ZTE Render review: Easy to use, but already outdated

Image quality on the Render is middling. The camera performs best outside in strong afternoon light. As you can see in the photo from Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., color accuracy and contrast were decent, though there was a moderate level of image noise. The shot inside CNET's headquarters also fared reasonably well, though the sunlit area in the top left corner was blown out and colors were a bit off. The triangular chairs in the opposite corner, for example, weren't as dark as they should be and the orange couch on the left side was washed out and somewhat blurry. Naturally, the night shot in the rain was poor, but I wasn't expecting a lot to begin with. More troubling, though, is the standard CNET studio shot with flash. There was too much noise, objects were fuzzy, and the image was dark.

Yes, this shot at night in the rain would be challenging for any camera. Kent German/CNET
This indoor shot with the flash was the worst. Kent German/CNET

The Render also has a video player that shoots clips in a 640x480 resolution with or without sound. Features are similar to the still camera and you activate the flash as a steady light. Video length is limited by the available memory, but you’ll want to keep your clips under a minute if you hope to send them by MMS. Video quality is fine as long as you don't move too much. Try to capture lots of action, though, and you're in for a blurry ride.

Internal performance
You'd hardly know that the Render has a 1GHz processor. There was a noticeable lag when performing every function. For instance, it took 30 seconds to boot the Render from a cold start, 5 seconds to open the music player and 28 seconds for the GPS app to load. Other features, like the camera, loaded in 2 seconds, but there also was a 2-second delay when waking the Render from sleep mode.

ZTE Render call-quality sample Listen now:

Call quality and data
I tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900) ZTE Render in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., on U.S. Cellular's roaming network. On the whole, call quality was admirable with no obvious weak points. I had no trouble getting a signal and didn't encounter any static or interference. Voices sounded as they should and volume was loud.

OK, I admit I just put in this photo for fun. Kent German/CNET

On their end, callers had few complaints. A couple of friends had trouble hearing if there was a lot of background noise, but that experience was not universal. Automated calling systems could understand me, but the need to be in a quiet place was more apparent here. Unfortunately, the speakerphone delivered spotty sound at all volume levels. Friends didn't have a problem hearing me, but I had a lot of audio cut-outs on my end. According to FCC radiation tests, the Render has a digital SAR of 1.17 watts per kilogram.

Since the Render is limited to the carrier’s 3G EV-DO network (U.S. Cellular does have 4G LTE), data speeds take a back seat. Of course, if you're already on 3G you won't see the difference, but the change is painful if you're used to LTE. The mobile CNET site took 14 seconds to open and the full CNET site loaded in 1 minute, 3 seconds. Another graphics-heavy site, Airliners.net, loaded in 1 minute, 10 seconds. Apps offered a similar experience with popular titles like Twitter taking more than a minute to download.

Performance: ZTE Render (U.S. Cellular)
CNET mobile site load 14 seconds
CNET desktop site load 1 minute, 3 seconds
Airliners.net load 1 minute, 10 seconds
Boot time 30 seconds
Camera boot time 2 seconds
GPS app boot time 28 seconds

Battery
The Render has a 1,600mAh lithium ion battery for a rated talk time of up to 4.7 hours and a standby time of 9.2 days. That’s on the low end for a smartphone, but the Render appeared to deliver on its promises in anecdotal use. During my testing period, the Render lasted over a day as I cycled among apps, made a few calls, and used the browser a moderate amount. During CNET's standard talk-time test, it lasted 5.9 hours.

Conclusion
If the Render were free with a contract, or $49 prepaid, I might recommend it. But that's a lot to pay for a device that is outdated from the moment you leave the store. In some ways, the Render is about what you'd expect a starter smartphone to be. But when you consider the whole package, the slow internal performance and 3G data network put the Render well behind other handsets in its class. Windows Phone has an opportunity to extend its reach to more carriers and consumers who don't want a flashy Lumia, but the Render is not the way to do it.

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    ZTE Render (U.S. Cellular)

    Part Number: CNETZTERENDER
    Pricing is currently unavailable.

    Quick Specifications See All

    • Regional specs shown for US. AU specs are unavailable.

    • Technology CDMA
    • Service Provider U.S. Cellular
    • Weight 137 g
    • Diagonal Size 4 in
    • Sensor Resolution 5 pixels