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NEC Terrain (AT&T) review:

Dated Android OS, but tough as nails

Camera and video
Photo quality on the rear-facing camera was quite good and better than I expected. Because many of the camera settings overlaying the left and right sides of the viewfinder (more on that later), it is a little difficult to frame a photo if you're not paying close enough attention. However, pictures taken with ample lighting turned out clear and in focus. Indoor photos did have a notable amount of digital noise, but objects still had well-defined edges and colors were true-to-life.

Both the 5-megapixel camera and the 0.3-megapixel front-facing camera have an exposure meter, five white-balance options, geotagging capability, three color effects, two quality settings, and a timer. However, only the rear-facing camera has a flash, digital zoom, three types of focuses, five scene modes, four ISO settings, and five sizes (from 640x480 to 2,560x1,920-pixel resolution). Meanwhile, the other camera only has three photo sizes (from QCIF to VGA)

NEC Terrain (outdoor)
Though dark hues are hard to distinguish, colors are accurate and the buildings in the background are in focus. Lynn La/CNET
NEC Terrain (indoor)
In this indoor shot, you can digital noise throughout, but images still look adequately sharp. Lynn La/CNET
NEC Terrain (SSI)
This standard studio shot features digital noise and a small blue hue in the center against the white background. Josh Miller/CNET

As for video recording, both cameras offer three quality settings, and retain the same exposure meter, white balance settings, geo-tagging, and color effect options. The rear camera also has six recording sizes (from MMS messaging to 720p), continuous flash, digital zoom, and autofocus. The 0.3-megapixel camera has only five recording sizes (from MMS messaging to 640x480).

Recording quality could have been better. Because the camera could not focus smoothly, lighting constantly kept readjusting and was a bit everywhere. During the recording, you can see the lens trying to focus repeatedly, giving the footage a subtle "pulsating" movement. In addition, a small amount of static was picked up in the audio during recording and images looked blurry and pixelated.

I tested the phone in our San Francisco offices on AT&T's network and call quality was great. None of my calls dropped, I didn't hear any extraneous buzzing or noises, and audio didn't clip in and out. Volume range was adequate, especially maximum volume, which can be very loud. My friend sounded clear and close by; likewise, I was told I too sounded clear and precise. Conversations via speaker sounded good, but at times voices came off harsh. When volume was increased, I could hear a sharp tinniness follow my friend's voice from time to time.

NEC Terrain (AT&T) call quality sample

Listen now:

The Terrain runs on the carrier's 4G LTE network, and data speeds were generally fast. CNET's mobile site loaded in 7 seconds and our desktop site took 12 seconds. The New York Times' mobile and desktop sites took about 6 and 13 seconds, respectively. ESPN's mobile site took 5 seconds, and its full site loaded in a 9 seconds. Ookla's Speedtest app showed me an average of 7.23Mbps down and 1.05Mbps up. It took 59 seconds to download the 35.01MB game Temple Run 2.

NEC Terrain Performance testing
Average 4G LTE download speed 7.23Mpbs
Average 4G LTE upload speed 1.05Mbps
App download (Temple Run 2) 35.01MB in 59 seconds
CNET mobile site load 7 seconds
CNET desktop site load 12 seconds
Restart time 38 seconds
Camera boot time 1.75 seconds

The Terrain is powered by a dual-core 1.5GHz processor. In general, daily and necessary tasks operated smoothly. It had no problem opening up the lock screen, opening up the app browser, and returning to the home screen pages. While playing the graphics-intensive game Riptide GP, the handset didn't quit or stall. However, I've seen faster frame rates and smoother graphics on other midrange phones. When the camera was on, I saw little lag between the objects in front of me and the feedback that displayed on the viewfinder. On average, it took about 1.75 seconds to launch the camera and 38 seconds to reboot the Terrain.

During our battery drain test, the 1,900mAh battery clocked in 11.05 hours of continuous talk time. It has a reported talk time of up to 10 hours and a standby time of 14.5 days. Anecdotally, it had an average battery life that appeared to drain rather quickly. After a full day of minimal usage and no charge, the battery would hover below 50 percent, which I thought was quite low. According to FCC radiation standards, it has a digital SAR rating of 1W/kg.

If you're an AT&T customer and you're in the market for an ultratough, survival-of-the-fittest smartphone, the Terrain's sheer brawniness will satisfy those needs. Its rubber encasing, sturdy construction, and recessed screen assures you that it can withstand a wide range of physical abuse.

However, if you can get away with lighter protection, and you prefer something more modern-looking instead, then the Samsung Rugby Pro is a better fit. It too is $99.99 and runs Android 4.0, but it also features a better camera and a bigger (4-inch) screen than the Terrain's. True, it won't be as tough, and you'll have to make do without a useful physical keyboard, but it'll still be more resilient than your standard handset.

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