Once upon a time it was HTC that produced the white label handsets that networks would brand as their own.
These days of course the Taiwanese manufacturer is a major player in its own right, and it’s Chinese company ZTE that’s hoping to follow in its footsteps for the UK market. It’s been behind handsets for 3 and now the second incarnation in Orange’s Rio series.
Since last year’s original Rio, the keyboard has been upgraded, the camera has beefed up from 2 megapixels to 3, and it’s got 3G connectivity.
Design and build
There’s more than a whiff of the Blackberry about the Rio II. The black rubberised plastic casing is surrounded by a chrome-look trim and of course there’s the QWERTY keyboard that takes up half of the front. In fact, the keyboard looks very like a Blackberry, with similarly ridged keys, and considerably better than the original Rio’s bog standard key layout.
The 37 keys are easy to distinguish under the thumbs and if they feel a little bit cheaper and a bit harsher under the thumbs than Blakberry models, that’s not a terrible drawback considering the Rio II’s price.
The keys are well spaced, with a decent level of feedback, allowing you to get up to some decent typing speeds with both one and two thumbs. The predictive text is pretty good too, throwing up highlighted alternatives as you type, Android-style.
However, the D-pad is more reminiscent of Blackberry from a couple of years ago – there’s no optical trackpad, but a standard old-school D-pad that requires pressure on the outer rim and central button to get anything out of it.
Around the D-pad are call start and stop buttons, as well as buttons for back and home, menu and messaging. There are also usually a couple of soft keys on the bottom left and right of the screen itself, which vary depending on which function you’re in.
It’s eminently pocketable at 110x61x13mm and 106g and the sides feature a volume rocker, camera shutter button and a microUSB slot covered by a rubber grommet. On top is a 3.5mm headphone jack.
The touch sensitivity of the 2.4in screen almost comes as a surprise, since the D-pad does a perfectly good job of steering you around the menus. Still, it can come in handy for instant one-press access to various functions though it’s not particularly sensitive and it often had trouble in distinguishing between our brushes and presses.
The screen’s rather cramped dimensions don’t really help in this regard either, so that pressing the right buttons isn’t always a given, especially if you’ve got hod-carrying brickies’ thumbs. It’s resistive, rather than capacitive, which helps to explain the poor sensitivity, but that means you can use a stylus (not supplied though you could use a pen) to help you get the functions you want.
The display isn’t particularly bright or sharp. Neither Orange or ZTE are giving away the actual screen resolution but it appears to be noticeably less than the 480x320 you’ll find on HTC’s similarly sized (2.6in, actually) ChaCha, for instance.
Interface and OS
There’s a passing resemblance to Android’s icon-based user interface with a variety of shortcuts and widgets that you can drag and drop onto each of the five home screens. You don’t have the back-up of the Android Market to feed your app hunger of course, but what’s on board offers a decent range of items to keep you amused and working through the day.
The 3 megapixel camera is a step up in quality from the previous incarnation’s 2 megapixels, but there’s still no flash, and only a limited array of features. There’s a 2x digital zoom that you can operate using the D-pad
Maximum picture resolution is 2048x1536 pixels and there are options to adjust the picture size and the white balance, as well as impose a few effects (black and white or sepia – not much use really). Picture quality isn’t great and you’ll need to make sure you have plenty of light to get a half decent shot.
Apps and browser
The browser is basic but efficient. The screen doesn’t offer multi-touch capability so there’s none of that pinch-to-zoom malarkey – a shame since the screen’s small size and low resolution means you’re likely to be zooming a lot when trying to read text.
Media and connectivity
You can watch films and video clips on the Rio II but it’s unlikely you’ll really want to. The II version has 3G connectivity but no Wi-Fi, so your options for streaming or downloading video direct from the web are a bit limited – video tends to break up fairly quickly if you’ve got less than optimum 3G access.
The music player does a decent job of organising and playing back your tunes, with cover art too if you have it. There’s a basic four-setting equaliser for adjusting the sound, though the ‘normal’ one seems to be the only one that doesn’t actually distort the sound. There’s an FM radio on board too and though it wasn’t great at finding available stations, there’s room to save up to 20 of them as presets.
The supplied headphones are of course cheap, and quite nastily tinny too – you’ll certainly want to upgrade them if you get the chance. There’s a degree of multi-tasking too, so you can check your emails or surf the web while you’re listening to your tunes.
Performance and battery life
The really rather teeny battery didn’t hold up to more extended use, managing just about a day’s worth of fairly heavy use.
- BlackBerry-esque looks and functions on a budget
- QWERTY keyboard
- Solid build
- 2.6in screen is a bit cramped
- Screen quality and sensitivity not great
- Keyboard feels a little cheap
- No Wi-Fi
Verdict: TThe Orange Rio II is a budget phone, but it’s still got quite a lot going for it, with a near-Blackberry level keyboard, solid build decent touch screen and an okay 3 megapixel camera. The resistive touch screen is quite a let-down however, mostly for its lack of sensitivity.
More info: Orange Rio II spec
Price: From free on contract; £70 PAYG