Sprint Sanyo Zio Review

Over the next few weeks we will see a whole lot of amazing high-end smartphones come out that will blow us away. While we wait in the meantime, we’re noticing a huge flock of mid-range to low-end smartphones getting released in preparation for the holidays. This is important, as not everybody shopping for a new smartphone this holiday season will want the state-of-the-art, most expensive device. For many, anything running Android will get the job done just fine. After all, they still do emails, web surfing, Android apps and widgets just as well as the next Android phone, right?

This past month at CTIA Sprint announced the arrival of the Sanyo Zio. I saw this same exact phone in the flesh at March’s CTIA, but under Kyocera branding. So when I heard about a new Android phone being put out by Kyocera, I already start judging it. The Kyocera brand is popular among Cricket and Virgin Mobile customers here in the US simply because they’re meant to offer an inexpensive option without worrying about a contract. They’re meant to be cheap. So how will an Android phone under the same branding pan out?

The Box of the Sanyo Zio

Sprint boxes tend to all look the same — with white and yellow color schemes, and a picture of a random stranger doing some random activity on the front next to the phone itself (in this case, a woman is running with headphones). That isn’t a concern, as Sprint has its method of branding and it fits them well. Inside the box we find, in addition to the phone and battery, a regular AC charger module that comes with female USB port (this is rather standard with smartphones now, and I absolutely LOVE it), USB data transfer cable, microSD card with full SD adaptor for easy reading, and the “getting started guide”.

Lastly, it brilliantly comes with a recycle bag to put in any batteries or other wireless materials you need to get rid of. This isn’t something that is seen too often, but should be included in every single phone (let alone smartphone) made today. Whether you need to get rid of an old phone or if you hang onto the bag until your Zio bites the bullet, either way you have a method of disposing of that phone safely and easily.

The Sanyo Zio’s Design

It can be hard for an Android phone to stand out of the crowd. There’s so many of them out there, all the good unique design ideas seem to be taken (not to mention the bad unique ones as well — I’m looking at you, Backflip). The Zio doesn’t stray too far away from the usual Androids that don’t have full physical keyboards, but Sanyo/Kyocera did throw in a few design quirks that will have a significant impact on the outlook of the phone.

The Zio uses the standard candybar form factor, opting for a onscreen keyboard as a method of keeping the device as thin as possible. It packs in a 3.5” WVGA capacitive screen with a 480×800 resolution. The screen is the same size as that of an iPhone, which makes it easy to manage. Until you try to use the keyboard or any sort of multitouch. I’ll cover that later in this review.

Lining the bottom of the screen we find four touch-sensitive buttons that can be found on virtually every Android device: Home, Menu, Back, and Search. There is absolutely nothing groundbreaking in this particular aspect of the design. However, below these buttons is where it gets interesting, since we are graced with a physical call/answer button, a trackball that is reminiscient of Blackberry devices made pre-2010, and a physical end/power button. Both buttons are physical on the very bottom, yet made to be completely flush with the rest of the front panel. The trackball is also flush.

The trackball is the most curious design quirk to me. I respect the concept that Sanyo is trying to convey in that having a trackball is an alternate way of navigating through different parts of the screen — especially in situations where finger touch does not work, such as when you are wearing gloves. However, there is a reason Blackberry ventured away from the trackball and opted to go with an optical trackpad: because they had nothing but problems. Anyone who used a Pearl or Curve 8xxx with the trackball understands (and usually can relate to) frustrations experienced when dirt or grime makes its way underneath the ball and renders it useless. The trackball is old news, and is rather surprising to see it in a new device.

A design quirk that I really like is the smooth edges of the screen. Instead of having a screen end abruptly with an elevated edge, the Zio’s screen just rounds off the side of the phone, allowing incredibly fluid finger swipes. It’s easy to start swiping before your finger even reaches the actual screen, and your finger is given extra room for follow-through (as if finger swyping is like shooting a basketball or something?). Plus, it just helps make it appear thinner, even if it actually isn’t.

The right side of the Zio features a MicroSD card slot and camera button, while the left side boasts 3.5 mm headphone jack, volume rocker, and MicroUSB charging port. No buttons on top or bottom. Personally I prefer having headphone jacks on the top of my phone because the cord doesn’t catch on as many things, and it just looks nicer. So I was disappointed to see that my headphones will need to poke out of the side of my Zio at least an inch or so, instead of out of the top.

On the back we find the 3 MP camera sans LED flash, and a rather large speaker. The battery cover itself is easy to take off, but offers some challenge putting it back on.

Lining the entire outside of the phone is a nice solid silver, which adds a good touch that complements the black front and back on the Zio. It looks good, and is a sleek device altogether.

The Sanyo Zio is quite light weighing in at 3.7 ounces, but it comes at a cost. Any time a phone is that light, there’s a good chance the whole thing was made with cheap and lightweight plastics. At least that’s how the phone feels. It just lacks the good solid feeling I like to have when holding a phone; you know, the feeling that it won’t actually break into a million pieces when dropped. Perhaps it isn’t that unstable, but the lightweight and plastic material makes it feel that way. Having a phone like that does have its pros, though; for anyone who likes to put phones in their pockets, it does fit in pockets very easily. And you can barely even tell it’s there.

So in terms of overall design, the Zio has its good and bad points. Frankly, most mid-range or lower phones will have flaws, simply because some elements of great design have to be sacrificed in order to keep the price low. It makes sense, but it does force potential smartphone customers to decide which things are worth sacrificing, and which things they can live without. If you like the $99 price tag of the Sanyo Zio, will you have too much concern with the phone feeling cheaper? Especially if the phone does everything else you would need it to do?

There are a few other items of note here, though. One is the lack of multitouch. When I first began using the Zio, one of the very first things I tried to do was open up the web browser and use pinch-to-zoom, as I am accustomed to using this feature instinctively, without even thinking about it. It took me 2-3 failed attempts before realizing that this is unique to the design of the Zio and not just a figment of my imagination. I had to double check the firmware, but it indeed uses Android 2.1; multitouch typically comes standard in Eclair. But Sanyo/Kyocera cut some corners, and this was one of those corners that got left in the dark.

Also intriguing to me was that even though the Zio’s screen is a normal 3.5” capacitive touchscreen, I found the keyboard incredibly frustrating. Even for my skinny fingers, I was still typing the wrong keys and feeling like my fingers were mashing. I had to take full advantage of the word suggestions offered just between the message body and the keyboard, and I also found myself switching over to landscape mode just to have the larger keys. For anyone with larger fingers, this may be a huge point of concern.

Features of the Sanyo Zio

The Zio was announced in concert with the Samsung Transform and the LG Optimus T. Besides all being on Sprint and all being midrange Androids, what was the other real tie-in of all 3, the thing that they all had in common? They all feature Sprint’s brand-new Sprint ID service.

Recently I gave an in-depth review of Sprint ID, but here’s what it does in short: Sprint ID offers several different themes that you can switch back and forth to and from on your Android. Each theme comes with its own pre-packaged apps, tones, and wallpapers; some of the first ID’s out of the gates are geared towards the socialite, the business owner, the gamer. And if you are all business for most of the day but then want to go out and party that night, it’s easy to switch from one ID to another that will fit your specific needs. It’s highly customizable, and is a good idea in theory. We just need to wait and see how it will turn out after we see a good number of developers write enough ID’s to make it worthwhile.

The Sprint ID shortcut button is featured on each home panel, as one of three buttons on the bottom, to the right of the phone app and app tray. Beyond that, Sanyo seems to have gone for stock Android 2.1 UI elements everywhere else.

Internal storage space is limited to 256 MB, a drop in the bucket compared to other Android powerhouses like the Samsung Galaxy S series, but does come included with a 2 GB MicroSD card already. If that’s still not enough, throw in a MicroSD of up to 32 GB so that way you have plenty of music and movies to keep you entertained.

The Zio’s camera is 3 MP with no LED flash, and the camcorder inside uses a WVGA resolution, equivalent to 480p. Not terrible for video, but certainly you do get what you pay for when it comes down to overall specs. On the still camera, the colors do look somewhat washed out and unnatural. The shutter also delayed, so I felt as though my arm was going to fall off after holding the camera perfectly still long enough. I took a couple pics with the Zio camera to give you a little better idea of how it looks.

It also comes included with GPS, WiFi, USB/PC Syncing, bluetooth, music player, miscellaneous organizer functions, and most other standard features that Android Eclair has to offer.

Performance of the Sanyo Zio on Sprint

If you’re looking for a powerhouse Android smartphone on Sprint’s network, this is not the one for you; I would suggest the EVO 4G or Epic 4G instead. The Zio is definitely made to be a mid-range, given its specs and overall feel. With this in mind, I will compare the phone’s performance to that of a comparable Android. In this instance I am comparing with the LG Optimus T because I have recently reviewed that device as well.

The Zio runs with a CPU speed of 600 MHz, which is on the low range for brand new Android phones coming onto the market these days. Fortunately there are no custom UI designs trying to slow the phone’s processing power (aside from the Sprint ID packs), not to mention a slimmed-down version of Android 2.1 (limited multitouch and no HD video recording are the biggest examples). But even with that in mind, the screen was less responsive than I would like to see, when compared to other Androids with the same processing power.

Call quality was good, as the volume was sufficient to hear the people on the other end, and vice versa, with no hissing or static. The speaker quality was wonderful, most likely due to the size of the actual speaker on the back.

Battery life is rated on the Zio at roughly 6 hours of constant talk time, which is above average for an Android. And it was just as good if not better than most Android phones I’ve used. With moderate use, it lasted all day and I charged the Zio every night.

Conclusions on the Sanyo Zio

Hate to say it, but my overall impressions of the Zio are based on how much I would be willing to pay in order to buy it if I were shopping for a new smartphone. I would be tempted to buy the Zio myself if it were offered for free with contract, but the current pricing of $99 is a little too much to bear; there is simply no “wow” factor involved in the Zio, and there are plenty of other Android phones available for the same price (or close enough to it) that I would prefer to buy instead.

I loved that the Zio was extremely lightweight and had a nice display with smooth edges that allow for easy swyping, I also was not impressed by the plastic feel of the phone overall, the lack of screen responsiveness, and the specs are decent enough but still nothing to write home about in considering the cost. The inclusion of a trackball is puzzling, and even though I think the point of it was to help the Zio stand out over other Android phones, the simple fact is that trackballs are difficult to handle and maintain properly without them going out on you.

Overall, there are many other Android handsets being launched on a regular basis that use roughly the same specs and have similar pricing (or even less) that would be a better buy for your $99. The Zio is okay, but not anything spectacular.

Please check out my video review of the Sanyo Zio below, as well as a full gallery of pics.

You can get Sprint Sanyo Zio for FREE from Amazon.com

You can also purchase the phone contract-free through Cricket for 139.99.

Author: Brad Molen

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