When you take a look at smartphone lineups through the major US carriers, you find a pretty large hole where you would otherwise expect to find some good budget smartphones. In today’s fast paced 4G, dual-core vs quad-core, 3,000 megapixel market, not many companies are finding it appropriate to release their own budget handsets. One company that’s been coming alive in the American market through the last year is ZTE, and they’re bringing many devices to carriers and offering them quite affordably both on and off contract. Last month, we reviewed the ZTE Warp for Boost Mobile and found it to be a rather satisfying experience. Finding a good budget smartphone can be a challenge in itself; some are good and some are just abysmal.
Bring in the ZTE Fury, an Android device for Sprint’s network. It has the hardware capable of standing out in today’s smartphone race, but it also falters in quite a few areas. We took a look at the device for a few weeks and put it through a mirad of tests. Keep on reading for the results!
Hardware & Design
While other phone manufacturers are competing to make the biggest and thinnest smartphones possible, ZTE focused on packing the contents of the Fury into a nice and compact package. My personal device at the moment is a Samsung Galaxy Nexus, which boasts a 4.65-inch screen. In comparison to the Nexus, the ZTE Fury feels like quite the toy. But it’s a solid, well made toy, that doesn’t feel like it is going to break when exposed to the smallest amount of pressure. On the front of the device, just a hair below the 3.5-inch display, there are four prototypical Android navigation buttons: Home, Menu, Back, and Search. Just above the display sits a very small LED notification light. ZTE probably had the best intensions for the light, but it’s so small, it may as well not even exist.
The device stands 4.65-inches tall by 2.46-inches wide and .47-inches thick. On the backside, there’s a 5-megapixel camera with LED flash and a speaker grille. The Fury’s removable back panel is coated with a rubbery finish that makes sliding the Fury around on a table a nearly impossible task. Trust me, I tried. Behind that battery door rests a 1500 mAh battery pack. Along the device’s right side sits a camera shutter button. This button can also be used to activate the camera software when the phone is powered on and unlocked. At the bottom, a little notch to remove the battery door. The left side houses the volume rocker and microUSB charging input. The top of the device keeps hold of the power button and 3.5mm standard headphone jack, which we didn’t have any issues with using different headphones.
While the build quality of the device feels solid, the hardware buttons on the device are made of plastic and do feel wobbly after a few days of use. Of course, we’re dealing with a budget device here, but the aura of “premium quality” was lost once I discovered this.
On the inside rests a 1GHz single-core Qualcomm MSM8655 processor, backed by 512MB of RAM. There are 4GB of onboard storage and Sprint includes an additional 2GB of storage via an SD card. Of course, you can put your own SD card in here and give yourself up to 36GB of storage for all of your music, movies, and pictures. The device also has the rest of your — now standard — sensors and radios: WiFi (3G hotspot capable), Bluetooth, GPS, proximity, accelerometer.
Overall, for a budget device, and like we found with the ZTE Warp, the ZTE Fury is built very well with a few spots that could use some improvement, but aren’t a huge deal.
The Fury’s most extreme low point hands down would be the 3.5-inch HVGA (480×320 pixels) display. Not only is the device’s display extremely small by today’s standards — which kept me cramping when typing even the smallest of messages — but it just looks pretty poor. Being a $20 phone, I wasn’t expecting much, but I was incredibly frustrated with the touch response of the display and its outdoor viewing capabilities, which I should add, are inexistent. If you’re going to be using this phone outside on sunny days, just stay away. The display is made from a very plasticky material, which means finger prints and dirt will easily gunk up the display. Keeping the Fury’s screen clean is an impossible task.
There’s not a whole lot to see in the software front. If you’re familiar with Android, you’ll be familiar with the package you receive in the Fury. The Fury runs a virtually unskinned and untouched version of Android 2.3 Gingerbread. There are some Sprint installed applications that take up some storage space, but there’s nothing too out of the ordinary and annoying.
Sprint’s made this a Sprint ID device, which means you’ll be able to download different “ID Packs” for various different hobbies and interests. If you’re into NASCAR, you’ll be able to download the NASCAR ID pack, which downloads specific NASCAR applications, themes, and sounds to your device. Sprint ID is interesting and has a ton of potential, but while browsing through the ID store, I didn’t see much in the way of anything interesting.
Performance & Battery Life
Low-end Android devices are usually plagued with performance issues, so I was incredibly interested to see how an unskinned Android budget device would perform with a 1GHz processor and 512MB of RAM. I can happily report that the Fury held its own against all of the tests I threw at it. I tested this phone as a potential customer would. Lots of messaging, emailing, and social networking, with some light calling. The Fury responded incredibly well. I didn’t drop any calls and Sprint’s 3G network held up pretty well in the Philadelphia area. Calls that I made seemed clear enough, and callers on the other end didn’t complain about bad sound quality. There’s no 4G radio inside this device. Sprint is currently phasing out its WiMAX 4G network and getting ready to rollout it’s 4G LTE network. You’ll be dealing with a 3G data only device here.
I am concerned about the battery life of this device. It’s pretty bad, in my tests. That’s one of the things with Android – you never know what your battery is going to be like until you get YOUR applications installed and have them set up the way that YOU like them. Unfortunately, I’m a minimalist and turn off almost all notifications when using Android. I don’t like the way Android syncs information in the background instead of getting push notifications like an iPhone would. It takes up a lot of energy and data. That said, there were times when I would leave the house with 100% battery and before I would get in my car three blocks away, I’d be at 95% without even turning the display on. That’s simply unacceptable. In my tests of trying to use this through the entirety of a working day, I didn’t make it through the day once.
Web browsing was surprisingly decent. Pages loaded relatively quick. I tested the device with several different web browsers and they were all up to the task. There were a few moments where the device took a second or so to catch up to what I was doing, but even my Galaxy Nexus does that on a daily basis. Chalk it up to an Android problem that will probably never be fixed.
I was pleased with the images that I was able to capture with the 5-megapixel camera. Usually, budget phones have cameras that wouldn’t be good enough to make a 1999 flip phone, but the ZTE Fury’s camera is no slouch. In outdoor lighting, images turned out sharp, and although a little grainy at times, were good enough to be shared throughout my social networks.
Pricing & Availability
The device is currently available via Sprint Stores and Online for $20 with a two-year agreement.
Look, I understand that this is a budget device. And if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t care about the specifications of technology that you purchase and just want a phone to keep up with different applications, websites, and emails on the go, then the Fury could be the phone for you. I’m concerned that even the lightest user won’t be able to make it through the day with the Fury’s battery on a single charge. I’m also concerned that even the person with very small hands will have a problem typing on a 3.5-inch display, because my hands aren’t huge and I had issues.
Technology is moving quickly. Tomorrow’s $20 budget device may be capable of performing a task that today’s $200 device can hardly perform. That said, whenever you sign a 2-year contract with any carrier, you’re taking a risk that your device will remain relevant for the next two years. I’m not sure the ZTE Fury can do that, but if that doesn’t matter to you, then sign away. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with the device you end up purchasing.