ZTE Tania £210
15th May 2012 | 15:42
ZTE's low-cost Windows Phone packs a 4.3-inch touchscreen and 5MP camera
Windows Phone isn't exactly ubiquitous at the moment, and it isn't really setting smartphone owners on fire.
Nokia's current financial woes show this, even though it's now joined at the hip to Microsoft and its flagship Lumia 900 is in the wild.
But Microsoft isn't abandoning its smartphone operating system. In fact, a new version is in the offing this year. And ZTE has muscled in with the ZTE Tania, a budget Windows Phone handset that might, just might, help bring the operating system to the masses.
With the ZTE Tania costing £210 on Pay As You Go, or £10-£20 a month on contract, the smartphone undercuts the £450 Nokia Lumia 900 hugely. The question has to be: what do you gain and lose by dropping so much cash from the price?
Well, you don't lose out on a sizable mobile phone. The ZTE Tania has a 4.3-inch 800 x 480 pixel screen. This isn't as sharp and vibrant as the AMOLED found on the Nokia Lumia 900 but it is the same size and has the same pixel count.
There's no front camera, but you do get a 5MP main camera and that Windows Phone stalwart 'Unlock to camera' shortcut button is on the right-hand edge. ZTE has also put the main on/off switch on the right-hand side, where it is easy for smaller hands to reach.
There's a volume rocker on the left edge, headset slot on the top, and the USB port is rather awkwardly located towards the middle of the right edge.
One place ZTE has cut corners is with the build. Next to the Nokia Lumia 900 or Lumia 800 it really does look low grade. The phone is solid enough - we couldn't bend or bow it in our hands - but it just looks budget rather than premium.
The plastic chassis doesn't help here, and there were telltale signs of wear and tear on the camera surround of our review sample.
ZTE has pulled a few punches on the internals too, with just 4GB of internal storage (and you can't add microSD cards to Windows Phone handsets), 512MB of RAM supporting the 1GHz Qualcomm processor, and a 1400mAh battery.
Then again, the ZTE Tania is a Windows Phone 7.5 Mango handset for £210, don't forget.
The ZTE Tania runs Windows Phone 7.5 Mango, and everything is very familiar. You've got the standard Windows lock screen that delivers time and date, signal strength, Wi-Fi status and battery life. If there's an appointment due, that shows too.
Sweep the lock screen up and away and you are into the tile-based Start screen. This is automatically populated with a range of things you might be interested in.
Sweep to the left and a complete apps list appears in tile form. Tap and hold any of these and you can pin what you want to the Start screen. Some of the tiles you can pin can include live data.
You can also pin stuff to the Start screen in some of the apps themselves. In Bing Maps, for example, you can pin a location to the Start screen so you can get back to it easily at a later date.
Microsoft is pretty mean when it comes to enabling you to customise how the Start screen looks. You can choose between a few colours for the tiles and have either a black or white background, but that's it.
It's all very similar to what every other Windows Phone offers, and that's great, because you're not spending a fortune on the ZTE Tania to get it. But there is a big issue that shows where the money has been saved.
While the ZTE Tania has a big, high resolution screen (4.3 inches, 480 x 800), it isn't high quality. There's some blurring as you scroll around, viewing angles aren't great and the TFT is tricky to see in bright sunlight.
Although it looks pretty good if viewed head-on indoors, you do head outside on a daily basis, right?
Contacts and calling
Once you have signed in to an account such as Windows Live, Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, the ZTE Tania gets populated with information about your contacts.
They are all brought together in the People area - or Hub - of the handset. The phone can also import contacts directly from your SIM.
With the importing done, the People hub gives you access to news feeds and information about contacts, contact history and, of course, the ability to get in touch with people too.
Windows Phone makes an attempt to link contacts brought together from different sources. If their names are the same in, say, your Facebook and LinkedIn feeds, it'll collate information from both, although we did find we had to do some linking by hand.
The good thing about this system is that when you've brought people together you can contact them in a whole bunch of ways just by viewing their contact details.
And because Windows Phone is about activities rather than apps, you can even link out to Bing Maps and map their home address if you need to.
It can all get a bit busy, though. We've got hundreds of contacts in our Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google accounts.
We're always miffed with Windows Phone that it shows so little information on the screen at any one time, too.
Really, being able to see just three tweets at once on the ZTE Tania isn't great, and when looking at an individual's contact details we'd also like to see more. Windows Phone needs to devote less space to its header info and more to showing the content we want to see.
The other way to make contact with someone is via the dialler, and you get to this from the Start screen. The dialler offers call history, a link right into the People hub, access to voicemail or a simple, large dial pad where you can simply tap out a number.
It's a real pity that the dial pad doesn't support smart dialling, though. We found fiddling around within the People hub could take longer than starting to tap out someone's name or number on the dial pad.
We can't quibble about call quality, which was fine for us, but we aren't too sure about the ZTE Tania's ability to hold a signal.
Set against other handsets, and with an Orange SIM in both, the ZTE Tania had a tendency to show a bar less of signal strength, and sometimes even two bars.
Messaging is important in Windows Phone, and in the ZTE Tania there's a hub all to itself where you can see past messages and easily create new ones.
As is the convention for Windows Phone, there's a small menu row at the bottom of the screen, and simply tapping on the + icon enables you to start a new message.
Once you're in the message creation screen, there's an intelligent search of your contacts - just start tapping in the To field and a list of matches appears.
You only see three full matches at a time, though, since the screen space down to the keyboard is used while the keyboard itself has to be kept clear for you to type on. Keep typing to narrow the search, or scroll to get to the contact you want.
Beneath the keyboard there are tiny icons offering the option to attach images or voice notes to messages. And if you hit the three small dots to the right of these icons you can see another option - to delete the current message thread.
One thing Microsoft has got right with Windows Phone is the keyboard. On the ZTE Tania it's really responsive to the touch, and the predictive text is pretty good too.
However, it feels a bit inconsistent that the Messaging area only enables you to send SMS and Facebook chat messages. If you want to make a voice call, you have to come out of Messaging and go into Phone for the dialler.
Facebook accounts are also available from the People hub, which also enables you to see Twitter updates and send emails. Email is something else you can't manage from the Messaging hub.
What we do like is how you can link the inboxes of different email accounts so you can quickly scroll through everything if you like.
You can access the internet over either Wi-Fi or HSDPA, and in both cases the large screen of the ZTE Tania makes the experience pleasurable.
The 1GHz processor helps pages render quickly enough, although not at lightning-fast speeds, and the screen is finger responsive for zooming and panning.
In fact, despite the screen not being the best we've seen on a smartphone, web browsing is one of the key pleasures of this low cost Windows Phone.
The search tool delivers results that look rather different to other browsing experiences. It uses the familiar interface from other hubs and incorporates local searching so that when you enter a search term you get results for the web, local services and images, and can scroll through these with horizontal finger sweeps.
This variety isn't always going to be relevant, but sometimes it can get you to what you want really quickly.
The Local Search will pinpoint locations on a map so that you can easily find out more information about a place, such as its phone number, address and website. You can link out to Bing Maps to get directions, too.
You can pin web pages to the Start screen so that it is easy to get back to them at a later date. This is great for things such as Bing Maps locations or TechRadar articles and reviews you don't have time to read right now.
Once you've found a website you want, there's a general predisposition to drop you into the mobile version.
But it is usually easy to get to the full version of a site.
We don't want to make too big a deal about Windows Phone's consistent inability to provide Flash support, since we're going to see a move to HTML 5 in a big way as time goes along, and that's supported in IE.
But nevertheless it has to be said that the lack of Flash support on the ZTE Tania will be an issue for some at present.
The ZTE Tania's back-mounted camera shoots stills at resolutions up to 5 megapixels, and there's an LED flash.
One of the neat features of Windows Phone is its ability to automatically upload photos you take to the free SkyDrive storage you get when you sign up for a free Windows Live account. You make the setting from the Camera roll.
Another is that you can unlock the handset directly to the camera by pressing the side-mounted shutter button.
For a 5 megapixel camera, shots aren't that wonderful. There's a fair bit of compression, and this luscious bluebell-filled landscape doesn't look half as good as it should.
The macro shooting mode can't cope with very close objects, but used carefully it can generate some nice photos.
Indoors without using the flash in fairly average cafe lighting conditions, the camera does fairly well to capture pretty true colours.
This photo of running water shows that the shutter speed isn't all it could be. You could get some blurring if you don't have a steady hand.
Along with the usual sepia, mono and negative filters that are often found on cameras, there's a red filter that can be used to good effect.
It's great that the ZTE Tania can shoot 720p video, but really, really irritating that it defaults to its other setting, 640 x 480, after you've shot a video. We fell foul of its poor memory on more than one occasion, having to reset to 720p video recording and have a second take.
When we filmed the waterfall, we failed to notice that the camera had reverted to 640 x 480 resolution until we got home, so the resulting video is thus disappointingly low resolution.
In our video clip of the bluebells, we were really smooth moving the camera round to record panoramic video, but that's not the impression given when you watch it back.
Music and video are catered for in a special hub all of their own on the ZTE Tania. You can scroll around to see the library of onboard videos - including any you've downloaded and any you've captured locally - listen to music and podcasts and use the FM radio that's built into the smartphone.
The music and video hub, incidentally, also includes a link out to the Marketplace, which includes a range of tunes broken down into different genres.
To get your own music onto the ZTE Tania you need to connect to Zune and synchronise it across. It's not a terrible pain, but if you're the kind of person who prefers simple drag and drop via the Windows File Explorer, or microSD card-swapping, it may rankle.
It's great to have an FM radio on the phone, but for some bizarre reason it isn't possible to play radio through the handset's speaker. This is a Windows Phone standard feature, and one that really needs fixing.
One thing that really annoyes us with regard to the ZTE Tania's media handling is that it has a mere 4GB of internal storage and no microSD card support.
The latter is a fact of life for all Windows Phone handsets currently, but if you are a media fan you may not be too happy about it.
Let us add to your woes by saying that our review handset reported just 2.89GB of total available storage.
Battery life and connectivity
We're not the world's greatest fans of non-removable batteries like you see in Nokia's flagship Windows Phone handsets. So we're thankful that the budget build here includes a backplate and a battery you can get at.
You might think the 1400mAh battery will struggle to power the large screen of the ZTE Tania. But think again.
We got a day and a half from it if we used it frugally, including no more than half an hour's music playback and another half an hour browsing the internet over a mix of Wi-Fi and 3G, shooting a few still images and videos, and of course taking advantage of mobile email.
That's not bad going in a world where the generally expected smartphone battery life is a day.
If you want to prolong battery life, Windows Phone has a Battery Saver option in Settings. This turns off some services. It also gives you an estimate of how much time you have left on the battery, which can be useful.
Connectivity on the ZTE Tania isn't bad either. HSDPA runs to 14.4Mbps download with 5.76Mbps upload speeds. Our videos uploaded to SkyDrive in reasonably good time - though beware of data charges when you are out and about.
You might want to turn off auto upload and instead do it manually over Wi-Fi, which supports b, g, and n connections. There's internet sharing too.
Bluetooth 3.0 is here of course, and GPS gives you access to mapping and geotagging of photos.
Maps and apps
The ZTE Tania has a range of apps pre-installed that deliver the kinds of things you'd expect from a smartphone. You've got alarms, a calculator and a calendar among them.
There's also the Office hub that's exclusive to Windows Phone. This gives you access to Mobile versions of OneNote, Word, Excel and PowerPoint on the device, as well as synchronisation to SkyDrive.
If you are a business user you can also access SharePoint services, and there's also access to Office 365 if you are a subscriber to that. There's nothing like pushing at your own brand, Microsoft!
This being a Microsoft Windows Phone handset there's Bing Maps here rather than Google Maps. We've already noted its ability to find local places of interest, and its connection to Internet Explorer, which helps with searches.
Bing Maps can also provide driving direction between one place and another.
This is all much of a muchness with other Windows Phone smartphones and what there isn't anything ZTE adds to help differentiate the ZTE Tania from the rest of the bunch.
Still, the Marketplace's offerings are growing all the time, and it's well worth a scout around for games and more to help you pass the time or be more productive.
Hands on gallery
The ZTE Tania is Windows Phone 7.5 Mango on a budget. You will find it available for around £210, and for that you get an interesting proposition.
The price cut from the top-end Windows Phone handsets gets you full blown Windows Phone 7.5 in a large screened device with no ZTE-added extra apps or tweaks, so in a very real sense this is a taste of the Windows Phone operating system without bells and whistles.
Windows Phone 7.5 is full blown with no corners cut and no elements taken away. If you want to try Microsoft's smartphone operating system but are on a budget, it could be a winner for you.
The screen, while lacking in quality, is big, and that means it's better designed for web browsing and media consumption - as long as you don't intend to do either for long periods of time in bright sunlight.
The build quality is OK, but a long way from great. But to be honest it is pretty solid, and acceptable for the price. The screen isn't wonderful though, and it can be difficult to view outdoors in bright sunlight.
There's a very measly 4GB of built-in storage and no way to add any more to this. It's probably the single most irritating thing about this handset.
The camera isn't up to a great deal, and video recording very annoyingly resets itself from 720p to 640 x 480 after every shoot.
ZTE has done a brave thing bringing the low-cost ZTE Tania to market, and we're pleased it's taken the leap and produced a complete Windows Phone handset at a relatively low cost and with a large screen.
If nothing else, it proves this is possible. The likes of the Nokia Lumia 610 and 710 are both cheaper but don't offer the same screen size, and the trend towards the massive screen is something that's currently not well provided for in the Windows Phone camp.
However, there are a lot of compromises on offer here for the price, so make sure you give the Tania a test run before deciding to take the plunge.