ZTE Warp 4G review: Boost Mobile's best, most frugal Android buy

Camera
The ZTE Warp 4G uses a decent but not stellar camera with an 8-megapixel sensor and LED flash. The phone’s camera app does offer plenty of settings, features, and shooting modes to choose from. Picture sizes range from VGA resolution (640x480) all the way up to 8 megapixels (3,200x2,400). There are also manual settings for white balance, ISO, along with exposure, contrast, and saturation. The Warp boasts 16 scene modes (not counting Normal) such as Macro, HDR, Burst, and Panorama, just to list a few.

ZTE Warp 4G
Outside details weren't too sharp, but colors were bright. Brian Bennett/CNET

In bright sunlight, the Warp 4G snapped pictures quickly (in under a second) and the orange, yellows, and greens of fall foliage was vividly captured. Details weren’t as crisp as I’d like to see, however. The Warp was swift enough to nab shots of fidgety kids.

ZTE Warp 4G
The camera could capture images of moving subjects. Brian Bennett/CNET

Indoors, the phone’s imaging system struggled a bit. I noticed that my indoor still-life shots were dark and had murky details. The camera’s autofocus couldn’t lock onto subjects as quickly, which often translated into blurry pictures.

ZTE Warp 4G
Indoors images were dark and murky. Brian Bennett/CNET

Performance
With a scintillating moniker like the Boost Warp 4G, you might expect this smartphone to offer blazing application performance. Sadly, you’d be wrong. Under the Warp 4G’s hood is a competent, but not swift 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon 400 processor paired with 1GB of RAM. While this mobile computing platform enables the phone to tackle basic tasks, it’s light years behind modern chips such as the Snapdragon 800 and 600 powering the Galaxy Note 3 (2.3GHz Snapdragon 800, 3GB RAM), Galaxy S4 (Snapdragon 600, 2GB RAM), and HTC One (Snapdragon 600, 2GB RAM).

ZTE Warp 4G
The Warp 4G's Quadrant score was pretty low. Brian Bennett/CNET

Even last year’s Galaxy S3, which features a slower 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 Plus and 2GB RAM, packs more of a processing punch. As a result, the Warp 4G stumbled through benchmark testing, notching a low Quadrant score of 4,868. The phone’s unimpressive Linpack showing of 245.2 MFLOPs (multithread) was also disappointing. That said, in anecdotal use, the device wasn’t obnoxiously pokey, it just didn’t fire up apps and widgets, or flip through menu screens with the instantaneous speed I’ve experienced on true flagship superphones.

Call quality
I tested the Warp 4G on Boost’s CDMA network in New York, which really piggybacks on Sprint’s cellular infrastructure. ZTE says that the Warp 4G features noise-canceling technology from Qualcomm, the folks behind the ubiquitous Snapdragon processors. Indeed on my test calls, the people I spoke to reported that my voice came through loud and clear. They still could tell that I spoke to them from a mobile phone but couldn’t detect any artifacts, hiss, or static while I talked.

On my end, I found that the Warp’s earpiece didn’t get very loud, even when I dialed it up to its maximum setting. Similarly, the speakerphone lacked much oomph, and callers noticed a significant drop in audio quality, even when I chatted in close quarters on the Warp’s mouthpiece.

ZTE Warp 4G call quality sample Listen now:

Data speeds
A true 4G handset, the ZTE Warp 4G can connect to Boost’s (really Sprint’s) LTE data network. While Sprint hasn’t officially confirmed that its LTE service is up and running in New York, where I tested the Warp, I nonetheless was able to grab a signal.

ZTE Warp 4G
Boost Mobile 4G LTE was fast in New York. Brian Bennett/CNET

As a matter of fact, I clocked swift data throughput on the phone, with the Warp sucking down bits at an average of 15.8Mbps. Upload speeds were nimble as well, reaching an average of 4.9Mbps.

Battery life
ZTE dropped a 2,070mAh battery into the Warp 4G; that’s relatively high-capacity, given the phone’s modest components. The result is that the handset demonstrated impressive battery life on the CNET Labs video battery drain benchmark. On this grueling trial, which entails playing an HD video until the battery and device calls it quits, the Warp 4G threw in the towel after 9 hours and 3 minutes. By comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S3 didn’t last much longer subjected to the same benchmark, coasting 21 minutes farther.

Conclusion
I must confess that when I first caught wind of the $199 ZTE Warp 4G, I didn’t expect much from this midrange Android handset. After all, most off-contract phones I’ve looked at tend to leave me uninspired, to say the least. That was my experience with the Warp 4G’s predecessor, too, the original ZTE Warp.

When I wrapped my fingers around the Warp 4G, though, I knew times had changed. Not only did the device feel sturdy and well crafted, it flaunted a large 4.5-inch display, and came running Android Jelly Bean. Spending some time with the Warp 4G confirmed my early impressions, especially when the phone demonstrated long battery life and clean call quality.

That said the Warp 4G isn't the ultimate smartphone on Boost Mobile. This honor belongs to the $349 Samsung Galaxy S3 and its sky-high sticker price. Though it's no doubt an aging device, the S3 is a more capable handset thanks to a superior screen, faster processor, and far better camera. It's just way too expensive.

The Warp 4G, on the other hand, represents the best choice on Boost for Android penny-pinchers. I'd recommend it over the $299 LG Optimus F7 any day, which has nicer specs but costs more up front. And while technically a 4G device, the F7 had trouble grabbing an LTE signal during testing. The same goes for the less-capable, splash-proof, but 4G-challenged $149 Kyocera Hydro edge which makes sense only if you need a water resistant phone.

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    ZTE Warp 4G (Boost Mobile)

    Part Number: WARP4GBOOSTMBL
    Pricing is currently unavailable.

    Quick Specifications See All

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

    • Technology CDMA2000 1X
    • Service Provider Boost Mobile
    • Weight 4.76 oz
    • Diagonal Size 4.1 in
    • Sensor Resolution 8 pixels