More and more low-cost Android phones are entering the market to fill the gap between messaging phones and hyper-powered handsets with 1-GHz processors and HD video recording. The Sanyo Zio, available from Sprint for just $99.99 with the requisite two-year contract, is one of them. It is also one of three new Sprint phones to feature Sprint ID, a series of downloadable packs that include themed apps, widgets, shortcuts, and wallpapers. The Zio offers a relatively high-resolution screen for the price, but overall this device kept us waiting more than we'd like.
So light it barely feels real, the Sanyo Zio weighs just 3.7 ounces. At 4.6 x 2.3 x 0.5 inches the phone is comparable to the Sony Xperia X10 (4.7 x 2.5 x 0.5 inches) but the latter weighs 1.1 ounces more. Like the Xperia, the Zio features a rubberized back with perforations for the speaker and the 3.2-MP camera at the top. The edges of the device are a shiny chrome-colored plastic that also cap the top and bottom of the phone. Overall, the Zio looks and feels like a cheap Android phone, which isn't shocking. However, the $50 cheaper LG Optimus S has a sturdier build quality.
The front of the Zio features a notification light and a 3.5-inch display. Below the screen you'll find the standard touch-sensitive Back, Home, Menu, and Search buttons, which are responsive but unevenly lit. While the other three buttons are icons, the menu button stands out with "MENU" in all caps. It's distracting and feels unfinished. Below the standard Android buttons is a circular indent that holds a BlackBerry-style trackball, straddled by Call and End buttons.
On the left side is a headphone jack, volume rocker and micro-USB charging port; on the right, a slot for the included 2GB microSD card and a camera button. All of the ports are covered with brushed chrome covers, which keeps them clean, but it's questionable how long the covers will hold up with constant opening and closing--especially the charging port.
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The Zio features a 3.5-inch TFT WVGA display with a resolution of 800 x 480 pixels. That's a pretty high resolution for this price, as the $149 Samsung Transform on Sprint is limited to 480 x 320. The auto-backlight sensor on the screen skews a little dark, but turning up the brightness helped. On the other hand, the panel kicked back an excessive amount of glare when not viewed head-on. Also, we noted that the Zio's display picked up a couple of scratches after just a week of use.
Touch Experience and Keyboard
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While the capacitive touch screen is glass, there's a plastic-like coating over it that caused friction at first. As we used the phone, the friction dissipated. Overall, the display was fairly accurate, but on a couple of occasions we had to hit an item more than once to get a response, such as the app menu button. Our biggest complaint is that the Zio lacks multitouch, which is pretty much unheard of for an Android 2.1 device.
The on-screen keyboard is the standard Android layout. While typing in portrait mode felt cramped, we achieved fairly good accuracy in landscape mode. We just wish the orientation switched faster, as there was a noticeable lag. The Zio also felt as if it couldn't keep up with our thumbs when we typed fast, which is probably due in part to the haptic feedback. We recommend that you turn off this setting.
The Sanyo Zio runs a modified version of Android 2.1 with five home screen panels; at the bottom of every pane is a call, applications, and a Sprint ID button. The initial wallpaper on the device includes helpful information for new users such as "Tap and hold an empty space to add a new widget."
The idea behind Sprint ID packs is to make it easier for users to find apps and content based on interests such as entertainment, fitness, games, sports, and social networking. Users can download packs such as "Entertainment" and keep up to five packs on their phone at one time. Once a pack is downloaded, pack-specific wallpaper and apps appear on homescreen panes and in the applications folder. Currently, Sprint ID is only available on the Zio, the LG Optimus S, and the Samsung Transform.
While the Sprint ID packs may be useful for novice users, they take a lot of patience to download. Over 3G, it took us 3 minutes and 40 seconds to download the EA Games pack. This included--among other items--demo versions of Scrabble and Tetris, wallpapers featuring FIFA 11, The Sims 3, and Tetris, and a link to purchase EA games from their site.
We also tried the Big Apple ID pack, which promised to include a full subway map and a New York Times app. While we assumed that these apps would be included in the pack as part of the download, they weren't. Instead, the icons were links to the apps in the Android Market, which meant more downloading and installing.
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In everyday tasks, the Zio's 600-MHz Qualcomm MSM7627 processor was somewhat slow respond. Pressing the End button or trackball to turn on the screen took a couple of seconds, while on most phones it's instantaneous. We also found that the Zio took its time switching from portrait to landscape mode--anywhere from 2 to 4 seconds. And The Zio's slow performance was echoed again in its benchmark scores. It scored well below the average on every benchmark we ran. On the speed test Linpack for Android, the Zio managed 3.83 while the Xperia X10 scored 4.13 and the Desire clocked in at 6.79. The average score is 9.80. The Zio is certainly usable, but you'll need to have patience.
E-Mail and Messaging
The Zio offers both a general e-mail inbox as well as a Gmail client. We were able to configure both with ease and had no problem sending or receiving messages. Likewise, the messaging app performed well. One interesting note: Neither e-mail app included Android emoticons. Instead, the keyboard had a button for a generic ASCII smiley face. Business users will appreciate a separate Exchange Email app, though we also suspect most business users would spring for a higher-end device.
Surfing the web on the Zio over Sprint's 3G network was slow in New York City. The mobile site of the New York Times loaded in just 6 seconds, but CNN took 15 seconds and ESPN took 42. We stopped counting after a minute with Laptopmag.com. These times are slower than the Samsung Transform, another mid-range Android phone with Sprint ID. Over Wi-Fi, the New York Times mobile site loaded in 7 seconds, ESPN mobile loaded in 6 seconds, and Laptopmag.com loaded in 23.
Scrolling through pages was slow, but tolerable. However, we found ourselves accidentally clicking on links in a story while we were trying to scroll. Double-tapping to zoom in on text works, but, like most everything else with this phone, it was slow. On full web pages, the Zio paused before zooming in to fit the screen.
The Zio was very slow to load YouTube videos over 3G; the first three videos we attempted to watch froze after roughly 15 seconds and none of the played full screen. Over Wi-Fi, the same videos loaded slightly faster, but more importantly, didn't freeze and fill the entire screen. Videos were watchable when they played. There was some pixelation, but it wasn't overly distracting.
The speaker on the Zio causes the rest of the phone to vibrate slightly when it's turned all the way up, but that doesn't mean it actually sounded good. Music sounded canned and distant, even at high volumes.
Camera and Video
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The Zio features a dedicated launch-shutter button for its 3.2-MP camera. Like everything else on this phone, it takes an extra second for the device to focus and snap the shot. There's no flash, but photos looked reasonably crisp and clear as long as there was enough light available.
WVGA video on the Zio was passable, but very jerky. Fast moving objects, such as water from a fountain, looked pixilated.
This might sound old-school, but it's actually kind of refreshing that the Zio has dedicated Send and End keys for making calls. In our tests, voice quality was mostly clear but not very loud on our end of the line when we dialed a landline. The other caller said we sounded just a bit fuzzy.
Another area where the Zio came in below average is battery life. It lasted just 4 hours and 33 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test. During a day of moderate use--checking e-mail, downloading apps, and surfing the web--we found ourselves reaching for the charger by late afternoon.
Sprint's goal is pair these phones with its $69.99 Everything Data Plan, which includes 450 minutes, unlimited mobile-to-mobile, unlimited nights and weekends, unlimited texts, and unlimited data. It's a tough deal to beat unless you primarily call landlines.
The proliferation of Android phones is both a blessing and curse to consumers. We expect the more expensive ones with 1-GHz processors to perform like Ferraris, and we accept that lower priced ones will run like Honda Civics--stable and reliable, but not like speed demons. However, the Sanyo Zio is slow even for a budget Android phone, and the lack of multitouch is pretty lame in 2010. If you're looking for a sub-$100 Android device on Sprint, the Samsung Intercept is a better option, as is the older Samsung Moment.