ZTE Source (Cricket Wireless) review: Inexpensive, but stumbles on performance

Both the 5-megapixel and front-facing camera has autofocus, a 4x digital zoom, five white balance options, five ISO levels (from 100 to 1600), geotagging, compositional grid lines, and three photo qualities. However, the rear camera can shoot in five photo sizes (from 640x480 to 2,592x1,944 pixels), while the 1-megapixel camera can only shoot in two (from 640x480 to 1,280x720 pixels).

Furthermore, the 5-megapixel camera has touch focus, a flash, nine Instagram-esque photo filters, four shooting modes (like rapid capture and panorama), a timer, and 16 scene modes. It also has two face detection options, and separate meters to adjust for exposure, brightness, contrast, saturation, and sharpness.

ZTE Source (outdoor)
You can see plenty of details in this succulent picture, but plants near the pot's rim are out of focus. Lynn La/CNET

ZTE Source (indoor)
In this amply lit indoor photo, you can see a notable amount of digital noise and patchy color rendering. Lynn La/CNET

ZTE Source (outdoor 2)
This outdoor photo shows a well-exposed blue sky, but dark hues at the bottom right are difficult to distinguish. Lynn La/CNET

ZTE Source (SSI)
In our standard studio shot, objects are adequately focused, but a blue hue is apparent on the white background. James Martin/CNET

Video options for both cameras include digital zoom, four video qualities (from MMS to 720p), the same five white-balance options, and geotagging. You can also take a photo while recording video. Continuous flash and a time lapse option is reserved only for the 5-megapixel camera.

Video quality fared just as adequately as the camera. Though it wasn't exactly seamless, focus shifted fast enough when I moved from one sort of lighting to another, and audio picked up well. Objects were easy to make out, and the camera didn't have that subtle "pulsating" effect that often plagues camera phones. However, images didn't look quite as crisp as I'd like, and colors looked as washed out as they did with the camera.

Performance I tested the tri-band (800/1,700/1,900) Source at our San Francisco offices and call quality was average. Although none of my calls dropped and I didn't hear any extraneous buzzing or noises, voices did come off a bit staticky. My calling partner sounded tinny and pinched, and there were one or two times where her words clipped at the end (though, again, this was rare). Likewise, I was told I sounded muffled, but I was still easy to understand. The external speaker yielded similar results: voices sounded sharp and hollow, and maximum volume could stand to be a tad louder, as I had to hold the device closer to my ear to hear my calls.

ZTE Source (Cricket Wireless) call quality sample Listen now:

Although the handset is LTE-enabled, I was only able to latch onto Cricket's 4G, non-LTE network. Data speeds were glacial, and it didn't look like I could change my settings to another network, just in case 3G fared better. On average CNET's mobile site loaded in 50 seconds and our desktop site loaded in 2 minutes and 24 seconds. The New York Times' mobile and desktop site took about 35 seconds, and 3 minutes and 13 seconds, respectively. ESPN's mobile site took 1 minute and 6 seconds to load, and its desktop site loaded in a minute and a half. Ookla's Speedtest app showed me an average of 0.15Mbps down and 0.34Mbps up. It took a whopping 36 minutes and 34 seconds on average just to download the 37.61MB game Temple Run 2.

ZTE Source Performance testing
Average 4G download speed 0.15Mpbs
Average 4G upload speed 0.34Mbps
App download (Temple Run 2) 37.61MB in 36 minutes and 34 seconds
CNET mobile site load 50 seconds
CNET desktop site load 2 minutes and 24 seconds
Restart time 42 seconds
Camera boot time 2.21 seconds

The phone is powered by a 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor from Qualcomm. Though it can be laggy at times (for instance, it takes 42 seconds for the Source to reboot and 2.21 seconds to launch the camera), necessary and daily tasks were executed in a satisfactory amount of time. Returning to the home screen, browsing through the app drawer, and opening up the lock screen didn't take much time at all. And while I've seen higher frame rates and smoother graphics on higher-tiered devices for the game Riptide GP, the app played consistently, and I didn't experience any stuttering or force quits during gameplay.

Inside, you'll find a 2,070mAh battery that has a reported talk time of up to 15 hours and a stand by time of nearly 10.5 days. Anecdotally, the battery life didn't impress. It didn't last the weekend on standby, and after a full workday under medium use, it needed a plug to juice up for the rest of the evening. During our battery drain test, the phone lasted 8.12 hours for continuous video playback. According to FCC radiation measurements, the handset has a digital SAR rating of 1.41W/kg.

Conclusion If you're able to receive 4G LTE coverage from Cricket in your area, the ZTE Source is a satisfying, low-cost option. But if you can spare another $60, opt for the carrier's Samsung Galaxy Admire 2 . Though it has a smaller screen, it has a better camera and a slightly larger battery. In addition, you'll still be able to access Cricket's Muve Music service.

However, if you're not tied to the carrier, other phones are worth considering. For example, if you get better LTE coverage through Sprint's network, its prepaid arm, Virgin Mobile, currently offers the Samsung Galaxy Victory 4G LTE for $10 more. Moreover, both the $199 LG Optimus F6 on MetroPCS, and Boost Mobile's LG Mach have a better 5-megapixel camera (which can record 1080p HD video as well) than the Source, and perform smoother and more reliably. The latter is also $10 cheaper and features a physical sliding keyboard.

What you'll pay

Pricing is currently unavailable.

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Where to Buy

ZTE Source (Cricket Wireless)

Part Number: ZTESOURCECRICKETWIRELESS Released: Oct 20, 2013

MSRP: $219.99

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Oct 20, 2013
  • Technology CDMA2000 1X
  • Service Provider Cricket Wireless
  • Weight 5.5 oz
  • Diagonal Size 4.5 in
  • Sensor Resolution 5 pixels
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