can get notifications and an app switcher by holding down the Menu button.
The ZTE F930 certainly isn't going to blow you away, and if you shop around you can find last season's handsets that offer a little more at a similar price, but even so, we can't help liking what we see.
The ZTE F930 sports a neat physical design and the build is fairly robust considering the asking price.
There are some nice extras, like the sleep mode in the music player. The trio of Home screens are also well thought through, and offer plenty of flexibility.
The camera was a pleasant surprise, shooting nice quality shots outside, though it was weaker indoors.
Web browsing is a no-go area unless you're prepared to take a somewhat hit and miss approach to larger sites loading, don't mind the small screen, or only visit mobile formatted sites.
The video recorder is a real disappointment, especially after the good things we experienced from the stills camera.
We'd have liked an FM radio for additional entertainment.
There's no front camera, so two-way video calling isn't really practical. You can do it using the rear-facing camera, but you can't see the person you're talking to if you want them to be able to see you.
The ZTE F930 is not pocket-money price, and you have the right to expect some quality features. You get them in the shape of the camera and some nicely-designed and well thought-out software.
But you lose out in a number of respects too, not least because the small screen is inhibiting for some uses.
Look back at older handsets and you'll find alternatives to rival this one such as the Samsung Monte and Nokia 5230. And some new handsets, like the recently reviewed LG Cookie Fresh, are also worth checking out.
It's not going to break the bank at £70/£80, but the ZTE F930 is still a mite expensive for the feature set it offers up.