A phone need not have every premium extravagance for it to be a good device, and the ZTE-made AT&T F160 illustrates that point beautifully. Sure, as a simple midrange handset, it certainly isn't recommended for power texters or multimedia geeks and with its matte black appearance, it's far from showy.
What it does, however, is competently deliver on features and design with a light, slim, and comfortable body; a responsive keypad; good call quality; and useful usability touches. Best of all, the AT&T F160 is free with a two-year contract, making it an ever more valuable no-fuss phone for callers. The AT&T F160 costs $149.99 without a contract. For ZTE, which has produced several clunkers (like the maligned ZTE Agent), the F160 is a welcome step in the right direction.
ZTE's shadowy AT&T F160 is a nondescript, mostly matte black chassis with subtle design features--slightly rounded corners and a couple of silver accents. Like many ZTE phones, it's tall and lean--4.8 inches tall, 1.9 inches wide, and 0.4 inch thick. We can't think of many pockets or purses too shallow for its lanky profile. The F160 also is light, just a hair under 3 ounces, but without feeling wispy or fragile. Easy to grab up with a soft-touch backing, the F160 feels comfortable in the hand and on the ear.
The 2.4-inch screen seems a good size for the phone's thin face. Its 240x320-pixel QVGA resolution is standard, but with 262,000 colors, it also looks bright and colorful. Navigation is straightforward, with a grid menu that pops up when you press one soft key, and a very handy list of shortcuts for the camera, calling history, and so on that pops up with a press of the other soft key.
Settings let you change the wallpaper, backlight duration, and screen brightness, plus set a boot screen greeting. We just hope you're happy with the font style and size, because it doesn't appear that you can change them.
Below the screen are the two soft keys, the Send and End buttons, and the Clear and Shortcuts key. The latter makes it easy to toggle between screens, like your Menu and the Home screen. A four-directional navigation toggle also is present, along with its central select button. We had no complaints getting around.
The alphanumeric keypad buttons are wide and rather short; however, they're gratifyingly responsive and the domed centers make them easy to press and to dial by feel. Two multifunctional buttons preside over three tasks: locking the screen, turning the phone to vibrate mode, and changing the text mode. Sure, phones with full QWERTY keyboards are better for accomplished texters, but the F160's congenial keypad and easy automatic predictive texting make composition manageable.
As for the other external features, the spines hold the volume rocker, a camera shutter button and Micro-USB charging port, and a 3.5 millimeter headset jack. On the back is a 3-megapixel camera, and beneath the back cover is the microSD card slot that can take up to 8GB external memory. Unfortunately, it's only accessible once you've removed both the back cover and the battery.
Despite the F160's unassuming look, it has more goodies than you'd anticipate, thanks in part to AT&T's bundled services. There's room in the F160's address book for 500 contacts, and each entry can host your contact's name, multiple phone numbers, multiple e-mail addresses, a street address, and a ringtone. Twelve ringtones come on the phone, but you can sub in your own via the microSD card, or buy ringtones in the AT&T store. Ringback tones, while a separate purchase through AT&T, are another option. Unfortunately, attaching a photo ID to your contact isn't--an odd omission for a camera phone.
As with most phones, the essential tools are all here--an alarm clock, a calendar, a calculator, a stopwatch, a world clock, a currency converter, and a voice recorder. Beyond those, the F160 has 3G support, Bluetooth, and GPS. It also has the aforementioned text messaging, plus a heap of other socializing features for instant messaging, e-mail, and communicating over social networks like Facebook and Twitter, all in dedicated apps preloaded by AT&T. Typing out e-mails and prickly passwords on a numeric dial pad is cumbersome, even with predictive text turned on, but it's nice that AT&T made e-mail an option.
Yellow Pages Mobile and turn-by-turn navigation are also preloaded apps. You can visit the AppCenter application storefront to purchase and download more apps and games.
Web browsing is serviceable with the AT&T.net app. CNET's mobile site and subsequent pages loaded in about 8 seconds, with very choppy graphical rendering. Still, it's fine for checking the news and weather, especially over 3G speeds. That said, it won't replace your desktop browser by a long shot.
As for multimedia, that standard headset jack complements music playback. You can subscribe to AT&T Music for $4.99 per month, but you can use the player and storefront for free. Streaming radio and Music ID are two of the common AT&T music features. For your own music, you have basic controls, including power over playlists.
Sadly, photo and video multimedia is more disappointing. The 3-megapixel shooter took indoor photos that were dark, grainy, and devoid of vibrancy and depth. Even after boosting the brightness, pictures were drastically muted. Flood the lens with natural light, though, and the F160's camera did much better. Indoor videos were also dark and grainy, a bit choppy, and hampered by low resolution.
That said, tweaking some of the photo and video options may improve your final picture quality. Photos come in seven resolutions (from 1,536x2,048 down to 480x640), three quality grades, five brightness and contrast settings each, and three color and sound effects. Multimedia messages are capped at 30 seconds, more or less. Quality and brightness settings, and so on are similar to the camera options. The F160 has 150MB internal memory. As we mentioned, it holds up to 8GB of expandable memory.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1,800/1,900) (UMTS/HSDPA (850/1,900/2,100) AT&T F160 in San Francisco using AT&T's service. Call quality was quite good on our side. Voices sounded true to life and clear, though if we concentrated, we could make out some white noise. During some calls, our friends considered us mushy and muffled on their side. Other times, they didn't have any complaints.
AT&T F160 call quality sample Listen now:
Speakerphone volume was a little low on our end and had every bit the echoey, rather robotic hum that's typical of speakerphone. On their line, our callers heard our voice, but had a hard time distinguishing our words.
The F160 has a rated battery life of 3 hours talk time and up to 8 days of standby time. We tested the F160 ourselves and found that it had talk time of 3 hours and 55 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the F160 has a digital SAR of 1.08 watts per kilogram.