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ZTE V970 Review
We've been talking a fair bit about Chinese import devices of late, which fall into two categories. First there are the 'no name' devices which often share a pretty common set of internal components and vary wildly in build quality. In addition to these the big Chinese manufacturers such as Huawei and ZTE also have their own locally targetted devices, which are often very similar to the devices they ship in Europe, but with specifications tailored more to their home market. One such device is the ZTE V970, which at first looks appears pretty much identical to the ZTE Grand X that we reviewed previously. The V970 variant drops the Tegra2 internals for a more commonly seen (in China at least) MTK6577 dual core chipset and adds a SIM slot - yes, the V970 is another dual SIM device. In theory, it should take all the best bits of a big name manufacturer but with the intriguing characteristics of a Chinese market device and in the process be a great competitor for the Acer Gallant Duo. But does it live up to it's promise? Read on to find out!
The review device is a full retail unit, purchased from this seller on AliExpress.
In The Box
In the box you'll find the device, battery, manual, USB cable, power adaptor (mine came with a UK adaptor also) and a set of very cheap, naff earphones.
Hardware - overview
The price might be low end, but the hardware is at the high end of the MTK device spectrum. The MTK6577 is the dual core iteration of the MTK6575, but, like it's single core brother, it is available in both 512MB RAM and 1GB RAM configurations. The ZTE V970 includes 1GB RAM.
The full specs..
- Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich (4.1 TBC)
- MTK 6577 Dual Core CPU
- 1GB RAM
- 4GB ROM
- 4.3" IPS qHD (960 x 540) screen
- GSM: 900/1800/1900
- WCDMA: 900/2100MHz
- Dual SIM cards (1 GSM + 1 3G)
- 802.11 b/g/n WiFi
- Bluetooth 3.0
- 5 Megapixel camera with LED flash and 720P video recording
- Gravity Sensor, Proximity Sensor, Light Sensor
- 127.4 x 65 x 9.9mm
- 1600mAh battery
- microSD expansion
Hardware - around the device
Let’s go on a tour of the device starting with the front.
When you look at the front of the device you immediately suspect that this wasn’t originally designed with ICS guidelines in mind. The bottom of the device has four white backlit capacitive keys - menu, home, back and search. Not a bad arrangement (I do like the search key), but it’s somewhat opposed to what is recommended by Google and the path taken by most manufacturers now. Above the buttons sits the 4.3” qHD screen, topped by the light / proximity sensors, the green / red notification LED and the speaker. There's no ZTE branding on the front at all and no front facing camera, which makes for a super-clean appearance. The device is very rounded in each of it’s corners and on it’s edges, creating a shape that’s quite comfortable to hold. Unlike it's Tegra2 cousin, the V970 has a shiny silver trim running right around the deivce which lends a sophisticated feel to this budget offering.
The whole of the front device is shiny and on both the Euro Grand X and the Acer Gallant Duo I highlighted that fingerprints were a real problem. I expected the same with the V970 and again it does tend to attract them, although I found it less of an issue, maybe because of the brighter screen.
The back of the device, which is removable in it’s entirety, is textured black plastic. Up top, offset to the left sits the 5 Megapixel camera (which protrudes a few mm) and single LED flash, a silver ZTE logo is in the centre with what appear to be two speaker holes further down. In reality, only one has a speaker behind it. The ‘bumpy’ texture on the back of the device actually makes it quite pleasant to hold and the device is very slightly fatter at the bottom, almost EXACTLY like a Nexus S / Galaxy Nexus. Some clear inspiration here. Under the cover you'll find the two full size SIM slots, a microSD slot and the removable battery.
The left hand side of the device has a chrome effect volume rocker and the ‘upside down’ microUSB port (not my preferred place for the microUSB, they really should be on the bottom). The right hand side of the device has no buttons / ports. The top of the device has the 3.5mm headphone port and power button. The bottom of the device has the microphone hole.
How does it feel? It feels good. The all black front, polished edges and textured back put it head and shoulders above ZTE’s other budget offerings. There’s no real flex on the ‘twist test’, the buttons press with a reassuring click and it just feels solid.
The great unknown with these Chinese devices is the software - it seems to vary pretty significantly depending on where you buy the device... sometimes you get the Chinese ROM, sometimes you get a hacked together ROM with Google bits and sometimes you get a custom ROM. My ZTE V970 arrived with the original Chinese ROM, which is a good thing I think.
There's not a lot of point talking about the software that's bundled on the device, as chances are you'll disable or uninstall pretty much all of it. As you'd expect, none of the Google suite (Play Store etc.) is included, instead being replaced by Chinese equivalents giving a somewhat confusing set of apps for Western eyes. So that's the 'bad' news (ish)... the good news is that within 5 minutes of the device arriving i'd rooted, put the Play Store on there and I was away! This is also easily achieved using a custom ROM - XDA developer 'bgcngm' has a very nice looking version already available.
So if the software suite itself isn't worth talking about, what about the general OS build? It's a very stock ICS build really. The lock screen is slightly different with a press-to-unlock versus a swipe-to-unlock, there are various changes throughout for Dual SIM support which we'll come to later, but those changes aside it is as I say virtually stock. Which we like, a lot.
When you take the device out of the box and power it up, you're first greeted by the China Unicom splash screen (and sound), at which point you'll notice the bright screen which belies it's bargain pricepoint. On the Gallant Duo the screen, also qHD, was particularly disappointing - no such problem here.
With all of the Google bits missing, there's no setup wizard - on first boot you arrive straight away at the home screen. You'll be prompted to configure your Dual SIM setup before you do anything else.
Predictably, the device booted into Chinese - but changing it to English is dead easy if you have a basic understanding of where things live in Android. Both Chinese and English are officially supported, other languages may be available by using the 'MoreLocales' utility.
As soon as you start using the device, you'll be very pleasantly surprised at the sensitivity of the touchscreen. The very lightest of touches are registered, again something that can be an achilles heel on low end handsets.
The default home screen layout is pretty interesting - it has a 'HTC Sense' style time and weather widget, a search bar up top and shortcuts to the various (Chinese) applications. The interesting part for me is that out of the box, a Live Wallpaper is configured - a good looking forest scene with toadstools, fluttering butterflies etc. Now, Live Wallpapers are notoriously graphical-power hungry and I was immediately very pleased to see that panning around the home screens was super smooth, even with the 3D Live Wallpaper selected. The Live Wallpaper also serves to demonstrate exactly how bright and clear the screen is - the colours look fantastic and the screen is crisp and sharp. The lighting across the screen is a little uneven when compared to the best IPS panels but again, at the price, it's very impressive.
Dragging down the notification bar reveals the standard MTK '3 page' enhancements - these add brightness, timeout and auto rotation toggles on page 1, WiFi, Bluetooth GPS, Data Connection and Airplane Mode toggles on page 2 and General, Silent, Meeting and Outdoor profile toggles on Page 3. All good additions. The profiles can be configured in the Settings app... this MTK6577 device seems to offer enhanced profile customisability compared the MTK6575 devices i've used previously. The toggles can be turned off if you choose.
In the top bar you'll see two signal indicators of course, showing both signal strength and the type of connectivity for each SIM at the time. The actual colour of each of the indicators is customisable, a nice touch.
The internal 4GB storage is partitioned rather strangely... 500MB is assigned to /data and the rest is assigned to an 'internal SD card'. When a real SD card is inserted it would be nice to assigned the whole 4GB to /data, but this isn't possible without some custom ROM hackery.
The device's GPS is very effective and seemed to get a decent fix quickly, the GPS also includes 'EPO Assistance', acquiring ephemeris data via data download to help speed the first fix.
Text input is provided both by the standard Android keyboard and via the TouchPal keyboard, which is frequently found on Chinese devices due to it's excellence for inputting text in Chinese. It's actually not an awful keyboard in English either, but it's not up to the standard of applications such as SwiftKey for instance. It does include it's own implemention of 'swipe input' too.
One rather cool feature, again common to most MTK phones, is the ability to schedule the phone to turn itself on and off. Handy if you want to save battery / silence the phone completely overnight. A very unusual feature inclusion that harks back to the old feature phone days!
Overall the software build is a very good, solid starting point. You'll want to either flash a custom ROM or add in the Play Store, but the odd typo aside, the base is very good. Speedy, stable and as fully featured as you'd want without becoming out of touch with it's stock ICS roots. Although a lot of Chinese software is pre-installed, most of it appears to be in the data partition... i.e. you can just 'uninstall' most of it completely from Settings. If only you could do that with carrier bloat on other devices! I was able to uninstall no less than 21 of the preinstalled apps, leaving only a handful remaining, ALL of which could be disabled without resorting to rooting / Titanium Backup etc.
I found the reception on the device to be very good on both SIMs, as well as on WiFi... calls were clear and of sufficient volume. The inbuilt speaker is relatively loud but typically not of great quality. In my reviews I often lament the lack of FM radio, but the V970 DOES have one. +1 point.
Interestingly, the V970 doesn't exactly blitz the benchmarks... but feels a lot smoother in use than the numbers might suggest. Of course, benchmarks don't always count for much... but i've included a selection below for your pleasure.
One of the big selling points of the V970 compared to it's European rivals is the fact that it supports dual SIM. Let me say straight off the bat that, as on the Acer Gallant Duo, the implementation is BRILLIANT. It’s nigh on perfect.
The device has two SIM slots of course, but on some devices that means that it’s a case of ‘switching between two SIMs with only one active at a time’. Not here. Both SIMs are active at the same time! Only one of the connections can be on 3G (I assume there’s a secondary radio in the device which is 2G only), probably the one you’re using for the data connection, but in reality that isn’t limiting at all. Having both active means that you can receive calls, SMS etc. on either line at any time. This is good.
What about outgoing calls, SMS or data? The ‘SIM management’ utility lets you choose whether you are prompted when placing a call / sending a SMS to select which line to use or alternatively whether a default should be used. The utility also allows you to specify which card should be used for the data connection. Fantastically, it also allows you to associate specific contacts with specific SIMs, so calls to work colleagues could automatically go out on the work line. Excellent!
If you currently have to carry a personal phone and a work phone, the Dual SIM implementation could be the answer to your prayers.
The camera in the device is a 5 Megapixel item using a stock ICS style camera app with a wealth of additional features. The MTK tweaks add additional scene modes, colour effects, HDR mode, a variety of 'scenes' and a very weird multi-angle mode.
The camera really is a typical low to mid tier phone camera. It’s not awful, but it’s not very good either. It actually does focus and take pictures quicker than some devices i’ve used, but pictures do look a bit washed out. The V970 is definitely not a photographer's phone... it's firmly on the side of adequate.
Video can be recorded in 720P resolution 30 FPS, with a number of configurable options such as EIS and the ability to toggle focus mode between continuous / infinity.
The V970 features a 1600mAh battery and so exceptional battery life should not be expected. And exceptional battery life is not delivered. Running dual SIMs I could get through a full day of use (just about), with notable additional stamina if one of the SIMs was either disabled or not present. This is what i'd expect from this sort of device so I was neither pleasantly surprised nor disappointed. You shouldn't have to head for a charger during the day unless you are the heaviest of users.
Rooting and Hacking
As a MTK6577 based device, the V970 was always likely to be very hackable and i’m pleased to say... it is! The bootloader is unlocked, as previously mentioned a custom ROM is already available and the phone is great for modders. MTK devices have a very low level flash tool that means it's almost impossible to brick the device, which is always reassuring!
Pricing and Availability
From the aforementioned AliExpress seller, the V970 comes in at $218.41 including DHL delivery. This converts to £135.67. You may well end up with some small custom fees on top of that, but even so, you're not really likely to pay more than the cost of a (technically inferior) Gallant Duo.
The ZTE V970 is a fantastic little handset at an excellent price. It combines solid build quality with desirable internals (particularly for those looking for a Dual SIM solution) and a software build that, while at first glance contains a lot of Chinese bloat, allows the user to remove this completely leaving a speedy, solid base that, with Google Play enabled, is perfectly usable for those of us more used to the full-fat Google experience.
Buying a device from China always has two main worries - the situation with warranty claims should something go wrong, and the uncertainty regarding future updates. Arguably the former becomes less of an issue when the device is cheaper and the latter really is an unknown for many big name brands too... but they're things to bear in mind.
I really like the device. As well as being wonderful value in itself, it bodes well for the next generation of MTK devices. Quad core and even Hex core chipsets aren't that far away - we could see low end, bargain devices really offering performance that is on par with the best from the big brands. They'd better watch out.
Pros and Cons
- Dual core CPU
- 1GB RAM
- Great Dual SIM implementation
- Very sensitive touch
- Crisp, bright screen
- Speed, solid software build
- Potentially difficult warranty claims
- Unknown future upgrade plans
- Slightly backlighting on screen
- Google Play store not preinstalled
Do you have an ZTE V970? Do you agree / disagree with my review? Post below!
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