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Sprint's Sanyo Zio: A Safe Bet on Android

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At a Glance
  • Kyocera Sanyo Zio Cell Phone (Sprint)

The Sanyo Zio delivers exactly what you’d expect from a down-market Android phone. You get the Android experience (Version 2.1), but in a way that's a little harder to control. You can download Android apps, but the phone's slow processor can't always run them quickly and smoothly--and the same goes for video. You get the idea.

But the phone costs only $100 (with contract). I will compare this phone to some of its more expensive Android brethren, but only to illustrate the differences. Ultimately a low-price phone like the Zio should be graded on its value--the features and performance you get for the money--and not on its absolute quality as a smartphone.

Look and Feel

The first thing you’ll notice about the Zio (other than its price tag) is how light it is. The phone weights a scant 3.7 ounces. Since i was used to carrying around an HTC EVO 4G, the Zio seems insubstantial in comparison. But just because something is lightweight doesn’t mean it’s cheaply built. And though some users may be put off by the toylike feel of the phone, others will appreciate the light weight.

The 0.5-inch-thick Zio has a candy bar design. The top and bottom of the phone are trimmed in silver plastic. At the bottom, below the touchscreen, you’ll find a trackball (very useful for scrolling through lists and around Web pages); Home, Menu, Back, and Search touch buttons; a power/end call button; and a button that brings up your call history.

At the top are the accelerometer (for rotating between landscape and portrait orientations) and an ambient light sensor, which adjusts the brightness of the screen to suit the environment. On the right edge is a MicroSD memory card slot and a dedicated camera button for shooting stills and video. The left edge of the phone accommodates a mini-USB slot, a volume rocker, and a standard headphone jack. The back holds a camera and the speaker port.

Curated Apps

The Zio is one of the first phones to feature Sprint ID, which organizes apps into themed packets for users who need a little help swimming through the thousands of apps available at the Android Market. The helpful little pack also contains widgets, ringtones, and wallpapers. Pressing the “iD” button on the Android home page brings up themed app packs like 'Small Business', 'Entertainment', and 'Auto Enthusiast'.

Touch Screen

The Zio’s 3.5-inch WVGA touchscreen (480 by 800 pixels) is less responsive than the touchscreens on upscale Android phones, and though screen has capacitive touch to confirm your touches, communicating commands to Android takes a little more work.

For this reason, browsing the Web was a tiresome task--and I would be reluctant to open the Web browser on this phone for any reason. The trackball at the bottom of the phone helped with navigation, but touchscreen’s lack of sensitivity was a significant negative, as was the Zio’s relatively slow 600MHz processor.

Still, the image-rendering capability of the display wasn’t too bad. I was pleasantly surprised by the sharpness of images and video shown on the screen, and I was satisfied with the screen's brightness.

Camera Functions

The Zio's camera functions were again a story of pluses and minuses. I found the camera somewhat difficult to operate, simply because I couldn’t control the camera buttons and sliders (for zoom, for example) in the OS very well. I did appreciate the dedicated physical camera button on the phone, which immediately puts the phone in camera mode and gives you a solid, well-located button to push when you’re ready to snap a shot.

Again, while the images and video I shot through the Zio’s 3.2-megapixal lens won’t win any awards, I liked their sharpness.

Voice Calling

I was not surprised by the mediocre sound of the voice calls I made. The speaker and microphone in a lower-priced phone aren’t going to match the quality of those found in handsets like the iPhone. In test calls indoors, my voice was loud enough; but outdoors, street noise drowned out my voice. The voice on the other end had adequate volume, but sounded thin and without much body, like a voice issuing from a transistor radio.

Right after you place a call with the Zio, the phone locks up so that you don’t hit keys with your ear. I found it hard to get it out of this mode to punch in menu selections, or just to hang up the call using the touchscreen. Fortunately a physical button on the bottom left of the phone’s front terminates calls.

The Zio is no EVO 4G and it wasn't meant to be. Yet I’m hesitant to call it a “poor man’s Android.” It’s one of a spate of new lower-priced Android phones that carriers hope will lure more people into the smartphone experience--and into new two-year wireless broadband service contracts. The Zio is harder to use than other, more-expensive Android phones, but the Android experience is still there. For people who are interested in checking out Android without taking a big financial risk on a phone, the $100 Zio may be a good choice.

The Zio is available now through Sprint for $100 (after rebate) with a two-year service contract. The retail price of the phone is $350.

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At a Glance
  • For people who are interested in checking out Android without taking a big financial risk on a phone, the $100 Zio may be a good choice.


    • Screen rendered sharp images
    • Low price


    • Poor voice quality
    • Nonresponsive touchscreen
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