Byrd: The Avail 2 doesn't stack up
When my wife and I decided a few weeks ago to upgrade our aging Android smartphones, we took a technological leap of faith and invested in a pair of Nokia Lumia 520s. The low-end model of Nokia's flagship smartphone line, the Lumia 520 runs on Microsoft's Windows Phone 8 operating system, which, although pleasant to use, is drastically different from Google's Android.
But thanks to a busy 1-year-old who got ahold of his mother's phone, smashing the touchscreen in it, I found myself fumbling around this week on AT&T's other inexpensive GoPhone option -- the ZTE Avail 2.
Before we get into the meat and potatoes of it, let's touch base on the Avail 2's specs. This 4.6-inch-by-2.44-inch smartphone rocks Android 4.1 -- the latest version of Android available on any of AT&T's prepaid phones, including the $249 Samsung Galaxy Express. The Avail 2 runs on a Qualcomm MSM7225A 1GHz processor with 512 megabytes of RAM and just more than 2.5 gigabytes of usable internal memory.
The 1,500 mAh battery offers up to five hours of talk time, with 380 hours of standby. For wireless technology, the Avail 2 offers Bluetooth 3.0, WiFi and 3G connectivity. It also comes equipped with a 2-megapixel camera -- which is a little confusing considering the original Avail packed a 5MP camera.
If I were to review this Android smartphone on its own merits, say if I had purchased it as an upgrade from my Samsung Galaxy Appeal running Android 2.3, I'd say it's a pretty good bang for the buck at just under $80. That being said, you should remember that you get what you pay for.
It's truly unfortunate that the Avail 2 doesn't make use of AT&T's 4G network. Apps like Facebook and Vine are -- in comparison to their Lumia 520 counterparts -- incredibly slow, especially if you get away from WiFi and are forced to use the phone's 3G connectivity.
And, if you're addicted to Vine, it's terribly disappointing to have the Avail 2 say "recording is not supported on this device yet." Vine, for those of you who haven't heard of it, is a video service offered by Twitter that allows users to upload six-second videos that loop over and over again.
Making the move back to Android after using Windows Phone 8, even for just three weeks, was awkward and challenging. For starters, I spent more than two hours setting up my contact list and when the deed was done, I found myself disappointed that it was just a lifeless list of photos and phone numbers. On the Lumia 520, the contact list comes alive as your contacts are connected to their Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles.
Then I had to upgrade most of the apps already packaged on the phone, and boy does AT&T know how to package bloatware into an Android phone. On the Windows Phone 8, there were some prepackaged apps, but the user is free to delete them if they don't want or need them. Not so on the Android phone, and the user can only delete them if they can root the phone to gain superuser access.
Where Android really pulls away from Windows Phone 8 in the superiority race is in its customization options (not to mention Google's extensive app offerings, but we'll get to that in a minute). On Windows Phone 8, you can't set a different ringtone for different notifications. For instance, I can't tell the difference between getting a text from my wife and getting a notification from Twitter by sound alone. In fact, the only ringtone you can change is your actual incoming call ringtone.
On Android, not only can you set different ringtones for different notifications, but you can also set your media, notification and ringtone volumes at different levels. On Windows Phone 8, all volumes are tied to the same level.
Then there's the app notifications themselves, which Android nicely brings to one place in the uppermost bar of the screen. Windows Phone 8 doesn't have such a thing, and if the app isn't pinned to the start screen and you don't open it frequently, you may never know you have a notification for that app.
And, of course, Android has access to the Google Play store and literally hundreds of thousands of apps, whereas Microsoft's offerings on the Windows Phone store isn't quite as sophisticated.
You've really got to consider what you're looking for when picking a smartphone, even on a prepaid service like GoPhone from AT&T. Want customization? Go Android. Want simplification? Go Windows Phone 8.
As for me, I've ordered the touchscreen and digitizer part required to fix the broken phone so I can start using the Lumia 520 again. And since I've gone through the trouble of getting it set up, I think I'll keep the Avail 2 as a backup phone -- just in case a certain handsome little devil nabs a Lumia again.
Byrd is the news editor for The Dickinson Press. Email him at email@example.com or tweet him at klarkbyrd.