Sprint to Sell $100 ZTE Optik Tablet Starting Feb. 5

Sprint and ZTE have teamed up to offer a 7-inch Android-running 3G tablet for $100 with a two-year contract. Will it distract consumer attention from the $200 Kindle Fire?

Sprint will begin selling ZTE's first tablet for North America Feb. 5. In a world of fast-selling Apple iPads and Samsung Galaxy Tabs, the ZTE Optik is likely to attract attention for its selling price: $100 with a two-year service agreement.

The Optik runs Android 3.2, known as Honeycomb, and features a 7-inch touch-screen with a WXGA 1,280 x 800 resolution, dual cameras-5 megapixels on the back and 2 megapixels up front-a 1.2GHz Snapdragon processor, 1GB of RAM, and 3G and WiFi connectivity.

Swype technology is also included, as are GPS, Bluetooth, stereo speakers, a 3.5mm headset, support for a 32GB microSD card-which is not included-and access to Sprint Zone, Sprint TV and Sprint Navigation, among other services. Google's full line of services, such as Gmail, YouTube and Google Maps, will all be accessible, as will its Android Market.

Without a service agreement, Sprint will sell the Optik for $350, though special pricing is available for business customers who qualify.

The China-based ZTE is branching out beyond key markets in the Asia-Pacific region, and during the fourth quarter of 2011 held the No. 5 spot in the global mobile phone market, shipping 17.1 million units and nearly tying LG Electronics, with its 17.7 million units, for the No. 4 spot.

"Long known as a purveyor of entry-level devices, ZTE's smartphones increasingly moved into the spotlight [during the quarter]," research firm IDC analysts said in a statement Feb. 1, adding that ZTE has also "gained presence in EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) and Latin America, and branched out into North America."

Key to its success were its midmarket Blade and Skate Android phones, as well the Tania, its first Windows Phone smartphone.

Given the Optik's price point-which, remember, comes combined with a monthly plan of $20 to $80 a month, depending on how much data one plans to use-it will be interesting to see how the device fares. Amazon has upended the tablet market with its $200 Kindle Fire, a device it's in the unusual position of being able to offer at a hardware loss, so lucrative are things for Amazon on the software side of the things.

Samsung has excellent luck with its Galaxy Tab. But the Kindle Fire was introduced in November, and by January had gobbled away at Samsung's slice of the Android tablet market share pie until the two were even at 36 percent. In November, Samsung held 63 percent portion to Amazon's 3 percent.

How Amazon accomplished such a feat, according to analytics firm Flurry in a Jan. 27 blog post, comes as bad news to manufacturers. Like Apple, Amazon shifted the focus from hardware to the ecosystem.

"Amazon takes the focus away from the device and operating system, emphasizing content, a differentiated consumer experience and commerce," wrote Flurry's Peter Farago. "For its launch, it lined up key content such as Facebook and Angry Birds, as well as offering Amazon Prime, its own streaming TV and movie service."

The Kindle Fire, however, is WiFi-only. For 3G, and the upfront savings, will consumers turn to the Optik? HP, with its TouchPad fire sale, proved consumers have an appetite for a $100 tablet. Or maybe it proved they have an appetite for a $500 tablet wearing a $100 price tag.