After taking some time using the Netphone 701 under the SmartNet, I think I finally got where this is headed and how it is going to boil down. Check out our review of the Netphone 701 and the Netphone ecosystem after the jump.
We looked at two aspects in this review as they are practically married to each other — the hardware (Netphone 701) and the ecosystem (SmartNet).
The choice of OEM, ZTE, for the Netphone 701 is interesting. The ZTE Blade is a successful handset in China and also enjoyed some relative popularity in Europe as the Orange San Francisco.
With a 3.5″ display, the Netphone 701 places itself somewhere in the mid-range category of Android smartphones. Its two-tone black and dark-brown color with silver accent reminds us of a long lost HTC device.
It’s got some heft to it despite the plastic construction and the matte finish all around the body helps prevent the unit from being slippery and prone to fingerprints. The power button and 3.5mm port is on top, volume rocker and speakers are on the right side, microUSB port on the left and mic at the bottom.
The front panel is all glass with a single, thin strip of button at the bottom for the usual Android controls (Home, Menu and Back). The LCD display is bright, crisp and sports a high pixel density of 270dpi at 480×800 resolution. There’s some noticeable LED light leaking out of the side when the screen is set to a dark background — nothing biggie to worry about.
Smart Netphone 701 specs:
3.5â€³ LCD display @ 480Ã—800 pixels
600 MHz ARM 11 processor
Adreno 200 GPU
Qualcomm MSM7227 chipset
HSDPA 7.2Mbps; HSUPA 5.76Mbps
WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, WiFi hotspot
Bluetooth 2.1 w/ A2DP
3MP autofocus camera
FM radio tuner
GPS w/ aGPS support
Li-Ion battery 1250mAh
Android 2.2 Froyo
The 3.2-megapixel camera at the back is said to be autofocus but the focusing is terrible and the images are very blurry and pixelated you can’t even get single a decent photo out of it. There’s no camera flash or dedicated shutter button here too.
Despite the low processor speed, the handset performs well, thanks to that ample internal memory (430MB to be exact). Playing Angry Birds is smooth and flawless, movie playback is good but don’t expect any HD movies here. We got a score of 422 on Quadrant (which is close to the Xperia X10i). You may sometimes encounter some lags or slowness but that’s pretty common to most Android phones.
Capacitive touch screen is responsive and scrolling is smooth. It’s the hardware buttons up in the front that’s a little small and hard to press that’s quite frustrating at times. The virtual keyboard is also a bit cramped in portrait mode but it’s nice that they added some haptic feedback when you type on the keys.
Over-all performance is decent, not very impressive, but is expected in most handsets in this category and price-point.
The Netphone 701 runs on stock Android 2.2 Froyo with no additional custom UI on top, except for the widgets added by Smart.
Contrary to my interview with Smart representatives regarding upgrade to Android 2.3 Gingerbread, it looks like the Netphone 701 will not get any future updates (based on their FAQ).
Will my Netphone support future releases of Android OS?
The Netphone does not support future Android OS releases.
I think it will really depend on ZTE if they’re going to push Gingerbread on this device.
There’s a Netphone/ZTE PC Suite stored in the microSD card which you can install and use to sync data and contacts with the device but it requires that USB Debugging is switched on (an odd thing which indicates the software might not be ready for commercial use).
Smart promises more handsets in the future — probably cheaper ones since they’re really targeting the masses here. The naming system follows the way Nokia does to their handsets (number indicates category, class and iteration), only that with Smart, it will be manufactured by several OEMs.
The SmartNet is Smart’s own version of a mobile social network and is the heart of the Netphone ecosystem. It is complemented with a suite of Android Apps and widgets developed by Smart to work with the handset and the OS — the Smart Inbox, IM, Social Stream and Smart Center.
I especially liked the widget that displays a running balance of your prepaid account. It’s not really shown in real-time (there’s a timestamp when the balance was last updated) but a nice feature altogether (I think Smart should just release this app/widget to all Smart Android devices soon).
The Global Directory is an interesting feature which lists all Netphone users. There you can search for friends and contact and add them as a friend. The biggest shortcoming though is that the directory is not moderated so anyone can just assume any name (imagine a hundred Sam Pinto in the directory) so it’s pretty hard to verify the identity. This could also be an opportunity for abuse later on (spam and scam, anyone?).
Those who are Twitter and Facebook addicts will love the Social Stream. I just wish they included FourSquare into the package as well.
The Netphone Plans
For postpaid accounts, the Netphone 701 is free at Plan 1200 which closely competes with the HTC Chacha, Samsung Galaxy Mini and HTC Wildfire S which are all free at Smart Unlimited Data Plan 1500.
For prepaid kits, the Netphone 701 retails for Php9,900. The price point competes directly with the LG Optimus One, Sony Ericsson X10 Mini Pro and Samsung Galaxy Fit.
Access to SmartNet is free for now (Smart says until end of December) so after that you will be paying Php999 per month to get 1GB of web surfing, 3 hours 20 minutes of free calls, 3,500 free SMS, unlimited access to your Social Stream and IM.
In essence, expect to spend a maximum of Php999 per month to fully appreciate the Netphone — how else can you use a Netphone if you don’t pay for net access, right?
While Android is the platform that the Netphone rides on, it is important to note that the SmartNet ecosystem is what makes this whole package a Netphone. They complement each other and the Netphone experience is crippled without SmartNet.
It’s like getting a BlackBerry handset without applying for a BIS account. In essence, you can look at it say Smart wants a piece of that BlackBerry pie.
The handset is decent, capable and sits between the low mid-range to entry-level category of Android smartphones. While the processor is typically slow (most entry-level Android phones starts at 600MHz), the amount of RAM (420MB to be exact) is actually generous it’s more than what the old HTC Desire, Xperia X10 or Galaxy S have. Too bad Gingerbread update is not supported according to Smart so you’re stuck with Froyo on this device.
The biggest opportunity for Smart here is to deliver the complete suite regardless of the handset and allow any subscriber using an Android device to just download the suite of apps, subscribe to a plan and become part of the whole Netphone ecosystem.
Disclosure: The unit used in the photos above was among the 10 raffle prizes Smart gave away during the media event last week.