Most people don't need or want a brand new, massively powerful smartphone. Most people are perfectly served with an entry-level mid-range phone -- one that has specs that are good enough. ZTE's V969 is a dual-SIM 5.5-inch phone that isn't especially noteworthy in its hardware, and that doesn't stand out with any bundled software or fancy features, but is nonetheless a perfectly adequate workhorse.
What Is It?
- Processor: 1.3GHz quad-core ARMv7
- RAM: 1GB
- Screen: 5.5-inch qHD LCD (960x540 pixels)
- Memory: 4GB (expandable via microSD)
- Camera: 5-megapixel front, 0.3-megapixel rear
- Connectivity: Dual-SIM, 1x 3G/2G, 1x 2G
The V969 is ZTE's first smartphone in Australia, and it's sold through Dick Smith across the country. For its screen size, it's surprisingly cheap - $299 outright, which means during one of Dick Smith's frequent and varied sales you have a pretty good chance of picking it up even cheaper.
Interestingly, a $49.95 optional extra that you can buy directly from ZTE is two years' coverage for accidental damage, covering you for cracked screens and mangled ports and other smartphone injuries resulting from your own negligence. If you're a tradie or someone that generally puts their phones through tough times, this optional cover is a good idea -- for one thing, it's about a third of the cost of getting an iPhone screen replaced.
In terms of its feel in the hand and the hardware experience, the ZTE V969 doesn't stand out from the crowd of other large-screen smartphones in any way, but that's a good thing. It's a homogeneous white monolith, with no distinguishing features on front or rear apart from two small lines on the lower left side of the removable backplate. Volume control and power buttons are on the right edge, the microUSB charging point is on the left, the headphone jack is on the top, and the camera is on the back. It is the absolute essence of smartphone.
The capacitive buttons on the V969 are arranged in the standard Android fashion, and the vibration motor gives an impressively solid buzz whenever you hit one. This also means you have slightly more screen real estate -- precious on the V969's low-resolution display -- for reading emails and browsing Web pages. In terms of added extras with the V969, you don't get a lot --there's a 5V 1-amp charger, microUSB to USB cable, and that's it.
What Is It Good At?
The ZTE V969 is actually pretty well built. It's a little thick at 195x79x9.4mm, and it's slightly heavier than similarly-sized big-name competitors at 195g, but the overall feeling of the phone is that it's solid and well constructed rather than flimsy and plasticky. The removable white plastic cover gives you access to the V969's massive nonremovable 3200mAh battery and to the two full-size (miniSIM) SIM card slots.
The V969 is indeed a dual-SIM smartphone, with one 3G/2G compatible slot and one 2G one. Dual-SIM phones are a niche market, but for some people -- including those who have different phone numbers for work or personal use, or those who have a dedicated low-cost data service -- they can come in handy. The V969 supports 900/2100MHz 3G on its primary SIM, so that's Optus and Vodafone, but not Telstra. 2G frequencies supported at 900/1800/1900MHz, so that's all three major carriers supported although all three will eventually switch them off for newer high-speed 4G.
The middling specifications and low-resolution screen of the ZTE V969 mean that it is reasonably light on battery use, giving it a long maximum run time. With regular usage -- sync on two email accounts, moderate Twitter and Reddit usage, and a constant stream of SMS and Google Chat messages through Hangouts, I was easily able to get a full day's usage, and cutting back on social media stretched usable life out to two days.
If you don't try to multitask, and don't expect to play the newest and most visually demanding Android games out there, the V969 is perfectly adequate. It doesn't have the most impressive specs, but if you're browsing the Web or answering emails or mucking around on Facebook, you won't notice any difference between this and a more theoretically powerful device.
The skin that ZTE has put on Android with the V969 is generally pretty lightweight and doesn't add bloat -- just a couple of widgets and a lock screen with a long press to unlock rather than a swipe. If you have has limited Android experience in the past, this means the V969 is pretty easy to pick up and learn to drive.
What Is It Not Good At?
The V969's 5.5-inch screen has a low 960x540 pixel resolution, which is noticeably more pixelated than the 1280x720 pixel Galaxy Note 2, and much more so than something even newer like the 2560x1440 pixel LG G3. It's not terrible, but it's definitely the weakest part of the phone.
Only having 4GB of integrated memory, you'll really have to add in a microSD card if you want to install apps, store more than a few photos or videos, or save music onto the ZTE V969. If you don't especially care about trying out new apps, or if you're able to practice restraint and uninstall old apps when you want new ones, this isn't a big deal.
The 5-megapixel camera on the back of the phone is similarly OK, but not great. It'll snap decent enough pictures for the average non-tech-savvy user, but anyone who has used any mid-range or high-end smartphone newer than the iPhone 4 won't be impressed by the photos that the V969 can capture. It's good enough for Snapchat and Instagram, but you won't be winning World Press Photo any time soon. Like the rest of the phone, it's good enough.
The front, 0.3-megapixel camera, though, is not good at all. It's grainy and blurry even in the best possible lighting conditions, and this means the ZTE V969 is not the camera you want for selfies or Skype video chats.
The speaker at the lower rear of the V969 is mediocre. It's not that it's not a decent performer in terms of its sound quality, because it's actually decent in high- and low-note detail and the depth of its audio, but it's just quiet. This is not a smartphone for blaring out Top 40 hits in the middle of your bus or train trip with all your friends. To some, that's a positive point rather than a negative one.
If you're the kind of person that wants the latest and greatest software features -- and to be fair, this isn't exactly the V969's target market -- you'll be disappointed by the fact that this smartphone only runs Android 4.2.2, a couple of iterations behind the latest 4.4.4 build. Being that ZTE isn't playing at the top end of the market, it's unlikely that the V969 will get an update to the latest version or any continuing support, and as such eventually it won't be able to access newer apps and services. For the most part, this isn't a big deal, since the basic functionality and Google Play Store support remains unchanged for the ZTE V969.
Should You Buy It?
The ZTE V969 does everything that a smartphone should. It's not the latest or the greatest, but its stripped-back and barebones approach to Android is a smart move and actually increases the versatility of the handset where a more lushly skinned and tweaked interface would be slower and more bloated.
If you can put up with the middling 5-megapixel camera -- if you don't plan to take a bunch of photos with your phone -- and the low screen resolution doesn't bother you, the ZTE V969 is a perfectly adequate device that makes calls and sends messages and browses the 'net and receives emails and runs apps. It's not for power users, but it is good enough for almost everyone else.
Dick Smith sells the V969 for an impressively low $299 outright, and it is of course unlocked for you to use on whatever network you so choose (with the only caveat being that you can't use this phone on Telstra 3G). For the average user, it's genuinely not a bad choice.