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ZTE Racer: Hands-on with the £99 Android

Before I tell you about this handset, let’s examine its name: ZTE Racer. Doesn’t it sound awesome? I feel like I could use a phone called the Racer in my expensive convertible sportscar; I’m ready for it to blow me away with its web speeds and slick operations. I want its casing to feature RACING STRIPES.

Well, take all those name-inspired expectations and put them in a box. Tape up the box and put it in the attic. This is not that phone.

The ZTE Racer is a cheap and sort-of cheerful Android handset, launching with Android 2.1 (Eclair). Its 2.8-inch QVGA screen is a resistive touchscreen. This we don’t like; although it’s pretty responsive for swiping and larger movements, you do have to be quite firm with it and typing was a real pain. The 3.2-megapixel camera isn’t too bad although the autofocus wasn’t up to much and there’s no flash so you’ll struggle to shoot pics in low light.

The handset also has 256MB of internal memory, with a 2GB microSD card coming bundled with it; this will leave you plenty of room for a few tunes to play using the onboard music player. When you’re tired of the limited playlists, you can pop on the FM radio. It also has full access to the Android Market for apps, and Wi-Fi and HSDPA (super-3G) for fast browsing and downloads. The chunky little handset also features three customisable homescreens and although it can record video, it does not allow video calling.

The real selling point, though, is the ZTE Racer’s price. Three is selling it from the end of this month for just £99.99 on pay-as-you-go. What about my data, I hear you cry. Every time you top up (minimum of £5 a go) you’ll receive 150MB of free data – which might not sound like much but Three reckons most of its customers won’t use much more than that. If it’s not enough for you, you can buy a £5 1GB add-on, or simply top-up again for another 150MB. Getting an Android “smartphone” out for less than £100 is quite a coup, and ZTE and Three have plans to release more at even lower price points if the manufacturing costs can be reduced even more.

But it’s not exactly bursting with high-spec-ability, is it? Both Three and ZTE say that’s not the point; they’re not about providing the latest technological capabilities, rather they want to spread the reach of the mobile internet and expand it to everyone in the UK. Hence the low-cost option. As Wu Sa, ZTE’s director of mobile device operations, put it, “It’s not about selling the technology but enabling the experience.”

You can also pick the handset up for free on a contract – it’ll set you back £15/month, which includes 500MB of data, 5,000 Three-to-Three minutes and 300 off-network minutes. It’ll be available from Three stores and Argos outlets across the country towards the end of July.

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