Sprint says its 7-inch ZTE Optik Android tablet is the perfect tablet for mobile families thanks to its low price. The carrier even goes as far as to suggest that having a toddler accidentally drop the slate in the toilet won't be so bad, because you only paid $99 for it. But to get that price you'll have to sign up for a two-year 3G Sprint data plan. Which begs the question, is the Optik worth the long-term commitment? Read on to find out.
Measuring 7.6 x 4.7 x 0.45 inches, the Optik is a hair larger than Amazon's Kindle Fire (7.5 x 4.7 x 0.45), and slightly smaller--but thicker--than Samsung's Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus. At 12.8 ounces, it's the same weight as the Tab 7.0 Plus and lighter than the Fire (14.8 ounces), but feels heavier. However, it lends the Optik a sense of sturdiness.
The front of the Optik is relatively plain as tablets go--a 7-inch capacitive touch screen is framed by a glossy black bezel--but the back features two bulbous handgrips that make the Optik feel more secure in your hands thanks to their textured surface. Beyond its black bezel, the rest of the Optik is a muted copper color.
One the Optik's right side is a microSD card slot and microphone, while a headphone jack is on the left. Down below you'll find the tablet's stereo speakers and proprietary USB port. Up top, in the far left corner are the Optik's power button and volume rocker. ZTE placed the Optik's 5-megapixel rear-facing camera in the right handgrip, which sometimes caused us to cover the lens with our finger.
For the most part, the Optik remained cool to the touch. After streaming a video for 15 minutes, neither handgrip exceeded 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The hottest spot--the top middle of the tablet--reached 104 degrees, but it's an area you're unlikely to touch that often.
The Optik's 7-inch 1280 x 800 capacitive display provided sharp visuals while viewing static images or scrolling through websites. Text-heavy websites, such as NYTimes.com looked good, thanks to the display's average brightness of 483 lux, which is well above the tablet average (362 lux), as well as the new iPad (386).
But brightness isn't everything. Colors appeared washed out at times. When watching "The Avengers," characters' skin pigmentations occasionally had a grayish hue, while the blacks and blues of the city scenes blended together. Viewing angles on the Optik's display were excellent, allowing us to watching videos from almost any angle. However, its glossy coating was reflective. Using this 7-incher in direct sunlight isn't advised.
While the Optik's stereo speakers were loud enough to fill a room, they sounded flat and tinny. The crash of cymbals in the 36 Crazy Fists song "On Any Given Night" lacked any reverberation and the crack of the snare sounded off-key. Bass was also missing from songs and what little we heard sounded forced. The sounds of explosions and laser fire during "The Avengers" trailer was also seak, with most of the effects coming across as slightly garbled. Dialogue sounded flat but was loud enough.
As with many Android tablets, the ZTE Optik features two keyboards. We enjoyed using the included Swype keyboard more than the standard Android keyboard. Tracing words was easy with the Swype software, although we did notice some hiccups when selecting words from the suggestions bar. Thumb typing in portrait mode and landscape mode was accurate, but we noticed some lag.
Software and interface
The Optik comes loaded with Google's Android 3.2 Honeycomb software. ZTE went hands-off with the OS, altering just the home, back and recent apps buttons slightly. The home screens have also been left relatively open, with the main screen having a single analog clock, and shortcuts for the Web browser, email, photo gallery, Google Books, Sprint Music Player and Google Play store.
The other pages are similarly bare, with one including access to the Sprint Zone app, SimCity Deluxe game, NASCAR Sprint Cup app, Google Maps and Docs To Go. Another screen had just a bookmarks widget and nothing else.
Like ZTE's Fury smartphone, the Optik is light on preinstalled apps, which is a nice change of pace from the bloatware found on many Android devices. In addition to the standard array of Google and Android-centric apps, the Optik includes Sprint Zone, Sprint Music Player, Sprint Mobile Wallet and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series app.
The Sprint Zone app serves as a hub for all of your Sprint account information, as well as company news and suggested apps. Sprint Music Player is both a music player and a store from which you can purchase individual songs and full albums. Tracks generally range in price from $0.69 to $1.29. Albums will set you back between $9.99 and $13.99. The Sprint Cup Series app provides stats on your favorite Sprint Cup drivers, information on previous and upcoming races, video and Sprint Cup standings.
Sprint Mobile Wallet will automatically enter your credit card and shipping information when making a purchase on any Sprint Wallet participating website.
Sprint also includes EA's SimCity Deluxe and TeleNav's GPS Navigator.
As far as third-party apps go, there are many options available in the Google Play store that look good on this tablet's 7-inch screen, such as "Angry Birds Space" and Netflix. However, many other apps are just stretched-out verisons of their phone counterparts, like Facebook and Pandora. Your best bet is to dive into Google's list of top tablet picks.
Packing a 1.2-GHz dual-core Snapdragon MSM8660 processor and 1GB of RAM, the ZTE Optik has some decent muscle on paper, but in our testing fell behind the curve. There was a visible delay when swiping across panels, and scrolling through the apps menu was a bit jerky. We also saw some lag when typing.
On the Benchmark CPU test, the Optik scored 2,117, well below the category average of 2,673. The pricier Pantech Element and its 1.5-GHz Qualcomm APQ 8060 CPU and 1GB of RAM scored a scorching 3,318 on the same test, while the 1-GHz dual-core Ti OMAP 4-powered Amazon Kindle Fire notched 3,069. The Samsung Galaxy 7.0 Plus scored 3,353, thanks to its 1.2-Ghz dual-core Exynos processor and 1GB of RAM.
The Optik also lagged behind the curve in the graphics department, scoring just 5,664 on the An3DBench test. The category average is 7,196. The Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus came in at 7,899, while the Kindle Fire cranked out a score of 7,006. The Element, meanwhile, scored 7,004.
The ZTE Optik comes with 16GB of internal storage, to which an additional 32GB can be added via the microSD card slot.
With its 3G connection, the Optik won't exactly blow you away with its browsing speeds. We used Speedtest.net to test the tablet's Web connection, and the slate averaged a download speed of 782 Kbps and upload speeds of 788 Kbps.
In real-world testing, the Optik performed much better. Mobile versions of NYTimes.com and ESPN.copm took an average of 3.3 and 11.6 seconds to load, respectively. Loading the desktop version of LAPTOPMag.com took a lengthy 33.3 seconds. When on 3G, the Optik was also slow to refresh the Facebook app news feed and download apps. You'll definitely want to swtch to Wi-Fi when you can.
One bright spot is the Optik's ability to be used as a Wi-Fi hotspot. But note that your Web connection speeds will be limited by the tablet's 3G connection.
Camera and camcorder
Photos taken using the Optik's 5-megapixel rear-facing camera were mediocre at best. Outdoor shots of a busy New York street were blurry, and bright light sources gave off a distinct haze. Indoor shots were more forgiving, but still not as crisp as we would have liked.
720p video shot by this slate was just as underwhelming. A 30-second video taken outside of our New York offices of a typical spring day was marred by screen tearing and blurring. Colors also appeared washed out and seemed to blend together at times.
Photos shot using the front-facing camera were grainy and colors looked oversaturated.
Outfitted with a 4,000mAh lithium-ion battery, the ZTE Optik lasted a disappointing 4 hours and 3 minutes on our LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over 3G). The Pantech Element lasted 5 hours and 36 minutes, and that was on a 4G LTE connection. You should expect at least a couple of hours more endurance with the Optik over Wi-Fi.
Data plans and value
The Optik will cost you $99.99 with a two-year data plan through Sprint. If you select the base 1GB tablet data plan at $19.99 a month, you'll end up paying $579. That's enough to buy a new Wi-Fi-only iPad. Move up to the 3GB plan at a cost of $34.99 a month, and you'll end up paying $939 over two years. Note that these fees are on top of what you may already be paying for a smartphone data plan.
At just $99, Sprint's ZTE Optik is enticing. But when you take into account the fact that you'll end up paying at least $579 for 3G speeds, it starts to look significantly less appealing. Yes, a $99 Honeycomb tablet may seem like the holy grail for budget-conscious families, but we'd suggest stepping up to the $199 Kindle Fire instead.