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ZTE Skate Acqua

The ZTE Skate Acqua doesn't have a huge processor, but its low price and decent design might make it a good option for smart phone newbies.

ZTE's original Skate was a popular choice among those of you who wanted Android in your pocket but didn't fancy the premium prices of elite smart phones.

It's back with a new version, which makes a whole load of tweaks over the original and slaps the name Acqua onto the end -- although I have literally no idea as to why. There's no word on availability yet, but the Acqua will be keeping the bargain basement price tag, so it should still appeal to new smart phone users, or the terminally short on cash.

But will an underpowered phone on older software still have a place in today's dual- and quad-core processor world?

I just had a quick hands-on with the Acqua at Mobile World Congress, so stay tuned for a full review soon. 

Design

With a quick glance, the Acqua is easily recognisable as the brother of the ZTE Kis. It sports the same metallic edging that's slightly thicker at the top and bottom, which makes the screen look like a small phone that's been stuck inside one of those chunky battery-extending cases.

Around the back you'll find a large expanse of black plastic that's been given a criss-cross texture that just manages to save it from being totally boring. It doesn't have design to match LG's sleek, stylish L series phones, but it has a definite charm to it that I'm sure will catch a few eyes.

ZTE Skate Acqua back
The camera has the standard 5-megapixel sensor.

The materials seemed pretty sturdy in my hands-on and didn't offer any kind of flex, so I'm fairly confident it could survive a few short tumbles to the ground. I would have tested it myself but it was attached to the counter with a security cable. And they would have taken my MWC access pass off me.

It's all too easy for manufacturers to craft their phones from such low-grade materials that the resultant product feels flimsy and liable to float away in a stiff breeze, but this manages to feel slightly more upmarket than its affordable price suggests.

With a 4-inch display, the phone is quite a bit bigger than its budget sibling the Kis, so there's more screen real-estate to play with. It's not too big to fit in your pocket though and at around 10mm thick, it should slide in without too much trouble.

Screen

The screen is a somewhat sharper effort than the low resolution offering on the Kis. It's packing a resolution of 480x800 pixels, which won't worry the epic definition of the Sony Xperia S, but is a perfectly good amount for all your tweeting and Facebooking.

If you find yourself browsing the web a lot, or simply want something gloriously delicious for movies on the go, you might want to look elsewhere. It's bright and fairly vivid though, so it'll at least cope with some YouTube clips or flicking through your mate's appalling Facebook photo collection of lobster-faced people from some beach getaway.

Android 2.3 Gingerbread

Like the Kis, the Acqua was being touted as packing the latest version of Android, known as Ice Cream Sandwich. It's not though, it's running 2.3 Gingerbread -- the earlier version designed specifically for mobile phones.

That's not necessarily a problem, though. Gingerbread is by far the most popular Android operating system (mostly because there aren't many ICS handsets available yet) and it provides a generally simple and easy to learn environment that suits low-end phones like the Acqua. Sadly, when companies like LG are managing to throw ICS onto its budget models, the more hardcore software enthusiasts aren't going to look too favourably on the Acqua.

ZTE Skate Acqua Android
Trusty old Android 2.3 is reasonably easy to use and has bazillions of apps.

Still, the gadget lovers who care about software versions probably won't be focusing their attention this far down the range anyway and for the smart phone beginner, Gingerbread is a perfectly acceptable platform to get started on. It's possible ZTE might push out an update to the latest software, but I don't suggest you get your hopes up.

It's running on a single-core 1GHz processor. In comparison to the smart phone elite with their burly dual- and quad-core chips, that really doesn't cut the mustard. It does the job well enough for most of your essential tasks, however, and offers a fairly responsive experience when swiping around the various home screens and loading apps.

If you're after a device for some serious multi-tasking and for playing the latest 3D games from the Android Market, this phone is unlikely to satisfy you, but if you have less intense needs and pretty much just want to keep track of your social networks, this phone will no doubt cope fine. I'll see exactly what it can do in the full review.

Outlook

While the ZTE won't tickle the fancy of the high-powered smart phone lovers, its decent screen and adequate specs may well appeal to recent smart phone converts looking to sample Android on a budget. Stay tuned for the full review soon.

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