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Lifewire / Andrew Hayward
Solid physical keyboard
Fine for calls and texts
Some software is disabled
Bad camera quality
Browser works inconsistently
Although hobbled by busted and dated software, the ZTE Z432 is one of the best basic phones for texting.
Smartphones have largely eliminated phones with physical keyboards, but if you still want that feature you’re not without options. The AT&T Z432 is a small and incredibly lightweight phone with a full QWERTY keyboard. It's primed for calls and texts, and if you loathe the idea of typing out messages on a screen, then the Z432 could be a godsend. Best of all, it's startlingly affordable. However, this older phone has some significant functionality hitches, seemingly due to its age, is limited to 3G, and it can't reliably do much more beyond calls and texts.
The ZTE Z432 clearly gets its inspiration from classic BlackBerry handsets, with a 4:3 rectangular screen above navigational buttons and a full QWERTY keyboard.
It doesn't have any of the premium flourishes of some BlackBerry models, however, it's all glossy black plastic with silver accents, with no pretenses at feeling like a high-end device. It's just a cheap, functional take on the same kind of design. The build feels solidly sturdy, though, at just 3.24 ounces, it's also a shockingly lightweight phone.
The keys themselves are very, very small, but they work pretty well. We had some trouble mushing the wrong letters at times, given their size, and wish that the space bar was a bit larger and more prominent. Overall, though, it's a better experience than texting with number keys, and that could make a world of difference for some users.
The build feels solidly sturdy, though, even if it looks a bit toy-like in quality.
There's not much built-in storage with 256MB of internal storage, but only 149MB of that is available for photos, videos, and music. Luckily, you can use slot in a microSD card up to 32GB to bring in more media and save additional camera snaps and videos.
There isn't much to the setup process for the ZTE Z432. The removable battery isn't installed inside the package, so you'll need to pry open the back cover and slot that in. Put the cover back on and hold the power button on the right side of the phone to turn the phone on. You'll need to use AT&T's prepaid website or phone number to activate the phone.
The ZTE Z432 hardly packs in cutting-edge tech. Case in point: the Qualcomm QSC6270 processor was released in 2007—and that's not a typo. It's a dozen years old. It's not a very swift phone. There's a slight pause when accessing the main menu, for example, as well as when switching to any other application or tool within that menu. Granted, it's a simple phone and the tasks it can handle aren't very intense, so it fits the bill for that. Just don't expect much in the way of speed or capabilities.
The Z432 is built for 3G networks, and it won't run on modern 4G LTE networks, nor can it connect to a Wi-Fi network. It's not a very speedy standard, and given the shift towards 4G LTE and 5G, carriers aren't adding further capacity to their 3G networks. It's fine for texts and calls, but if you're trying to load websites, you'll surely notice the sluggish speeds.
At 320 x 240, the 2.4-inch TFT LCD screen is pretty typical quality for a basic phone and is comparable to what you'll find on most flip phones despite the different screen ratio. In short, it's not great, but it'll get the job done.
If you loathe the idea of typing out messages on a screen, then the Z432 could be a godsend.
Everything has a slightly blurry look to it and text can be a bit fuzzy. It could stand to get a step brighter, and the viewing angles aren't great if you're looking from either side or below. But ultimately, given how incredibly cheap this phone is, it's perfectly fine for what you need.
With a tiny opening on the back cover for the speaker, the ZTE Z432 isn't capable of producing big, booming sound. The output is a bit tinny and definitely confined. it can get pretty loud when listening to music, however, which is odd since the speakerphone playback is very quiet. At least call quality was steady, clear, and easy to hear when using the earpiece.
The camera is definitely a weak spot on the ZTE Z432. The 2-megapixel camera simply isn't equipped to capture much detail, and the low-resolution shots that come out are consistently fuzzy. Low-light shots are extremely rough, and with no auto-focus feature, the Z432 won't know what you're trying to aim at.
Meanwhile, video quality tops out at 320 x 240 with a mere 15 frames per second, so the resulting footage is not only fuzzy but choppy. This isn't the phone you'll want if you plan to snap photos or videos on the go.
The removable 900mAh battery pack is pretty small for a basic phone, and the 4.5-hour talk time estimate makes that clear. However, given how low-powered the device is, it can last a fair amount of time in standby mode. ZTE suggests it can last up to 10 days, and when we left the phone idle for a few days, we were surprised to see that the battery bar hadn't moved an inch.
However, given that this is an older phone, the battery that ships with your phone might already be deteriorating. On a couple of occasions, when we fully charged the phone, the battery bar was already partially depleted. Its ability to hold a charge in standby mode still impressed us, but the pack may not have been able to go as long as originally intended.
Here's where the ZTE Z432 experience largely fell apart for us: some of the key features just don't work anymore. We first hit that snag when trying to set up an email address with the built-in program, and found that we couldn't set up a Gmail address. The feature is there, but it simply doesn't work.
The handset's age really shows with functionality that just doesn't work anymore.
Elsewhere, we tried to use the built-in AT&T Navigator app for GPS-aided turn-by-turn directions. Once again, that feature repeatedly failed during login despite numerous attempts. And then when using the web browser, many of the sites we tried to access simply wouldn't load. We'd type in the address, the browser seemed to be making an attempt to connect and then nothing happened. Perhaps the browser is ill-equipped to handle today's complex websites, but that's a real problem.
All told, it hobbles the experience outside of the core acts of calling and texting. You might be able to get your non-Gmail email address up and running, and perhaps the kinds of webpages you frequent will work fine. But that's a big question mark, not to mention a major risk for anyone thinking about picking up this phone.
By and large, the interface is pretty straightforward. Pressing the middle navigation button brings up the Main Menu screen, which has a grid of icons that point you towards apps like Music, Camera, Messaging, Browser, and Settings. As mentioned earlier, it can be a bit sluggish when entering a new app, but it's not difficult to find your way around.
It's unclear how much the ZTE Z432 originally sold for when it first released in 2014—we couldn't find an accurate listing. But nowadays, you can find it for $30 or less on Amazon. On the surface, that's a pretty excellent deal for a functional phone, especially one that comes with a bonus feature like a full QWERTY keyboard. The aforementioned software issues definitely weaken the value proposition if you want to do more than call and text, however.
The Alcatel Go Flip is also available for $30 or less through some carriers, and it’s a much newer handset with 4G LTE capabilities. For calling and texting, you'd be fine with either phone—it's really down to whether you like the form factor of a flip phone, or crave the full QWERTY keyboard setup of the ZTE Z432.
The Go Flip is pretty light on tools and apps, so it doesn't have navigation or even a notes app, but at least the web browser works better than the Z432's. Neither of these phones is particularly great as an all-around device, but both handle the core tasks solidly enough given their very low prices. And the Go Flip is better equipped for the future with its LTE support.
Between the physical keyboard and the price, some prospective buyers might see the ZTE Z432 as a perfect choice. However, the handset's age really shows with functionality that just doesn't work anymore. If you're satisfied with the bare essentials of communication, you’ll be fine, all others will want to look elsewhere.