Solid, comfortable design;
Great price for Android;
Respectable budget screen
Low-res display not ideal for media;
Browser and app crashes
ZTE is making great roads into the budget and mid-price Android market, and the ZTE Kis is its most bargainous smartphone yet at just £50 – one of the cheapest Androids around.
The ZTE Kis might lack the slim, sexy designs of more expensive smartphones, but the all-black finish has a certain rugged charm and is reassuringly solid. We’re confident it could happily survive a tumble from your hand or pocket. The soft-touch back feels good in the hand and the metallic buttons are perfectly responsive.
Screen and interface
The ZTE Kis’ low-res screen betrays its budget pricing, although the 3.5-inch display still injects more life into photos than LG’s Optimus L3. You may miss out on the rich colours you’ll find on more expensive mobiles, but it’s still vibrant enough to please the eye and boasts good sideways viewing angles. It’s also satisfyingly bright, comfortable to read even in direct sunlight.
While many mobiles around this price use a bog-standard proprietary OS with relatively few features (texting, calling and all the basic stuff that mobile phones were originally designed for), the ZTE Kis uses Google Android, bringing a full range of tools more commonly found on mid-range mobiles. Android Gingerbread may be an ageing OS but you get seven desktops to fill with app shortcuts and a basic range of widgets.
Any emails, texts or missed calls you receive are signalled with a flashing light above the screen, and you can view a full list of things awaiting your attention by flicking the top of the screen to unveil the notifications tab. This also gives you fast access to power-sapping features such as Wi-Fi and GPS, a handy addition that saves you delving into menus.
This being a fully-fledged smartphone, you can get online using Android’s web browser. Unfortunately, this is where the basic processor (and meagre 256MB of RAM) starts to really impact on performance. The Kis’ browser crashed on us a number of times, often when we were simply trying to search a web page, and pages filled with photos or great reams of text were often slow to load and jittery to scroll through. Still, if all you want is a phone that can access sports results and train times, the Kis will do the job, and the touchscreen is perfectly responsive when scrolling around.
That responsiveness is even more important when it comes to texting and emailing. The 3.5-inch screen may be dinky, but we had no trouble tapping out lengthy messages on the Kis’ virtual keyboard. You even get a Samsung-style swipe option, where you drag your finger from letter to letter rather than prodding each button individually. It works well and rarely guesses wrong, helping you to type uber-quick once you’re used to it.
You get full access to the Google Play store for downloading apps and games, but again the experience is occasionally marred by stuttery performance. Using the Maps app, for instance, the GPS picked up our position impressively quickly but scrolling around and zooming was a predictably slow process.
The likes of Angry Birds runs without a problem, but Stick Tennis and other fast-paced games often paused as the processor caught up while some games such as Temple Run refused to even load, so you’re best off limiting yourself to basic, older titles. You appear to get a fair few apps pre-installed, but most of these are simply links through to webpages. We recommend removing them immediately, so your menus aren’t as cluttered.
If you’re constantly playing with apps, you’ll have to charge the Kis up every night as the battery takes a hammering. Media fans too can expect the battery to die after around six hours of movies. However, limit yourself to texting, emails and other basic functions and the Kis will happily survive for a couple of days.
Rounding off the smartphone features of the ZTE Kis is the 3.2MP camera. This budget snapper features an auto-focus lens, which locks on to your subject so they don’t look soft or hazy. Sadly it’s a slow process, so you’ll be hanging around a couple of seconds after tapping the virtual shutter button before the picture actually takes. You better hope your friends and family are a patient bunch, and happy to stand perfectly still while the Kis does its thing.
The resulting shots may not be very sharp, but they’re perfectly fine for posting on Facebook or other social media sites. Sadly our video didn’t come out as well. The picture is ugly and blocky when viewed back on a PC monitor, although the Kis does a surprisingly good job of picking up voices. There’s no front-facing camera for video calls or flash for night shots.
The ZTE Kis is an ambitious little budget phone that tries really hard and occasionally stumbles. At this price, having access to a proper web browser, the excellent Google Play apps store and fully customisable desktops is fantastic, although the basic processor does struggle to cope.