Also known as the, the Orange Monte Carlo is the successor to the highly popular and critically acclaimed . It's an smart phone with a massive 4.3-inch touchscreen.
The Monte Carlo is being sold exclusively through Orange for £150 on a pay as you go deal. If you're looking to grab one on a monthly contract, you can expect to pay around £10 to £15 for the privilege. A SIM-free ZTE Skate, without the Orange branding, sells for around £200.
Should I buy the Orange Monte Carlo?
If you're on the lookout for an Android phone on a pay as you go contract, then the Monte Carlo arguably represents your best option right now.
When you consider the specs -- Android Gingerbread, a 4.3-inch screen, an 800MHz processor -- the price being asked for this phone is very low. Most other 4.3-inch Android phones retail SIM-free for much more than the £150 that Orange is asking for the Monte Carlo.
It doesn't hurt to be realistic about the phone's power, though. That 4.3-inch LCD-TFT capacitive display is a joy to behold, but the handset could really have done with a faster processor to make it fly. At times, the Monte Carlo stutters and jerks during demanding processes, and some of the more ambitious 3D games aren't compatible because it lacks the necessary hardware.
Despite its shortcomings, the Monte Carlo puts its pay as you go Android rivals in the shade. Most of its peers run an older version of Android and feature weaker CPUs and much smaller screens. If your budget is limited but you desire some big-screen extravagance in your pocket, then this phone comes highly recommended. You certainly won't find a better pay as you go handset for such a low price.
The Monte Carlo runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread. To be specific, it's actually loaded with Android 2.3.4, which is the very latest version of Google's mobile operating system. That means the Monte Carlo is on par with the, Google's official 'developer' phone.
This iteration of Android brings with it increased power, better task-management tools and a whole host of other goodies. In short, it's the most accomplished version of the OS yet.
It's impressive to see such a modestly priced pay as you go challenger sporting Android 2.3. Many similarly priced rivals, such as the, and , remain stuck on Android 2.2 Froyo.
The Monte Carlo doesn't run the vanilla version of Android 2.3, though. Orange has been up to its old tricks again, tinkering with the OS. Most of the menu icons are white and orange, and there's a whole host of unique widgets to try out, although, in truth, many are simply copies of existing examples already available within the Android OS itself.
When compared to other Android skins on the market, the Monte Carlo's custom OS feels rather lightweight. The overbearing use of orange colouring is off-putting too, but, if you install your own app launcher (such as the excellent Go Launcher or LauncherPro), you can overcome this issue somewhat.
The Monte Carlo's front is dominated by a 4.3-inch, 480x800-pixel touchscreen, which puts the handset on an equal footing with the likes of the, and .
Although it's not an AMOLED display, like the one seen on its close relation the Orange San Francisco, the Monte Carlo's TFT offering is still impressive. With auto-brightness switched on, it's perhaps a little too dim, but, once you turn this frugal feature off, you'll have no complaints, although battery life naturally takes a hit.
In fact, the Monte Carlo's screen makes some high-profile Android phones look dull in comparison -- place it next to theThe good news doesn't end there, either. The Monte Carlo's screen utilises capacitive touchscreen technology rather than the cheaper -- and nastier -- resistive kind, as seen on the likes of the or and the budget device comes out the clear winner. That's no mean feat when you consider the vast difference in price. . This means no pressure is required to register a touch, and the screen is more precise and responsive.
The display also allows for multi-touch gestures, such as 'pinch to zoom'. This feature proves indispensable when you're browsing the Web, finding a route on Google Maps or playing Angry Birds.
It's also worth noting that the Monte Carlo's screen is capable of picking up more than two individual points of contact -- something that phones like theand can't manage.
When you're selling a touchscreen smart phone with a 4.3-inch screen for £150, it's inevitable that corners are going to have to be cut. In the case of the Monte Carlo, one of those corners is the design and overall construction of the device.
Clad in cheap, glossy plastic, the Monte Carlo doesn't exactly exude a feeling of luxury. Gripping the phone tightly results in some rather disconcerting creaking sounds, and the battery cover flexes under pressure. But the low-cost construction does offer one big positive: unlike rival large-screen smart phones, the Monte Carlo is relatively light, weighing just 120g.
Although it's quite attractive from the front, when you turn it around, you're presented with a stark black wall of shiny plastic that attracts fingermarks like you wouldn't believe. The rear of the phone is so minimalist that you almost wonder if the designers simply forgot about it. Aside from the camera and speaker grille, the only other feature worthy of note is the Orange logo. Because there's no texture on the back of the Monte Carlo, it can prove to be difficult to grip if your hands happen to be clammy. Ours always are.
Turning the phone back over, you're presented with a row of physical buttons below the screen. These are your traditional Android shortcuts, although the 'search' button has been jettisoned -- a common occurrence these days, what with Samsung abolishing it on most of its handsets.
These three buttons can be used to wake the phone's screen when it's asleep, and the 'back' button also has an LED light beneath it, which shows when the phone is charging or when you've got an unread message.
The sides of the phone reveal a standard volume rocker and power/screen-lock button, both finished in cheap-looking chrome plastic. Lamentably, there's no dedicated camera button to speak of. The USB socket is found on the right-hand side of the device, and, sadly, lacks a cover to prevent dust and pocket fluff from getting in.
Camera and video
The Monte Carlo's 5-megapixel camera is a distinctly no-frills affair, offering an interface that's very close to the stock Android version seen on the Google Nexus S. The one big difference is that you can manually adjust the brightness of the screen using a slider -- something that proves useful when you're attempting to shoot in low-light conditions and want to see what it is you're actually capturing.
The photos produced by the Monte Carlo's camera are reasonably decent, although the usual issues remain -- colours can look washed-out, and images lack clarity and definition. You'll find that the phone is perfectly decent for shooting the odd image, but it won't cause you to leave your dedicated digital camera at home during days out. On the upside, there's a built-in LED flash and autofocus, making macro shots achievable.
The Monte Carlo is capable of recording video, but it's of a standard-definition, rather than 720p or 1080p, resolution. The phone's meagre 800MHz processor would struggle to capture moving images at such a high resolution -- in fact, just playing back HD video causes the handset to break out in a sweat.
You'd be forgiven for assuming the Monte Carlo rocks a dual-core processor, given that many other 4.3-inch monsters have cutting-edge technical specifications. Sadly, this isn't the case -- the phone doesn't even have a 1GHz single-core CPU, let along a dual-core one. The handset's 800MHz processor is another area where ZTE has had to tighten its belt in order to achieve that magical pay as you go price point.