ZTE Star II smartphone hands-on review

ZTE's new Star II smartphone was on display at CES 2015 in Las Vegas, giving us a chance to spend some time with it and give its voice control features a try. Find out what we thought of the ZTE Star II in our hands-on review.

You might also like to read our round-up of the best smartphones 2015.

ZTE Star II hands-on review: Price and availability

The ZTE Star II is currently available to buy in China, and is set to touch down in the US at some point this year. A ZTE representative told us that the company is also working to bring the smartphone to the UK.

Pricing is a bit of a mystery too, but ZTE is known for its affordable devices so we expect it to be in the mid-range smartphone category.

ZTE Star II hands-on review: Design

We were very impressed by the design of the ZTE Star II. It's just 6.9mm thick (that's as thin as the iPhone 6), and feels really light. It does bear some resemblance to the Sony Xperia Z3 with its squared sides, but it has rounded top and bottom edges more like the iPhone 6.

ZTE Star II hands-on review

We like the ZTE Star II's thin bezels, but weren't so keen on the shiny plastic back, which picked up fingerprints immediately so will always look grubby. It will be available in white or black options, so the white might be the better option if fingerprints bother you.

ZTE Star II hands-on review: Display

ZTE Star II hands-on review

The Star II features a brilliant 5in LCD display with a resolution of 1080 x 1920, which equates to an impressive pixel density of 441ppi. During our testing, we found the display to be bright and crisp, and the colours to be bold and vivid.

ZTE Star II hands-on review: Hardware and performance

Inside the ZTE Star II is a nippy 2.3GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, which we'll need to run our benchmark tests on when we spend some more time on the smartphone soon. During our testing, however, we found it to be smooth and responsive. The processor is paired with 2GB of RAM.

You'll get 16GB of built-in storage with the ZTE Star II, and there's a microSD slot for up to 32GB additional space. That's a bit of a disappointment as we're used to 64GB or 128GB expansion compatibility, but a total of 48GB should be plenty for most people.

Connectivity features include 4G LTE and Bluetooth 4.0.

ZTE Star II hands-on review: Voice control

The main talking point (ha-de-ha) of the ZTE Star II is it's very, very good system-wide voice-control feature. The company has teamed up with Audience and Nuance to make the voice features in this smartphone really work, and during our testing we didn't find ourselves getting frustrated at all, which is rare for a voice-control system, particularly on our first try.

To activate the voice-assistant (which doesn't seem to have a name), you simply press and hold the home button and speak. It allows you to carry out lots of different tasks, including play music or a particular track, open an app, and in some apps such as the camera app it will be constantly listening for commands such as 'switch camera' or 'no flash', for example. Instead of fumbling around to press the shutter button, simply say 'take photo'.

You can program in a phrase that will automatically unlock the smartphone, as it's constantly listening even when the screen is off for that particular command. We're told that it has voice recognition that knows if an imposter is attempting to unlock your phone, but we haven't been able to test that feature yet.

Raising the phone to your head will trigger the voice assistant in the ZTE Star II to ask you who you want to call.

This really is a standout feature of the Star II, well done ZTE – we're impressed.

ZTE Star II hands-on review: Cameras

ZTE Star II hands-on review

The ZTE Star II's camera features also impressed us. With a 13Mp rear-facing f/2.0 camera and 5Mp front-facing camera, you can expect to capture some really nice photographs and some fairly good selfies, particularly as the front-facing camera has a wide angle lens. The rear-facing camera also sports a dual-LED flash.

ZTE Star II hands-on review: Software

Running Android 4.4 KitKat, the ZTE Star II doesn't yet boast Google's latest operating system, but ZTE has made some changes to the vanilla Android to make it feel fresh and new. It's colourful without being over the top, with fun, bubbly icons and easy to understand navigation. All of your apps are situated on the various home screens, though, as ZTE's Star II doesn't have a dedicated app drawer.

ZTE Star II hands-on review: Verdict

We were very pleasantly surprised by this good-looking and well-specced smartphone, with excellent cameras and an even better voice-control feature that we can't wait to spend some more time with. We'll have to wait and see how much the ZTE Star II costs, but if the price is right this could be a solid contender for a spot high up in our mid-range smartphone chart.

Read next: LG G Flex 2 hands-on review

OUR VERDICT

We were very pleasantly surprised by this good-looking and well-specced smartphone, with excellent cameras and an even better voice-control feature that we can't wait to spend some more time with. We'll have to wait and see how much the ZTE Star II costs, but if the price is right this could be a solid contender for a spot high up in our mid-range smartphone chart.

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