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ZTE's wallet-friendly Altair messaging handset (pictures)

Contract-free and sporting a physical keyboard, the ZTE Altair from Aio lets you type away for just $50.

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Lynn La

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1 of 8 Josh Miller/CNET

The ZTE Altair for Aio Wireless

Big smartphones with expansive screens may be all the rage now, but the ZTE Altair for Aio Wireless features a classic design complete with a physical keyboard. It's currently available without a contract for $50, and also has 3G capabilities and a 2-megapixel camera.

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2 of 8 Josh Miller/CNET

Ultra-portable package

Small and compact, the Altair measures 4.5 inches tall, 2.4 inches wide, and 0.4 inches thick. It weighs just 3.34 ounces, so you won't have any problem slipping it into your jean pockets or your bag.

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3 of 8 Josh Miller/CNET

Low-resolution screen

The phone's 2.4-inch TFT LCD display has a low, 320x240-pixel resolution, meaning images will look grainy and texts will have ridged, aliasing edges. In addition, the display has a narrow viewing angle; a slight tilt to either side can wash out the display completely, making it hard to read.

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4 of 8 Josh Miller/CNET

Comfortable keyboard for typing

The four-row keyboard sports directional buttons and a center select key. There's also a green send button, a red power/end key, and two soft keys (for the left and right select). Lastly, there's a clear button and a "multitasking" key. This launches a small menu of your last used apps and tools.

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5 of 8 Josh Miller/CNET

Covering the ports

On the left, there is a Micro-USB port for charging, and up top is a 3.5mm audio jack. The right edge houses the volume rocker and a convenient shortcut button that launches the camera. All the ports are sealed with small plastic doors that are attached to the body of the handset.

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6 of 8 Josh Miller/CNET

Let the lights surround

The back is made out of a matte, soft-touch rubber material that's decorated with a textured chevron insignia. To access the microSD card slot (which is expandable up to 32GB), or the removable 1,000mAh battery, they'll need to push down on the bottom-half of the battery door and it slide it out.

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7 of 8 Josh Miller/CNET

Don't expect much with 2-MP

The 2-megapixel rear-facing camera lacks a flash, but has a handful of photo options. Users can select between three quality levels and five resolution sizes (ranging from 320x240 to 1,600x1,200 pixels). There's also a timer, and a few extra fun photo frames and shutter sounds thrown in.

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8 of 8 Josh Miller/CNET

Enough for the basics

Since the Altair isn't a smartphone, its software collection is more limited. It's also important to keep in mind that this device is only data-enabled, and has no Wi-Fi capabilities. However, you'll still get all the basics that you need to make calls, send messages, and a few other tasks as well.

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