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ZTE Score (Cricket Wireless) review:

ZTE Score (Cricket Wireless)

This passing sense of ownership over these songs wasn't my main issue with this, however. Instead, it was the horrible user interface. Menu items were confusing and the constant clicking I had to go through (again, on an unresponsive screen) just to download and then play one song was cumbersome. Also, it was unclear at first when a song or album finished downloading, as there is no progress bar. I only started realizing when something was ready for playing when the song title's text appeared in white instead of gray. Talk about subtle.

I also had problems when pausing a song. For a while, I had to go through numerous menu items just to return to a song that was playing and pause it because there is no designated shortcut "now playing" sort of option. I did eventually figure out that if you hold down the menu key on the left for a couple of seconds and wait for it to return to the Muve Music menu, you can select the Music Player icon in the center to get to the song and then pause it. In the end, I still thought that required one too many steps, and it wasn't intuitive.

The 3.2-megapixel camera features a few photo options. It can digitally zoom up to 4x and has five white balance options (auto, incandescent, daylight, fluorescent, and cloudy), photo size and quality adjustments, and color effect menu items that include none, mono, sepia, and negative. You also can change the saturation level of the camera across five different levels.

The video camera includes the same color effects, a white balance meter, and a choice between shooting in high or low quality. If you choose to shoot in high quality, you can record up to 30 minutes of video. If you decide to shoot something in low quality, you can only record for a maximum of 15 seconds.

I tested the tri-band (CDMA 850/1700/1900) ZTE Score in San Francisco using Cricket Wireless' services and the call quality was perfectly adequate. When I used the device indoors and outdoors, voices sounded clear and there was no extraneous buzzing. The volume level could have been higher, however. My callers reported that I also sounded crisp with no noise pollution, and my voice was easy to hear.

ZTE Score call quality sample Listen now:

I thought the speaker volume should have also been louder, however. This was especially true when using Muve. From a phone so focused on giving users a musical experience, I would expect a great output speaker. Although sounds came out clearly, I was disappointed in the maximum volume.

Listening to songs through Muve with the headphones was underwhelming as well. I was using Klipsch s4 earbuds, but music sounded flat and hollow. Perhaps the quality of the music files Cricket chooses to download isn't high, and it certainly did not do Adele or Bon Iver any justice. Even though songs played fine without any skips, the quality sounded the same, if not worse, as a stream off YouTube.

The photo quality of this phone was adequate enough. For pictures taken outdoors and in the sun, photos did not appear "blurry" per se--however, colors did bleed into one another. Especially when viewed on a computer, some photos looked almost like paintings that were drawn with broad brush strokes. Indoor shots looked a little grainy and colors were not as vibrant as they appeared in real life, but objects were not impossible to make out.

In this outdoor picture, you can see how colors tended to blend into one another.

This shot inside our CNET offices was a little grainy, but still pretty clear.

In our indoor test shot, a yellow hue was cast over the images.

Unfortunately, the camera lagged a lot. After pressing the shutter button, I'd have to stand very still for a few seconds until I heard the shutter sound go off. If I moved at all in between those few seconds, the picture would be very fuzzy.

The quality of the videos was subpar. Recordings were pixelated and grainy, and voices sounded muffled. Feedback lagged significantly behind my moving of the camera. Since there was no focusing feature, windows were washed out, and it was hard to distinguish dark or black objects.

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 55 seconds, while loading our full site took 1 minute and 32 seconds. The wait for the New York Times full site was shorter on average, clocking in at 42 seconds, and its mobile site took 22 seconds to load. ESPN's mobile site took 28 seconds, and its full site loaded in 43 seconds. Ookla's Speedtest app, which is 2.99MB, took a few seconds shy of 5 minutes to download, and showed me an average of 0.08Mbps down and 0.03Mbps up.

And the 18.34MB game of Fruit Ninja took a whopping 26 minutes to download, about the time it would take to watch your average sitcom episode. Surprisingly, playing Fruit Ninja went pleasantly well. The app did not freeze or hiccup at any point when I was playing. Although graphics, again, were pixelated, all the fruits appeared vibrant and moved swiftly. Furthermore, even though I expected the unresponsive screen to not register my finger swipes, I did not notice any continuous moment that my blade went unregistered.

In general, however, the phone did not operate as swiftly as my sword could cut. The device was extremely sluggish whether I was pressing the camera shutter, flicking around Muve Music, switching from portrait to landscape mode, or clicking out to the home screen. As all these applications dragged on, using the phone became a definite drag.

The phone's reported talk time is 4 hours. When we performed our battery drain tests, the phone lasted 5.67 hours. After a day downloading a bunch of songs, making calls, playing games and watching videos, the device still held onto about a third of its battery. According to FCC radiation tests, the ZTE Score has a digital SAR rating of 1.45W/kg.

When you put out the phrase "unlimited music downloads," expect a certain level of scrutiny. Even though linking a cloud music service integrally with a phone is a neat idea, the confusing interface and below-par audio output made me feel I was devolving as far as music portability goes. Everything else I do with music on a phone--using the Google Music app, using other cloud services, finding new music through, simply downloading music and putting it onto my phone--seems more convenient than Muve Music. With that aside, the fact that phone makes decent calls still wasn't enough to outweigh the internal lag time and unresponsive screen.

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