ZTE's not-so-'Iconic Phablet' makes its CES 2014 debut (hands-on)

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January 6, 2014 6:12 PM PST / Updated: January 7, 2014 3:09 PM PST

LAS VEGAS -- Go ahead, call 2014 the year of the phablet. ZTE is certainly continuing to experiment with screens spanning 5.5 inches or larger, launching the 5.7-inch ZTE Iconic Phablet at CES 2014.

Now, it may seem a little presumptuous to call your own phablet "iconic," especially when the handset in question is a midrange device like this. The Iconic certainly looks nice. In fact, it's one of the most premium-looking smartphones we've seen out of ZTE.

A solid slab of aluminum (yes, real aluminum) makes up most of the back panel, with matte plastic ribs along the top and bottom. The metal adds heft as well as some premium visual appeal. This is an embedded device, which means that the 3,200mAh battery isn't coming out. It does, however, have wireless charging.

The 5.7-inch screen gives up plenty of space for media consumption, but the 720p HD resolution instead of a 1080p HD resolution definitely marks this phone as middle-of-the-road instead of as a high-end device. The same goes for the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean operating system, which is already several steps behind Android 4.4 KitKat. It isn't clear if this phone will get an upgrade.

ZTE's MiFavor UI rides atop Android, mostly keeping out of the way except for a few touches here and there. One is the lock screen, which fans out when you pinch to show an array of shortcut unlocks. You long-press to unlock the phone to the home screen.

The Iconic Phablet also supports split screen, just like the new ZTE Grand S II, which ZTE also announced at CES this week. Opening the apps is an easy drag-and-drop from a floating window. ZTE says that you can launch almost any third-party app in the split-screen mode, a really nice touch that Samsung, for instance, doesn't allow in its own products.

Back to the features, an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera captures 1080p HD video, complemented by a 1-megapixel camera on the front. I didn't get much of a chance to shoot video, apart from taking a grainy, dark photo of myself in a hideously-lit conference room.

An LTE-enabled smartphone, the Iconic also runs off a 1.2GHz dual core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor. Storage space is on the smaller side, only 8GB, but you can expand it by an additional 64GB through the microSD card slot.

We don't have pricing or availability details yet, but we do know that the Iconic Phablet will come to the US at some point, likely a more affordable alternative to other phablets. This midrange field is expanding, though, so ZTE will have its work cut out for it.

For even more phone news, check out more of CNET's awesome CES 2014 coverage.

Hands-on updated at 8:33pm PT to correct the expandable storage details.

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About The Author

Jessica Dolcourt reviews smartphones and cell phones, covers handset news, and pens the monthly column Smartphones Unlocked. A senior editor, she started at CNET in 2006 and spent four years reviewing mobile and desktop software before taking on devices.