By August 9, 2010

ZTE Racer review

ZTE Racer As an Android fan it’s great to see the operating system finding it’s way on to more and more handsets and also great to see that it’s not becoming available on less expensive PAYG handsets which will mean that it comes within reach or far more users.

The ZTE Racer is a compact and light Android smartphone and, somewhat surprisingly, has Android 2.1 Eclair rather than the more dated 1.6 which even many higher end devices are still shipping with.

It may not be the most sophisticated handset, may not have the highest spec and not the prettiest looking but does it still have something to offer, is it still worth considering for under £100 on PAYG with Three? Read on to find out!


The 10 second review

  • Product: ZTE Racer (aka ZTE Link)
  • Price: Around £99.99 PAYG
  • Summary: A compact Android 2.1 handset offering free Twitter, Skype and Windows Live Messenger in the Three network.
  • Best of: Inexpensive, Android 2.1, compact
  • Worst of: Not the most attractive design, resistive touchscreen
  • Buy it now from:


What’s in the box?

  • ZTE Racer
  • Micro USB charger
  • 2GB microSD card
  • USB to MicroUSB sync cable
  • Wired hands-free headset
  • User Manual

Also have a look at my ZTE Racer unboxing video to see more.


ZTE Racer specification:

  • Network: 2G GSM 900 / 1800 / 1900 – 3G HSDPA 900 / 2100
  • TFT resistive touchscreen, 256K colors, 240 x 320 pixels, 2.8 inches
  • 256 MB RAM, 256 MB ROM
  • microSD, up to 16GB
  • Camera: 3.15 MP, 2048×1536 pixels, autofocus
  • Qualcomm MSM7227 600MHz CPU
  • Android OS, v2.1 (Eclair)
  • SMS (threaded view), MMS, Email, IM
  • Browser:WAP 2.0/xHTML, HTML
  • Java
  • MIDP 2.1
  • Bluetooth 2.0 with A2DP
  • Stereo FM radio with RDS
  • MP4/H.264/H.263 player
  • MP3/WAV/eAAC+ player
  • 3.5 mm audio jack
  • WiFi
  • Dimensions: 102 x 55 x 14.5 mm
  • Weight: 120 g



Let’s start at the front of the ZTE Racer then. At the top there’s a large speaker grille behind which, on the right, is a small indicator LED that tells you the charging status as well as providing a visual alert.

The resistive touchscreen is 2.8″ diagonal and is 240×320 pixels, rather low res really.

Below the screen are three touch-sensitive buttons for Home, Menu and Back. Under these are two physical buttons for answer and hang-up functions.

ZTE Racer Front View

ZTE Racer Front View


On the top of the handset you’ll find a 3.5mm headphone socket a recessed power button and a a whole which looks like it would take a phone charm or lanyard but does appear to be the loudspeaker.

ZTE Racer top view

ZTE Racer top view


Very little to see on the bottom of the handset besides a little cup-out in the back cover to make it easier to remove.

ZTE Racer bottom view

ZTE Racer bottom view


The left hand side of the Racer has no controls at all but to the right there’s a MicroUSB connector for sync/charge and an up/down volume rocker.

ZTE Racer right view

ZTE Racer right view


Finally, the back of the Racer is home to a 3.2megapixel auto focus camera, not flash and very little else. I kinda like the little Android man though! 🙂

ZTE Racer back view

ZTE Racer back view




  • Great value for money
  • Android 2.1
  • Small and light



  • Resistive screen
  • Small power/wake button
  • Dated look
  • Naff camera



The ZTE Racer is the first ZTE handset that we’ve reviewed here at We’ve had some of their USB data datacards in the past and ZTE seem to have become quite well known for those.

Here in the UK it looks like the only operator to offer the ZTE Racer is Three and they are pushing it quite hard on PAYG at the moment. There’s a good deal to be had to £99.99 for the handset then you get free Twitter, Windows Live Messenger and Skype-to-Skype calls.

Setting the Racer up for the first time is pretty easy. It’s really just a case of removing the back cover, installing the SIM card, installing the memory card and the popping the battery in. Initial startup does take several minutes and you’ll be asked several configuration questions to begin with. Once it finally starts up you’ll be presented with a fairly plain looking homescreen and some icons.

I was surprised to find Android 2.1 on the ZTE Racer. First of all the spec sheet I’d been given stated that it was actually Android 1.6 but also the price and the fact that it’s considered an low end Android handset also led me to believe that we’d be looking at 1.6. However looking at the OS and realising that some of the features were 2.1 only soon confirmed this. Having 2.1 is impressive when you think that the likes of Sony Ericsson are charging more than double the price for the X10 mini and almost four times the price for the X10 and they are still shipping with 1.6!

You have to hold the power button on the top of the device for a few seconds to get it to power up. The button then acts as a sleep wake button in much the same way as every other Android device. The difference here is that the button is tiny and completely flush with the rest of the body of the device, this made it quite difficult for me to find and press with my big fingers!

When you turn on the Racer you’ll initially see the lockscreeen which is the stock Android version.



Once unlocked you’ll be presented with a fairly standard Android homescreen, albeit with a custom style wallpaper. The homescreen comprises of three pages or panels. The middle one is considered the main ‘home’ and you can always get back here by pressing the home button on the device and has Google search, and 6 shortcuts with space for a further 6.

On either side of the middle screen is an additional page:

lefthome mainhome righthome

The left side is initially blank but allows you to add up to 16 shortcuts of a combination of shortcuts and widgets as you see fit. The right hand page has the power control widget which allows you to turn WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS and email sync on or off and also toggle the backlight brightness. There are then shortcuts here for Google Maps, Google Talk and YouTube. You’ll also notice from the screen shots above the second icon on the right page is a little android on a side of a ‘box’, this is in fact a ‘broken’ shortcut. It was like that from the first cold boot.


Pressing the button at the bottom of the screen that looks like a checker board brings up the full list of installed applications, 25 icons in total. On the Racer these are mainly standard Android apps. there are a few non-standard ones like 3 Favourites and Planet 3 but the others are the kind of thing you’ll find on almost every other Android handset out there. We’ll look at some of these later on.

apps1 apps2 apps3


The settings menu is another good place to have a look around as there are lots of things to tinker with in there. The thing that I find myself using most is the Wireless & Networks settings, where you can set up your WiFi network, Bluetooth and so on. It’s perhaps also worth having a look at the Software Information page to see what version of the software build is installed.

settings about


Pressing the call key on the phone will bring up another screen with a numeric pad, from here you can either dial the number directly or you can look up the contact you want to call. If you have a photo for the contact you are calling then this will be displayed, otherwise you’ll get the green android appear instead. It’ll also tell you about your call status, once the call is connected it’ll show you the call time and you can choose to either mute the call or put it on speakerphone.

The phone buttons are large enough to be able to easily press them with your finger.



The web browser on the Racer is fairly Android standard and as with other devices with a 240×320 screen it initially loads webpages in a one-to-one ratio. This will force you to start zooming out right away if you want to see the full page. This can be a little annoying as you have to press the zoom-out button multiple times to see the full page.

Once you are zoomed right out though you start to see the lower res screen struggle to display enough detail. It seems I have been spoilt by the likes of the HTC Desire with its 480×800 AMOLED screen and the iPhone 4 with its retina display because the smaller screen and lower res of the Racer means that browsing is much less of a joy and more a case of looking at the bare essentials rather than playing and mooching the web from your handset.

The Racer is fast enough at rendering webpages and does so accurately in much the same way as a desktop browser would, navigating and moving site-to-site is no problem at all the 600MHz CPU seems to perform well here.

browser-start browserfullscreen browserlandscape



As it runs Android 2.1 the ZTE Racer can connect with Exchange email servers natively without having to rely upon third-party apps such as RoadSync, this means that you can use push email with an Exchange server. The other great thing about this is that you can have a consolidated email view with your inbox from multiple email accounts all showing in one list. The emails view will colour-code the message with a small coloured bar on the left side which tells you which account it belongs to.

Being a standard implementation of Android also means that the ZTE Racer can handle multiple Exchange email accounts with ease. The one drawback with the Racer though is that there is no corporate calendar sync. The only calendar on the device is am ‘internal’ one which is a real shame.

emaillist emailsetup gmail


The keyboard on the Racer is pretty standard Android fare. The touchscreen QWERTY appears at the bottom of the screen when enabled and works well. The only thing about the Racer is that in having a smaller and lower-res display the keyboard takes up about half of the screen which can be in the way at times and means that the individual keys are a little small. This coupled with the fact that it has a resistive touchscreen means that it can be a bit fiddly especially if you have large fingers like me and takes a bit of practice.

Unlike other devices out there at the moment there are no other entry options on the Racer so you just have QWERTY, no options for compact QWERTY or T9 although I guess you could add this with third-party apps.

keyboard keyboard2


There’s also a built-in FM radio. As with most devices, you have to plug in headphones in order to use the radio as the headphones act as an antenna. The radio reception is ok, nothing spectacular but it’s a good feature to have for when you run out of MP3’s to listen to.



The YouTube application is much the same as you would find on most Android handsets. I think Android has the best of the YouTube applications, far better than the one on Windows Mobile and iPhone in my opinion.

You can browse through videos, look at the top videos and recommendations as well as search for a specific video or channel. As you can see below, a search for leodee (my YouTube account name) brings up my channel and all the unboxing videos I have available. YouTube videos then playback pretty much flawlessly on the screen (depending of course on your internet connection) but for me they play back smoothly over WiFi.

youtube youtubevid


Android Market is the same on every Android device but it does the job. I like the way Market breaks down apps and games in to different genres which is something that I think Apple should be doing too.



Cheaper handsets often have poor cameras and the ZTE Racer is no different here. It’s the one aspect of the device that is frankly the biggest let down. The actual camera interface and controls work ok, nothing special but functional.

camera videocamera


Take a look at the few sample images below. After taking the first one on the left I thought that the camera was doing quite a good job, colourful and bright. When you look more closely at the full size image (click to enlarge) there’s an awful lot of compression and noise but not the worst I’ve ever seen. BUT, if you take a look at the picture on the right you’ll see a different story. This picture was taken in my garden on a bright and sunny day yet everything looks dull and grey. Take a look at the detail on the trees and you can see a lot of grain and noise there too.

Taking a close up photo also yields poor results, the one you can see below of a tub of paperclips was the best of a selection of photos I took. Despite being taken in a well lit room and not standing too close there’s still a lot of grain and noise. Not good.

2010-07-31 17.00.01 2010-07-31 17.00.11

2010-07-31 16.59.41


I’ve mentioned already that the 2.8″ touchscreen is resistive rather than capacitive and I’ve said that’s a bit of a negative for this handset. It’s strange really when you consider that not long ago the only touchscreens out there were resistive but not that capacitive technology has become more widespread I think it’s spoiling us. That said I really do think that Android devices work best with a capacitive screen as the controls and menus are really designed around that. It’s not that the ZTE Racer has a bad resistive screen, it’s quite sensitive actually but it would definitely be a whole lot better with a capacitive!

Overall performance of the Racer is good. You might think that the 600MHz CPU would lack the power needed for a device like this running Android 2.1 but in using the handset for the past few days I’ve not once thought it was lacking in grunt to run any of the apps I’ve been using and I guess not so long ago 600MHz would be considered high-end!




Overall the ZTE Racer offers pretty good value for money, there are some niggles with it, especially the camera. It would be all too easy to start pulling this device apart but whist writing the review I have been mindful of the cost of the handset. At under £100 its about a quarter of the cost of the HTC Desire for example, so how does it compare to the Desire? Well obviously it’s nowhere near as good but it would be unfair to expect it to be. I’ve also looked at this review from the point of view that it’s not a power-users phone.

If you are looking for an inexpensive, entry-level Android handset that I don’t think the Racer will disappoint. In terms of the overall function of the handset it certainly is capable of getting the job done.

Throughout the review I’ve said it’s ‘OK’ a lot and that’s exactly what it is; OK!



Posted by: Matt

Posted in: Reviews

About the Author:

More than 20 years in the IT industry. Blogging with a passion and thirst for new technology since 2005.
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