Ever heard of ZTE Corporation? The answer -- unless you happen to have ties of one sort or another to China -- is probably no, as locally they're hardly the equivalent of a Nokia or a Motorola, although they do have an Australian office. According to the ZTE Web site, they're "China's largest listed telecommunications equipment provider specializing in offering customized network solutions for telecom carriers worldwide." A big sentence to essentially say that they make, amongst other things, mobile phones, and in this case, the Telstra F850. We're not sure if it'll be the case with the final retail units, but our review sample of the Telstra F850 still had plenty of ZTE branding upon it; given Telstra's liking of total rebrands this strikes us as a little unusual. In terms of where it sits in the Next G product offerings, this is the entry level model, with a price point and feature set to match.
The F850 itself is a fliptop mobile phone in black plastic, measuring in at 98 by 49 by 18.6mm and weighing in at 125 grams. That practically defines "average" in terms of fliptop phones, and given the market's swing towards making fliptops that are, in one way or another clones of the Motorola RAZR design, it's even arguably a little large. The specifications for the display are rather hard to come by, save for the fact that it's a 262K colour display -- the pixel size would suggest that it's 320x240, but neither the product manual or Telstra's Web site for the phone reveals such details. The one upside to the slightly larger holding size is that the dialling buttons, and especially the selection pads at the top of the phone are slightly larger than normal, which may suit some users very well indeed. A small camera sits in a rotating socket in the middle of the top hinge, just below the screen itself. The power socket sits beneath a rubber flap on the right hand side, and it's irritatingly a custom design; we'd much prefer a mini-USB socket in every phone, if only because it doesn't leave you high and dry if your charger dies. Given the paucity of other ZTE phones on the market, that's a particularly relevant point in the F850's case.
The F850 is a tri-band GSM (900/1800/1900MHz) and WCDMA 850MHz mobile phone, making it suitable for use both on the existing slower GSM network and Telstra's much-hyped Next G network. There's a catch here, however, as while it'll connect to Next G services, it's actually only a 3G-capable data phone. There's no HSDPA data service built into the phone -- and it took us a call to Telstra to confirm this, as both Telstra and ZTE's local sites are a little coy about this particular detail.
Given its budget price point, it's not surprising to see that the feature set of the F850 is rather meagre. It runs on a 146MHz processor with 64MB of internal memory, which can be expanded via microSD memory card. The inbuilt camera is a 1.3-megapixel model with two -- count them! -- additional scene modes, B&W and Sepia. It supports MP3 playback and polyphonic ringtones, and as a Next G branded phone, it's also possible to access Next G services such as Foxtel Digital, video calling and the raft of Telsta add-on services such as email and mobile blogging.
Telstra (and presumably ZTE) rates the F850 as having up to 200 hours of standby time and 3 hours of talk time from a full charge. In our testing we found the talk time to be reasonably accurate, but the standby time much less so; we tended to have to recharge every two to three days even on very moderate usage patterns.
As you'd expect with a 3G phone, our data rates were decent but hardly on the spectacular side when compared to true HSDPA phones. We're not terribly impressed with the way the phone is promoted by Telstra -- whose site for the phone merely lists it as having "Next G Network Coverage", which is technically correct but potentially a little misleading, especially as they say exactly the same thing for their other HSDPA-enabled phones.
The F850's screen specifications also remained a mystery to us, and that's possibly a deliberate omission because it's not a very good display. This is most evident when firing up the camera, where there's a noticeable motion blur -- not to mention a system slowdown -- but it's also evident when viewing your own photos or watching video clips, where the screen blurs to a level we found distracting. For regular telephony it's perfectly suitable, but if you're a multimedia maven, look elsewhere.
The F850 doesn't pretend to be the top of the line in Next G phones -- for that, you'd need to look at the JASJAM, although there you'd strangely still need to omit mobile Foxtel. Perhaps that's a blessing in disguise. Anyway, the F850 is an inexpensive way to ease into the Next G world, with an outright asking price of $409, some $250 cheaper than the Samsung A701. As such, we've rated it highly based on value alone, but prospective purchasers should be aware of its rather severe shortcomings.