Sanyo Zio Review

Introduction and Design

For years there had been rumors on Sprint forums about a Sanyo smartphone; at first it was going to kill the Treo, then the BlackBerry.  These were back in Sanyo’s heydays when the manufacturer was winning customer satisfaction awards left and right.  That mythical smartphone never appeared, and Sanyo has fallen into the ranks of also-rans since then.  Sure, there have been some decent phones, but they have yet to venture out of the featurephone market, often content to stick with entry-level devices.  But now we have the Zio, the first smartphone from Sanyo to run Google’s Android platform.  The Sanyo Zio is a bit of a mixed bag, offering at the same time higher-end features such as a WVGA display and low end elements like a bit of a cheap feeling.  Like we said, it’s a mixed bag.  Included with the Zio you’ll find a 2GB microSD card, microUSB cable and AC adapter.


The Sanyo Zio is a black slab device, except that it’s got some significant silver on it.  The 3.5” 480x800 capacitive display dominates the phone and is quite a nice screen.  With 262K colors the TFT panel looks very good, especially with a high resolution and smaller screen size (the 4” Epic 4G and 4.3” EVO 4G also have WVGA resolutions) the pixel density is very good. The colors, however, are a bit off and in sunlight the display was washed out almost entirely.  When placed next to the Samsung Transform and HTC EVO 4G you could tell that the colors were over saturated, and in the same lighting conditions we could still use the Transform whereas the Zio needed to be shaded to be used.  The display also has responsiveness issues.  We often found ourselves having to select something multiple times before our input was registered, much like you would have to do on resistive touchscreens.  Another drawback is that it does not support multitouch, a feature we have grown accustomed to even in entry level smartphones. 

At just 3.7 oz the Sanyo Zio feels incredibly light in the hand.  This is nice because the device easily slips into your pocket without being noticed, but at the same time makes it feel cheap.  The lightness is likely due to the heavy use of plastic- in fact the total use of plastics.  It is nearly an ounce lighter than Sprint’s HTC Hero, a similarly sized device with a smaller display.

You can compare the Sanyo Zio with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.

Again we’re back to the mixed bag thing here, because while the device feels cheap at the same time it feels well-built. The back door has a nice coating of soft touch paint, and while it is very light, the Zio does not feel poorly constructed.  Below the display are four capacitive keys for home, menu, back and search and two physical keys for send and end/power. There is also a trackball in this navigation cluster that looks and feels very much like the one from the BlackBerry Tour 9630.  Like with the Hero we really never found ourselves using the trackball, though it is nice to have for fine navigation from time to time.  The capacitive keys offer haptic feedback.  Like the display, it sometimes took multiple presses for the input to be registered.  The physical ones are small but offer a reassuring click so you know they’ve been actuated.  Not helping Sanyo’s case is the poor backlighting on the capacitive keys: it is uneven and certain areas (like the right side of “menu”) are noticeably dark.  None of these things are deal breakers, but at the same time it is clear that Sanyo/Kyocera remains a minor player in the hardware business.

Overall we’re not very impressed with the Sanyo Zio.  On paper things look good, but in reality the design and more importantly the execution could be better.  If the phone was light and worked well that would be one thing, or the device came in at the original rumored price point of free then we couldn’t complain too much, but at $100 to have a display with color and responsiveness issues and less than stellar materials we feel we have a right to gripe.

Sanyo Zio 360 Degrees View:

Interface and Software:

The Sanyo Zio currently runs bone stock Android 2.1, but will be upgraded to 2.2 in the future.  Out of the box there is no carrier customization whatsoever, save for the dock which has shortcuts to the phone, app drawer and Sprint ID and some widgets that walk the user through how to use Android.  With an increasing amount of carrier loaded apps on Android it is refreshing to see a carrier embrace the stock experience, allowing the user to choose what apps they want loaded on their phone.

The Sanyo Zio, along with the Samsung Transform and LG Optimus S (coming at the end of the month,) are the launch devices for Sprint’s new Sprint ID service.  The theory behind it is that users can download different ID packs, then quickly switch between them as they see fit.  Each pack is themed and contains relevant applications, wallpapers, ringtones and widgets.  The idea is to let users choose things of interests and have apps delivered to them instead of having to wade through the sometimes intimidating Android Market.  The Sprint ID will install the carrier apps, such as Football Live, NASCAR and TeleNav (curiously no longer called Sprint Navigation.)  We actually like the widgets the Sprint ID pack has a lot; they are both pretty and functional.

Initially there are only a handful of packs available- mostly lifestyle options such as fashion, golf and auto enthusiasts- but the number is already growing and at the CTIA press conference partners such as ESPN, eBay, E!, Notre Dame and MTV were on board.  Embracing the open source nature of Android, developers will be able to create their own packs in what Sprint hopes will become a large ecosystem.

The default pack is My ID, which is stock Android.  Before you can actually use the device you have to install a second pack, however, but once the download starts you can get into the unit.  At that point you can cancel the download and keep the stock Android experience if you so please.  Up to 5 downloaded packs can be installed at any time, and similarly to the Scenes in HTC’s Sense UI, when the user customizes an ID pack it is remembered even if you switch to another ID pack.  The idea is pretty solid, but as always we will have to see how the market bears out before we can deem it a success.

The Zio utilizes stock Android programs for things like messaging, email, calendar, browser and voice dialing.  Of course most of these can be replaced with alternatives in the Market if the user sees fit.  We definitely recommend a high quality voice input program like Vlingo, because with the touchscreen issues typing out a message on the QWERTY keyboard was downright maddening.  Like all of Sprint’s other Android phones, it uses Sprint’s Visual Voicemail system.  Something to note is that the Zio does not support multitouch in the browser, which in this day and age is a huge omission.

Camera and Multimedia:

The Zio is outfitted with a 3.2 megapixel camera that lacks flash.  Outdoor and well-lit images turned out passable, though color reproduction was a bit off and it had issues with exposure at times.  The Samsung Transform, under the exact same conditions, consistently turned out more life-like images.  Indoor samples on the Zio show a lot of grain and blur, and as you can see from our macro test the camera was unable to focus from even a foot away.  Not helping things was that the shutter is annoyingly slow; we often had to retake pictures because the extreme lag from pressing the shutter button and image capture was so long.  The camcorder can capture video at WVGA resolution which is acceptable for a device of this class.  Image controls are sparse and video controls are even sparser.

Sanyo Zio Sample Video:

As a stock Android device, the Zio utilizes the Android music and video players.  They are perfectly capable of getting the job done, but lack the polish and refinement of skinned versions available from HTC, in the Market or on competing platforms.  Still, with support for up to 32GB microSD cards and a decent 3.5” display, the Sanyo Zio can successfully double as a multimedia player.

Internet and Connectivity:

The Sanyo Zio uses the stock Android browser, but as we mentioned lacks multitouch.  It is an EVDO Rev. A device, so data speeds are plenty quick.  The Sanyo Zio doesn’t have the processing power behind it like the HTC EVO 4G, but its browser still moves along at a good clip. Unfortunately, with the lack of multitouch and the not very well-thought our double-tap to zoom in the Android browser, zooming in and out is not the most comfortable task to do.

The Zio also has Wi-Fi and GPS, features that have become standard on smartphones in this day and age, and is Bluetooth 2.0 compliant with support for the HSP, HFP 1.5, A2DP, AVRC, OPP and FTP profiles.

Performance and Conclusion:

Users were quite happy with the call quality of the Sanyo Zio.  They said there was no hiss, echo or static and while they said it wasn’t quite landline quality they still rated us 8.5/10.  To us they sounded pretty good, there was a bit of hollowness but we were able to carry on a conversation quite well and had no problems hearing them.

The battery life is rated at 6 hours of talk time and we could go a few days at a time with light usage before the Zio needed a charge.

In the end there are simply better options than the Sanyo Zio.  It doesn’t do anything extremely well with the exception of the phone and there are some glaring issues that make the phone forgettable. First and foremost is the unresponsive display, which makes using the all touch Zio a frustrating experience.  If it weren’t for that we could probably overlook the lack of multitouch, the so-so camera performance or the heavy use of plastic on the Zio, but we can’t.  The HTC Hero, at this point a year old and way overpriced at $150 on contract is still a much better option than the Zio and we can’t imagine that the forthcoming $50 LG Optimus S, launching with Froyo, could be any worse.

Sanyo Zio Video Review:="font-weight:>


  • High resolution display
  • Lightweight but generally not lacking in build quality


  • Unresponsive display
  • Display has an odd color saturation and is unusable in direct sunlight
  • Middling camera performance
  • No multitouch
  • Way too expensive for what it offers

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