ZTE Skate review: ZTE Skate

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good

Average User Rating

4.5 stars 11 user reviews
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Massive screen; Android 2.3; Stock Android user interface.

The Bad Cheap casing; Weak CPU; Low app storage space; Poor battery life.

The Bottom Line The ZTE Skate offers pure Android 2.3 on a massive 4.3-inch screen for a very reasonable SIM-free price. An underpowered CPU and dodgy build quality are negatives, but the Skate's good qualities far outweigh its bad ones.

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The ZTE Skate is a budget Android smartphone running version 2.3 of Google's mobile operating system. It boasts a massive 4.3-inch screen and comes with a 2GB microSD card.

The Skate is available unlocked and SIM-free for around £200.

Should I buy the ZTE Skate?

If you read our Orange Monte Carlo review and were dissuaded by the obnoxious custom interface installed by Orange, then you may want to give the ZTE Skate some serious consideration.

The two phones are technically identical. They share the same internal hardware, the same case design and are both running Android 2.3 , also known as Gingerbread. The big difference is that the Monte Carlo is being sold with Orange's software pre-loaded, while the Skate is packing the purest flavour of Android outside of the Google-backed Nexus S .

ZTE Skate pure Android
With stock Android on board, the Skate offers a pure user interface (left); the number of pre-installed apps is mercifully low (right).

This means you don't have to contend with performance-sapping pre-loaded apps you don't need -- or bloatware -- and a lurid user interface. Instead you're granted a blank canvas on which you can make your own mark.

This will appeal to die-hard Android fans but it comes at a cost -- because the Skate is currently only being sold SIM-free, you'll have to shell out around £80 more than you would for the pay as you go Monte Carlo.

Stock Android

If we're brutally honest, we hated Orange's custom user interface on the Monte Carlo. It was unattractive, sluggish and came packed with pointless applications which couldn't be removed by the user.

The ZTE Skate is running an almost untouched version of the stock Android operating system. That means it suffers from none of these issues. Put this phone alongside the Nexus S -- which also runs pure Android -- and you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference from a user interface perspective.

ZTE Skate keyboard and app storage
The Skate's app storage is disappointingly low (left); the phone uses the Gingerbread keyboard (right).

There are some changes to take note of, however. The camera application has been slightly improved, offering an on-screen brightness control; this is for those times when you're shooting in low-light and can't make out your subject on the screen. There's also a smattering of pre-loaded apps, most of which are genuinely useful and don't hog processing power.

ZTE Skate camera
The 5-megapixel auto-focus camera is backed up by an LED flash.

Because the version of Android on the Skate is uncluttered and free of bloatware, it runs moderately faster and smoother than the one seen on the Monte Carlo. It's still not a totally silky experience though. Scrolling is slightly jerky and there's a noticeable delay when moving between applications or opening menus.

ZTE Skate news and weather
The Skate boasts the stock Android News and Weather application, which also operates as a live widget.

Despite these issues, the decision to launch the Skate with stock Android was a wise one on ZTE's part. It gives users a chance to customise the phone to their own tastes, installing things they actually want rather than having apps forced upon them.

Design

As we've already mentioned, the Skate is virtually identical to the Orange Monte Carlo. The only difference is the logo printed on the casing.

Despite its large dimensions, the Skate weighs just 120g. For a device with a 4.3-inch screen, that at first appears a remarkable achievement. It's slightly less impressive when you discover that the casing is entirely plastic -- and cheap plastic, at that.

ZTE Skate casing
The Skate's plastic casing feels a bit cheap and nasty, but it's solid enough.

Producing a handset of this type for such a modest budget naturally requires some sacrifices to be made. In the case of the Skate, it's construction materials. Don't go expecting the robust build quality of the Motorola Defy or the lush, highly-engineered lines of the iPhone 4S .

ZTE Skate back view
The Skate looks like an uninspiring slab of plastic from the back.

The front of the Skate features three physical buttons, which cover the traditional Android actions such as Home, Menu and Back. The Search button has been removed -- a habit that many Android hardware manufactures are falling into these days.

We actually quite like having a physical Search button as it allows you to quickly find items or fire up the Voice Command menu with a long-press.

Along the sides of the device you'll discover the volume rocker and power buttons. The latter is also used to lock and wake the screen. We'd hoped that you'd also be able to wake the display by pressing one of the fascia buttons, but that sadly isn't the case.

ZTE Buttons
There are three physical buttons on the Skate to cover typical Android functions.

Screen

The Skate's 4.3-inch display is unquestionably one of its biggest selling points. No other budget Android phone can boast such a massive screen. The TFT LCD panel has a resolution of 480x800 pixels, which gives a pixel density of around 217 pixels per inch.

ZTE Skate screen
You'll be hard-pressed to find an Android with as big a screen for the money.

Despite lacking the vibrancy of a Super AMOLED screen, the Skate's display is reasonably bright, with good viewing angles. The auto-brightness setting is something of a miser, however, and you'll want to disable it if you hope to achieve the best image.

Of course, using such a big display does have its drawbacks, especially if you're running it on full brightness. The Skate's battery life is pretty poor, and we'd be willing to bet that a lot of the drain is down to the enormous -- but attractive -- screen.

ZTE Skate screen games
With 4.3-inches to play with, the Skate's display is great for viewing images, watching videos and playing games.

Processing power and internal storage

Despite that massive 4.3-inch display, the ZTE Skate only has an 800MHz processor and 512MB of RAM. Other big-screen handsets that we've seen have tended to pack at least a 1GHz CPU, with plenty of RAM to aid smooth performance.

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Where to Buy

ZTE Skate

Part Number: CNETZTE Skate

Typical Price: £200.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

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