updated 07:15 pm EST, Tue February 15, 2011
We test the ZTE Skate in Barcelona
Large touchscreens and fresh versions of Android are usually the province of smartphone heavy-hitters that have a major stake outside of the home country: HTC, Motorola and Samsung most often. ZTE broke that mold at Mobile World Congress this week: the Skate has a large 4.3-inch screen and is running Android 2.3 even as brand new phones are shipping with 2.2. We had a first-hand look at the Skate in Barcelona and can already answer whether it will be up to par.
The construction holds up well, but it's matte plastic. No one will mistake it for an HTC Desire HD's aluminum. It feels good in the hand, if more angular than many of its rounded peers. The touchscreen does feel large, but it's strictly middling in image quality. At 800x480, it won't have an advantage over its peers but is still fine for most roles.
We like that ZTE is keeping to a stock version of Android 2.3 (Gingerbread). Many companies insist on customizations that get in the way or else delay upgrades, so ZTE in theory should have a rapid turnaround for 2.4 or any other updates. That also means no special widgets, but we'll take those supplied by third-party apps if it means the base OS gets faster.
A lot comes crashing down when it comes to performance. Simply put, the Skate is too slow. It stutters in home screen transitions and especially in more visually intense areas like scrolling through the 3D-enhanced app list. When a year-old Nexus One can outrun the Skate on an older OS, you know the processor was simply too weak for the job. We're hoping the phone wasn't optimized yet, but we're not counting on it.
As such, it's hard to advise getting the Skate as-is. Even with the likely low price and some solid features like a five-megapixel camera, the truth is that there are or will be phones close enough in price to be worth it as an alternative unless bought off-contract. You might like the cost savings if you can find it at a significant discount, but without enough speed, it won't be as satisfying and might not handle future versions of Android.