The advertising for Telstra's Smart Touch phone declares it to be AWESOME. All in caps. We know this, because when we were out and about testing it, we came across advertising telling us this was so. We took a photo of that ad, just for reference. After all, if a company as big as Telstra says it's AWESOME, it must be so, right?
(Credit: Alex Kidman/CNET Australia)
You wouldn't think so from first visual impressions. The Smart-Touch is a compact touchscreen smartphone. At 103x55x15mm it's extremely compact, which could appeal to those who don't want a bulky smartphone, but we're still not sure that's awesome. At 103g it's also very lightweight, but that's rather implicit in its extremely plastic construction. The power button is tiny, the volume buttons are thin and the dial buttons on the front feel cheap. There's no way that you'd mistake this for a high-end smartphone in any way, and to its credit, Telstra has priced the Smart-Touch accordingly at a very wallet-friendly AU$99 outright. Budgetary value can be awesome, but the design of the Smart-Touch is anything but.
Like many of Telstra's own custom phones, the Smart-Touch is a rebadged ZTE effort; in this case the ZTE T3020. It's a very basic Android phone, running Android 2.1 ("Eclair"), putting it several paces behind most Android phones, and at a disadvantage when it comes to certain Android applications. Not a whole lot of awesome there.
Still, you can't get something for nothing, and we're sure we've mentioned that the Smart-Touch is a distinctly inexpensive smartphone option. Corners have to be cut somewhere, don't they?
The problem with the Smart-Touch is that just about every corner has been cut. The 2.8-inch display is resistive rather than capacitive, and to aid in screen input, a stylus is provided in the back. The camera is a 3.2-megapixel model, the supplied battery is 1100mAh, which we'd call average rather than awesome in the context of modern models. It does support microSD cards, and a 2GB card was supplied with our review model. The catch here is that you've got to remove the battery and fiddle with a very tight latch to change microSD cards.
Our experience testing the Smart-Touch certainly didn't reek of awesome in any particular way. The resistive screen isn't terribly responsive, and the first time we tried to remove the stylus from its slot, we nearly tore the back off the phone because the plastic of the rear cover was notched ever so slightly over the stylus frame. Even once we were used to its operation, we found the stylus removal process to be clicky and creaky. As with every other resistive screen, input is laggy and difficult. The screen size doesn't help here either. Far too many applications rely on an SMS-style predictive text keyboards that make any kind of long entry tedious, and switching to a full QWERTY keyboard leaves you with individual keys that are very thin and equally difficult to use.
The display screen isn't just small. It's also remarkably indistinct from most angles except from straight on. We also found the Smart-Touch had an annoying habit of rebooting itself randomly. We'd go to switch it on, and discover it had shut down entirely. Again, it's all rather lacking in the awesome we were looking forward to.
At a very basic smartphone level, the Smart-Touch does work.
But it's not awesome. Not even in an ironic, hipster kind of way.
Even beyond inflated marketing hype, we're reluctant to recommend it even on the basis of its admittedly cheap asking price.
Yes, in some ways you are getting what you pay for, and expecting dual-core Atrix-style performance out of a sub-AU$100 smartphone would be silly. But for any contract purchaser, much better phones are available for the kind of money you're going to be spending on monthly access anyway.
In the prepaid arena, the gulf between the Smart-Touch and phones that only cost a small amount more is quite considerable, especially considering it's only an Android 2.1 phone. You're likely to quickly outstrip the purchase price in ongoing prepaid calls and data, so why skimp on purchase price and put up with a lower quality experience?