ZTE may shroud its identity in the branding of the AT&T R225, but the cell phone manufacturer is indeed behind this AT&T prepaid GoPhone. ZTE has a history of making tall, slim cell phones, like the ZTE C79 and the Agent, and the R225 fits right into the profile. Its petite body, combined with very good call quality and a rock-bottom $14.99 price tag without a contract, keeps the AT&T R225 in the running for an entry-level phone. However, several oversights--the lack of a volume rocker among them--makes the R225 suited for calls and other light use.
The R225 is black and bright silver with silver accents that help make it look like a much more premium handset than it is. At 4.2 inches tall, 1.8 inches wide, and 0.5 inch thick, the R225 it fits well into small hands and feels comfortable on the ear and in the hand, thanks in part to a soft-touch material on the back cover. At 2.9 ounces it's also quite light without feeling wispy.
Only 1.8 inches, the R225's screen feels disappointingly undersize. Of course, it's small enough to mask the low 128x160-pixel resolution (262,000 colors), which comes across as bright, but blurry around the edges. A straightforward grid of menu choices and soft key options aid the navigation, so it's easy to get around. The R225's hardware navigation buttons also are useful. Unlike the uncomfortably cramped ZTE Agent, the R225 gives the soft keys and Talk and End buttons breathing room. We had no problems with the four-way directional pad and the central select button. Likewise, the backlit dial pad buttons were spacious and responsive enough. There are shared buttons for turning the phone to vibrate mode, and for locking the screen. Although they are separated, keys are too close to consistently dial by feel.
When it comes to external features, ZTE has taken austerity to a new level. The sole deviation you'll see on the otherwise smooth perimeter is the Micro-USB charging port. On the back there's no camera, just the external speaker. While many cell phone owners can live without the usually grainy quality in low-end cameras, what we can't fathom is why ZTE chose to leave out the volume rocker, which should by now be a standard component on any phone. You can still adjust a call's volume with the navigation toggle.
The R225's feature set is on the lean side, but is more padded than we first expected. The address book holds 1,000 entries and has room for multiple phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and a URL. You can assign a photo and calling group to a contact, and can also assign one of 11 ringtones, plus a ringtone from a file stored on the phone. Since there's no SD card support for transferring your own music, you'll need to download additional ringtones from AT&T's online store to expand your options.
Essential tools on the R255 include an alarm clock, a calendar, a calculator, a to-do list, and a stop watch. International travelers will appreciate the currency converter and world clock. There's also an audio recorder.
While it isn't strictly necessary for phones of this type to have Bluetooth, most of them do. It's a shame it isn't here, honestly, as the ability to talk hands-free while driving is a capability we'd expect to see on most modern phones. It would have been one more selling point in the ultrasimple R225's favor.
Texting is the communication king on the R225. You may be surprised to see downloadable services for mobile e-mail. Yahoo, AOL, Windows Live Hotmail, and Gmail, are all included, and you can set up service for other Web mail clients. A subscription will cost you $5 per month, plus data charges. Typing out e-mails on a numeric dial pad is cumbersome, even with predictive text turned on, but we still embrace the fact that AT&T made e-mail an option. There's also instant messaging with Yahoo Messenger, AIM, Windows Live Messenger, an AT&T Mobile Care app, and downloadable apps for mobile banking and the weather, to name two more of the carrier's contributions.
AT&T also included a browser. Because of the R225's display size, the mobile Web isn't a good choice for surfing heavy Web sites. It took about 15 seconds to load CNET's basic mobile-optimized site over the 2.5G data network, and navigation was difficult on such a small screen. Even so, we're glad to see the browser.
Since the R225 really is focused on making calls, you won't find a camera or a music player. That's not necessarily a problem if you're looking for an inexpensive handset for vocal communications. The 8MB internal memory should be sufficient. Those looking for a more customized experience can skip over to AT&T's online storefront to purchase wallpaper, games, and ringback tones.
We tested the dual-band (GSM 850/1900) AT&T R225 in San Francisco using AT&T's network. Call quality was impressive on our end--clear, but not crystal clear. We heard only occasional digital interruptions, and even then they were subtle. Voices sounded true and volume was fine, though perhaps on the low end. Our callers agreed with volume and voice quality. They noted we were understandable and they didn't have to strain to hear us as they have for other phones before.
Unfortunately, speakerphone volume was almost nonexistent. The R225 emitted only a whisper and squeak of sound from the external speaker. We had to hang up and try again to prove that it was on. Callers on the other end of the line assured us it was. They said they heard a large amount of white noise and voice volume decreased by half when we turned on speakerphone.
The R225 has a rated battery life of 5.3 hours talk time and up to 15 days of standby time. It has a tested talk time of 4 hours and 56 minutes. It measured a digital SAR of 0.8 watt per kilogram in FCC radiation tests.