If you're on a budget and you're looking for a prepaid device, you might be tempted to consider Aio's inexpensive ZTE Prelude, which runs $50 off-contract. But believe me when I say, don't.
Sure, there is some expectation that a phone this cheap will have a small screen, 3G speeds, or lower-powered specs. But even if you are in the market for an entry-level handset, the Prelude will let you down. Its display is hardly viewable outdoors, its processor is glacial, and even its phone calls aren't clear.
On top of that, there are plenty of other handsets, from several prepaid carriers, that are available at the same price range. These devices, like the Nokia Lumia 521 or LG Optimus F6, aren't only cheap, but they manage to get the job done right as well.
Compact at 4.6 inches tall, 2.4 inches wide, and 0.43-inch thick (116.84 x 60.96 x 10.92mm), the Prelude is also lightweight at just 4.4 ounces (124.74g). It fits easily in your hand or your front jeans pockets, and you won't have any trouble navigating it with one hand. The matte battery door's soft-touch coating works well at keeping fingerprints off, and I could appreciate ZTE's small design effort when it stylized the rear with gray, curvy lines.
The device also has a deep, tapered chin, really rounded corners, and soft edges. In general, it has an inexpensive, toylike feel. Given its look, you'd expect the handset to be for a young child or perhaps a smartphone neophyte.
On left edge is a volume rocker, while on top you'll find a 3.5mm headphone jack and the sleep/power button. The right houses a Micro-USB port for charging. The 2-megapixel camera is located on the back, and below it are two slits for the audio speaker. If you pry off the back plate using a small indentation in the bottom left corner, you'll gain access to the battery and the microSD card slot, which is expandable up to 32GB.
The Prelude features a 3.5-inch TFT LCD touch screen, with a 320x480-pixel resolution. This low resolution means that images and menu icons will appear grainy and crunchy. Text will show a noticeable amount of aliasing around the edges. The display is also difficult to view in sunlight. It has a very narrow viewing angle, so the slightest tilt in any direction will wash out the screen almost completely.
Lastly, the display isn't sensitive. At times, it appeared unresponsive to my touch. I had to tap icons more than once for my actions to register, and typing was a drag since I noticed a lag between my selecting the keys and when it appeared on the screen.
Below the screen are three hot keys for back, home, and menu. To access and quit recent apps, long-pressing the center home button will bring up the multitasking windows.
The Prelude runs Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean and as such contains several Google apps: Chrome, Gmail, Search, Plus, Maps, Talk, and YouTube, as well as access to the Play Store's Books, Movies & TV, Music, and Newsstand portals.
Other apps include Facebook and Twitter, an alarm clock, native browser and email clients, a calculator, a calendar, a news and weather app, a notepad, a sound recorder, a timer, and a voice dialer.
Users will also get TouchPal X, an optional keyboard and text-inserting function you can activate, and the mobile office suite, Kingsoft Office. Aio preloaded three of its own apps too: My Aio, which lets users check their service bill and carrier balance, and two apps to set up Visual Voicemail and Wi-Fi settings. Finally, other features include 4GB of internal memory, Bluetooth 3.0, and 512MB of RAM.
Camera and video
As expected for a camera with just a 2-megapixel sensor, photo quality was poor. Even with ample lighting, pictures came out grainy with a lot of digital noise. Colors were dull, and light sources often were blown out. Also, despite having a steady hand, many of my pictures had motion blur due to the slow shutter speed. Objects often had fuzzy outlines, and dark hues were hard to discern from one another. For more on photo quality, be sure to click on the images below to view them at their full resolutions.
Video recording yielded similarly unimpressive results. It took a significant amount of time for the lens to adjust itself to different lighting environments, and footage ended up looking choppy and rough. Colors were muted, and objects appeared fuzzy and pixelated.