If you want an Android device for a low price that can run most apps available on the market the Orange Monte Carlo, also known as ZTE Skate, is a well-suited device (at least at the time of this writing).
Design and Ergonomics
The Monte Carlo has a 4.3-inch screen, which could lead you to think that it might be heavy or it couldn’t fit in your pocket properly. Quite the opposite, the device isn’t too heavy and it fits well in hand and in your pants pocket.
I must admit that what I hate in this phone are the smudge marks. They’re all over the device and there’s no escaping them. As much as I try to keep it smudge free they’re always showing up. This could have been avoided by making a back cover that wasn’t as glossy.
On the front of the device you have the massive screen, the proximity sensor at the top, and three buttons at the bottom. These buttons stand for home, menu and back and they are pretty sturdy. I have to say that I’m impressed that after having the phone for almost half a year, using it everyday with all kind of apps, they still are as good as new, specially the back button, which is the one you use more often.
If you have a new message notification, or missed call, the back button will blink with a green light. On the other hand if your battery is under 15% capacity it will blink red.
On the left side you have the volume rocker, on the right there’s the power/lock button and the micro USB port. At the top you have the phone jack and at the bottom you have your microphone.
On the back of the device you have your 5 megapixel camera with led flash and the loud speaker. Once you take the back cover off you find the 1400 mAh removable battery, the SIM card and the micro SD card. You have to remove the battery to be able to change the SIM or the SD card.
The 4.3 display is magnificent for indoor use, the colors are displayed beautifully. Outdoors it’s a completely different story. I found myself trying to decipher what the hell was on the screen more times than what I would like, even with the brightness at top level or with auto brightness turned on. It is really difficult to see what you have on the screen when it’s sunny outside.
The touchscreen is very responsive, whether to a single touch command or to multi touch commands such as zooming in and out. After six months I never experienced any problem whatsoever with the touchscreen.
Any time I ask it to move to another homescreen it moves and anytime I touch and icon it opens it at first try, save rare exceptions. And mind you I don’t have a heavy hand, just a light touch on this device can get things done. I can say that I have been using the Monte Carlo for 6/7 months without a screen protector, and there’s not a single scratch on it, at least until the time of writing. I can’t say the same for the back cover, as it is full of scratches, little ones but still noticeable.
Performance and Software
The device comes with Android 2.3, which was a novelty when I bought it right after it came on the market. It’s a shame that Orange had to mask the stock Android with their software, including the bloatware that they oblige you to have installed on your phone that you rarely use, and cannot uninstall by simply going to the applications manager.
I have to say that the music player is really nice, and it gets the job done. You can organize your own playlists and have them play on whichever order you desire. If you lock your device you do not need to unlock it to change the music playing at the time. It also has a representation on the notifications bar, so you can change what you’re listening to without having to open the application all over again.
You have 5 home screens to play with, and adding and removing widgets and shortcuts to applications is as easy as you would expect. To remove a widget you simple have to touch it long enough so that the recycling bin shows at the bottom of the screen and drag the widget in to it. To add a widget you simply have to touch the wallpaper long enough and a menu will appear asking whether you want to add a widget or do something else.
You can also go to the all apps screen an touch the icon of the app you want to move to the homescreen, if you touch it long enough it will pop out and the homescreen will appear, and then you just have to slide right or left to choose which homescreen you would like to attach it to.
The devices comes with, documents to go, Gasol by optimus, gamestore, appstore, spots, MB Phone, Mobile tv, News and weather, Optimus Wizi location, FM radio, email, music player.
Since I have this device I never used many of the features above, of course Gmail, Google navigation, Google Maps, Google Search, Sound Recorder, Fm Radio, Play store, Calculator, Music Player, Image Gallery, Documents to go, YouTube and the notepad are good features and are useful at one point or another.
On the other hand I can’t wrap my mind around what Optimus was thinking when they decided to put the Gamestore, Appstore and Optimus wizi location on this device since all the functionality of these is provided by the apps that come with Android 2.3. You can try some of these apps if you are willing to enable your 3G network because they simply don’t work with wi-fi.
Gasol by Optimus
This is an app that calculates, based on gas prices, what petrol station is closer to your location, or what petrol station is better for your pocket, depending on your preferences.
This app helps you find specific places near your location, be they coffee shops, hospitals, etc.
Messaging on this device is as simple as what you would expect of an android device. The keyboard is pretty responsive and easy to use.
You have a message history that shows whom you’ve contacted last, and the number of messages in that conversation. If you open the conversation you will be facing an interface similar to the iPhone message interface, you have your photo and message intertwined with your contacts’ photo and messages. It’s a simple interface and it gets things done. You can also attach files to your messages by simply entering the menu and tapping the add attachment option.
You also have the ability to skip writing the messages and simply saying what you what to say to the voice input option. I must say that I’m sorry that Portuguese is not supported yet, because when I tried this feature with the English dictionary it worked almost flawlessly.
Contacts and Calling
When you synchronize your Gmail account with the device your contacts are automatically added to your phonebook, that being said if you don’t have your Gmail contacts organized you will be confronted with an unorganized phonebook. There’s also no magic way of merging contacts with this device, you are left to fend for yourself using the Android 2.3 tools.
Adding and changing contacts on this device is as easy as it can get. You have lots of options to choose from, allowing you to personalize your contacts and phonebook. You can create groups and add contacts to your favorite’s list. Navigating through the phonebook is also very easy since you just have to scroll. If you scroll fast enough it will allow you to choose the first letter of the name of the contact which you are looking for.
Making calls is very easy too. When you get to the dialer screen you can type the number you want to call, or type the name of the contacts you want to call. The speakers work fine during phone calls, be it the normal speaker or the loud speaker on the back. I always was able to hear people talking to me on the other side. The microphone works flawlessly as well.
The proximity sensor has a glitch that is well known by the owners of this device. Some times after a call the screen continues black, as if you were still with the phone at your ear. This only started happening to me last week, but it’s nothing that can’t be fixed, you just need to look for it in the forums.
I’ve tested this device with Antutu and Quadrant. I wasn’t surprised by the low results comparing to high end phones, since I bought this device as a mid-range device. It freezes up some times, mostly while browsing the web. I’ve played Angry Birds on it, and a lot of other games on it and I have no complaints about it (other than it being unable to support Dead Trigger xD). But bear in mind that your counting with a 800 MHz A8 processor and only 512 MB of RAM.
Although games like Angry Birds, Cut The Rope, Radiant Defense and Birds On A Wire run smoothly, many games simply are not compatible with the Monte Carlo and are omitted from the Play Store.
The loud speaker is good if you like listening to music although it lacks a little bass in my modest opinion. It never dropped a call in these 6/7 months of use and no one ever told me they couldn’t hear me speaking, that is pretty good by my standards.
Connectivity and Battery Life
I tried the 3G connection, but it was so slow loading up the littlest of websites that I simple gave up. It took up to 2 minutes to load Google’s search on android-emotions, compared to 10 or 20 seconds by Wi-Fi. I have to say that not having flash is a bit annoying since many websites still rely on it.
But you’ll make it through it if your only intention is to make a search every now and then on an emergency or something like that. Pinching to zoom works really well and text looks sharp and is easy to read in this device.
As far as battery life goes, I’ve been able to push it as far as two days without charging it, by using the Monte Carlo with Wi-Fi/3G and GPS turned off, making one or two short calls and sending some messages. If you make a normal use of it with Wi-Fi turned on, playing games, sending messages and making one or two short calls you will have to charge it by nightfall.
Having said that, I was impressed when I had music playing for almost 12 hours through the loudspeaker, with the screen off, before it finally gave out.
Taking pictures is as easy as it can be. You have some options to change your photos. You can augment or diminish the brightness before you take the picture, it helps in dark environments, you can enable or disable flash, zoom, etc. For a 5mp I like the performance of this camera, as you can see from these snapshots the pictures are pretty good.
Recording video is another matter altogether, if you decide to record a scene with lots of movement some will be lost in the footage. If you simply like to film the scenery it will suit you.
The image gallery is well made and enables you to share and organize your pictures with ease.
If you still want a big screen smartphone at a low price, don’t intend on playing games that strain the CPU, and don’t mind that it comes with Android 2.3 go ahead and give it a try. For the price that you’re paying for it, it’s definitely worth it. You can also try out its newest cousin the Orange Madrid (also known as Alcatel OT-995), with faster CPU more ROM and at the same price range.
Review by: Cátia Sofia @ Android Emotions