ZTE Groove (Cricket Wireless) review:

Entry-level phone that's too little, too late

The video camera includes the same color effects and white balances. You do have the choice of shooting in either high or low quality. If you choose to shoot in high quality, you can record up to 30 minutes of video. If you opt to shoot in low quality, you can only record for a maximum of 15 seconds. With the front-facing camera, color effects are eliminated.

Photo quality was understandably poor, though I've seen better 3.2-megapixel shooters before (for instance, on the ZTE Score). In both indoor and outdoor photos, objects appeared blurry, especially around the edges. Colors looked flat and blended together, especially in indoor photos, and objects looked grainy.

ZTE Groove (outdoor)
In this cloudy outdoor shot, objects appear blurry, and colors, compared to real life, look muted. Lynn La/CNET
ZTE Groove (indoor)
Despite ample lighting in this indoor shot, objects look grainy and the photo has a lot of digital noise. Lynn La/CNET
ZTE Groove (SSI)
In our standard studio shot, the flash gives the white background a subtle blue tint. Josh Miller/CNET

Furthermore, the camera is very slow. It takes a few seconds after pressing the shutter for a picture to be taken, and there was lag between my moving of the phone and the feedback for video. Even when holding it completely still, objects still looked blurry. As for video quality, it was subpar. Recordings looked pixelated and voices came off muffled. Also, focus was a bit off. The camera needed lots of time to adjust to different whites, and therefore would change windows or light fixtures from yellow, to white, to blue in one recording.

I tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900) ZTE Groove in San Francisco using Cricket Wireless' services, and call quality was mediocre. There was a subtle static noise that was audible every time my friend spoke, as well as in complete silence at times, but it wasn't overly distracting. Volume was at an adequate level and audio didn't cut in and out. None of my calls dropped, and I was able to hear the other line perfectly fine without any extraneous buzzing or sounds. Likewise, I was told that I could be heard easily too. My friends did report that it was obvious I was calling from a cell phone. Even though I came off static-y they reported, overall I was easily understood.

ZTE Groove call quality sample

Listen now:

I was not a fan of the audio speaker, unfortunately. Voices came off sounding extremely harsh and tinny. At times, I had to hold the device away from me because it was getting too sharp, even though I had lowered the volume. Music also sounded flat and thin.

Cricket Wireless' 3G network isn't the most robust network, and a few general speed tests showed that. Loading the CNET mobile site, for example, took an average of 28 seconds, and loading our desktop site took one minute and one second. The wait for the New York Times full site was shorter on average, clocking in at 49 seconds, and its mobile site took 8 seconds. ESPN's mobile site took 41 seconds, while its full site loaded in 37 seconds. Ookla's Speedtest showed an average of 0.23Mbps down and 0.74Mbps up. The 32.04MB game of Temple Run 2 took an average of a whopping 17 minutes and 19 seconds to download.

ZTE Groove: Performance testing
Average 3G download speed 0.23Mpbs
Average 3G upload speed 0.74Mbps
App download (Temple Run) 32.04MB in 17 minutes and 19 seconds
CNET mobile site load 28 seconds
CNET desktop site load 1 minute and 1 second
Power off and restart time 52 seconds
Camera boot time 2.48 seconds

The handset runs on an 800MHz processor. This obviously doesn't make it fast by any means, but it can execute simple tasks in a decent amount of time. Actions such as browsing through the app drawer and flipping through the five home screen pages went smoothly. However, other relatively easy tasks took a noticeable amount of time, such as opening the camera and switching from landscape to portrait mode, and even swiping the lock screen noticeably lagged. It took about 2.48 seconds for the camera to launch and 52 seconds for the phone to restart entirely.

The 1,500mAh li-ion battery has a reported talk time of 400 minutes and standby time of 350 hours. During our battery drain tests it lasted 7.78 hours. Anecdotally, the Groove has a decent enough battery life. With minimal usage, you won't have to charge it to get through a workday, and 25 minute conversation barely made a dent on the reserves. According to FCC radiation tests, it has a digital SAR rating of 1.15W/kg.

Taking Muve Music into account, if you're on Cricket's network and are looking to spend only $100, I'd recommend the Groove over the Samsung Vitality. Comparing the two, their specs are nearly identical, but at least the Groove has the added advantage of being newer. And while the Vitality does indeed have a higher rating, it's only because at the time it was released two years ago, running Android 2.3 and having a 3.2-megapixel camera wasn't such a bad thing.

However, if you can fork over some extra dough, I'd rather get the $149.99 Huawei Mercury. You'll get the same OS version, but a faster 1.4GHz processor, an 8-megapixel camera, and excellent call quality.

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