ZTE Merit 990G (Net10) review:

ZTE Merit 990G (Net10)

The ZTE Merit features a 5-megapixel camera. Josh Miller/CNET

If you want to record video, you can choose from the same four color effects and white-balance options. You can also choose between four video qualities (VGA, CIF, QVGA, or QCIF), three types of video encoding (MPEG4, H263, H264), two types of audio encoding (AMRNB or AAC), and three recording lengths (up to 40 seconds, 10 minutes, or 30 minutes). If you're not sure about any of these options, you can choose from four video quality presets (High, Low, MMS, and YouTube) that'll automatically adjust all these options for you.

Editors' note: As a reminder, CNET would like to make it clear that the following is a performance review of the AT&T Avail. Again, keep in mind that the two phones may differ by carrier in terms of features and performance, especially when considering call and data quality.

I tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) ZTE Merit in San Francisco. Signal quality was solid. There was no extraneous buzzing or static, no dropped calls, and no audio clipping in and out. Sound quality, however, was average. Though voices were audible and I could understand what my friends on the other end of the line were saying, the sound was really muffled. They spoke as if they had a thin piece of cloth over the receiver, and I asked them a couple of times to repeat themselves. Though increasing the volume helped a bit, they still sounded muffled. I was told that I sounded similar -- I was easily understandable, but my voice was damped.

Output audio quality was great, however. Perhaps because the speaker is on the side of the phone, and therefore sound doesn't reverberate off the back plate, sound was surprisingly rich when playing music and talking to my friends. Aside from the tingy bass, audio was loud and detailed. Sounds like water running and fire crackling from YouTube videos sounded nuanced and clear.

The camera's photo quality was subpar, again, given the low specs of the device. Even though images were in focus for the most part, colors were not as bright and vibrant as they were in real life (both in scenes taken indoors and outdoors), edges weren't distinct, and objects were grainy when uploaded onto a computer. Also, the autofocus and shutter speed on this camera are slow. After you click to take a photo, you have to hold the handset still for a couple of seconds. What's more, you can't make the camera focus anywhere but the center, so choosing individual objects to focus on at other areas of the photo is out of the question.

In this sunny outdoor shot, light from the floor is washed out. Lynn La/CNET
In this indoor shot, colors were not as bright as they are in real life. Lynn La/CNET
In our standard studio shot, the edges of these objects are ill-defined. Lynn La/CNET

Video quality was also mediocre. During my recording, images were heavily pixelated and blurry. Colors were muted and grainy, as well. Feedback between the camera and my moving of the phone lagged a little, but not so much that it was bothersome. Since there's no focusing feature, lighting was over the place. Some objects were washed out in bright light while dark objects were hard to distinguish. Zooming slightly up close on text also rendered it difficult to make out.

The Merit is a 3G phone. Loading the CNET mobile site took an average of 14 seconds, while loading our full site took 1 minute and 3 seconds. The New York Times mobile site took slightly longer on average, clocking in at 16 seconds, and its full site took 54 seconds to load. ESPN's mobile site took 25 seconds, and its full site loaded in 2 minutes and 9 seconds on average. Ookla's Speedtest app, which is 2.99MB, took 21 seconds to download, and showed me an average of 1.91Mbps down and 0.13Mbps up.

The phone's reported talk time is 5 hours. Although I haven't finished our battery drain tests, anecdotally, battery life is satisfactory. I still had about a third of the battery power left at the end of the day, after I surfed the Web, played games, and watched YouTube videos. According to FCC radiation tests, the phone has a digital SAR rating of 1.04W/kg.

Though most ZTE phones frustrate me with their slow processors and unresponsive screens, the Merit operates smoothly without any noticeable hiccups.

If you're looking for your first smartphone, want something simple, or need something to travel with, this device is a solid contender. Though it doesn't have the most recent OS or the most impressive specs, it can carry out basic tasks, like calling, texting, and browsing the Web, reliably.

Furthermore, as it's a prepaid handset, you'll also be free of contracts and commitment. Just refill your minutes and data whenever you need to, and you're set -- perfect for anyone who wants to grab a new phone and go.

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