I've said many times that Sprint hasn't exactly been the most welcoming carrier to tablets. Luckily, though, it seems that it has started to change its mind.
This is the ZTE Optik, a budget tablet for Sprint. It costs just $99 when you sign a two-year contract. But is the relatively cheap price worth spending? Go on past the break, read my review, and decide for yourself!
For a budget tablet, the Optik is loaded with fairly decent specs. A 1.25GHz dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, and a 4,000mAh battery live inside the device. The screen measures 7-inches and has a resolution of 1280 x 800, meaning that it's nice and crisp.
The Optik also runs on Sprint's 3G network. It's a disappointing fact that Sprint hasn't yet rolled out its LTE network, and WiMAX just isn't cutting it for a lot of people anymore. Still, Sprint's 3G network was still able to provide me with ample speeds to watch lower-quality YouTube videos and browse the web rather quickly.
Design and Quality
As you can see in the first picture, the Optik looks quite like the Nexus One. There's a gunmetal grey piece of matte plastic that borders the black glass display and makes for a high-quality look and feel that, quite frankly, are better than any other Android tablets' I've ever used.
Also on the front of the device is a front-facing camera. It comes in at 2MP, so while you won't be shooting anything worthy of hanging on your wall, it's more than sufficient for video-chatting with your friends.
The back is also well-designed. Aside from that hideous plastic sticker that shows model identification numbers, it's a very nice setup. The gunmetal grey plastic that shows itself around the display on the front also wraps around to the back. You all know that I have a love affair with soft-touch plastics, but this isn't soft at all; it's hard. Even so, fingerprints and the oils from your hands don't cling themselves to the back, which makes the Optik feel lovely in-hand.
The black strips are another nice touch, courtesy of ZTE's designers. When I took the tablet out of its box, I thought they were speakers – I couldn't have been more off. They're actually hand grips! Both of the strips offer a subtle texture that keeps the Optik from slipping out of your hands and onto the cement – something I'm a little too familiar with.
If you're holding the Optik in its correct landscape position, the camera is situated inside the black grip that you're holding with your left hand. It's a 5MP shooter. We'll get to that in a bit, but it's not like you'd want to be taking a picture with it in the first place. The position is right where my left index finger rests when I'm holding the tablet correctly in landscape; if I turn it upside-down, the camera's view is blocked by my right pinky.
The proprietary connector port is at the bottom of the tablet. Now, I've dealt with plenty of proprietary connectors in my iPhones and iPad, as well as my Streak 7. They don't bother me, though, because they're engineered well enough to work as they should. Plus, in the case of the iDevices, the 30-pin connector is so ubiquitous that actually calling it "proprietary" is kind of an oxymoron.
Neither of those things apply to ZTE's connector, though. I highly doubt there will ever be any third-party docks with which to pump out your tunes from the tablet, but the real worry is that it's so loose. It's as if ZTE's engineers decided to give the port a extra few millimeters on each side – you know, just to make sure that the connector fits. Once it's loosely "connected," you then have to worry about the connector falling out of the device. There isn't any locking mechanism; that is, no clicking noises and no tactile response to make you feel assured that the cable and the tablet are, in fact, connected. And it probably won't be, as I had the two become disconnected on numerous occasions.
This is the right side of the tablet, which houses the microSD card slot. You can expand the internal 16GB by 32GB, so in all, you can theoretically have 48GB of storage.
The tablet's left side has a 3.5mm headphone jack, and nothing else. The Optik's sides are pretty barren, and that's a good thing: all of the buttons can be grouped together in a setup like this.
Finally, we get to the top. Like I already mentioned, the Optik's buttons are all grouped together. There's the power button and the volume rocker, and that's it. It's a clean design that's easy to navigate, and that's really important on any device. ZTE nailed it here. And the buttons are clicky, too – the build quality of the Optik feels like it's from a tablet that's much costlier.
The screen continues the Optik's surprisingly good hardware trend. No picture will ever do a display justice, but as you can see, the text looks clear. Colors were washed out, but not to the point that watching video and browsing the web were unbearable.
Unfortunately, the display didn't respond to touch very well. I'd have to tap three or four times before any of them would register on the screen; at that point, I was ready to give up the task at hand, quickly lock and unlock the tablet, and try again.
Of course, that could've been a result of the Optik's performance. Remember at the beginning of the review when I said that ZTE threw in some relatively decent specs for just $99, including a 1.25GHz dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM?
They don't matter.
The Optik is running Android 3.2, and it looks completely stock. Yet somehow, somewhere, something is running the tablet too hard. Scrolling is choppy, regardless of if you are viewing a heavy webpage or simply flicking through your homescreens. App launching also suffers, so I hope that, if you bought this device, you like to wait for your apps to pop up and become responsive.
Honestly, I've got no idea what the problem is. I even wiped the device to see if an app I installed might've been hogging my resources, but that didn't change a thing. You get what you pay for, I suppose, and it's an unfortunate, recurring theme for the Optik's performance.
Since I just ranted for an entire section, I guess I'll start this one out by giving you the good news first. The Optik's 4,000mAh battery charges up very quickly. But you'll be charging the battery up a lot, since it barely has any charge left when the noon hour rolls around. This makes me almost certain that there is something deep in the system that's drinking up all the juice. It would explain why both battery life and performance are not up to par. If it is just a wonky system file, a root or a software update from Sprint or ZTE would surely fix it. Unfortunately, since this is a budget device, updates will probably few and far between.
Sorry about the dust. I'm incapable of dusting off my desk. Anyway, these were both taken on the Optik. Pictures are decent, but contrast could be better. And if my lamp had been off, you would've seen how grainy the pictures can get. It's just a good habit to get into, not using your tablet as a main camera – especially if you don't want to seem silly out in public when you hold it up.
If I had to describe the ZTE Optik in one word, I'd probably use "junk." But if I had to describe the type of product it is – a budget tablet – I'd use "potential." For $99, there are a few compelling pieces of hardware in here, but the execution was so far off that I can't recommend spending any amount of money on it.
At this point, if you're considering a tablet, just look elsewhere. Yeah, the Optik looks great. Yeah, the screen is among the best. And yeah, the price is just about unbeatable. But if you can't have any fun using it, there's no point in spending the money.
If this review hasn't made you reconsider this purchase, Sprint is currently selling the ZTE Optik for just $99 on a two-year contract.