ZTE Anthem 4G review: This ZTE Android phone is not much of a deal

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MSRP: $219.00

The Good The ZTE Anthem 4G offers clear call quality and 4G data without a contract.

The Bad The Anthem 4G's design is unexciting. The phone runs on a slow processor and uses the outdated Android 2.3 Gingerbread OS.

The Bottom Line With its slow processor and older software, only desperate Android shoppers should consider ZTE's Anthem 4G.

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5.3 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 5
  • Performance 5

The new $199.99 ZTE Anthem 4G sounds like a tempting proposition for MetroPCS subscribers. It brings the power of Android combined with 4G LTE data connectivity to the table, all without having to commit to an onerous service contract. A closer look, however, uncovers big weaknesses in this phone's apparent strengths. These include the relatively ancient Android 2.3 Gingerbread operating system, and overall pokey performance from an anemic 1.2GHz dual-core processor. Add to this a ho-hum plastic design and I bet all but the most novice of Android users will wish they had forked over the extra $200 for a Samsung Galaxy S3. MetroPCS customers can also find a better deal in the $149 LG Motion 4G, which runs newer Android software and a faster CPU and costs less.

Don't expect to be bowled over by the ZTE Anthem 4G's looks. Crafted from black plastic with faux-silver trim around its screen bezel, the handset is a fairly nondescript slab. Its dimensions, 5.11 inches tall by 2.3 inches wide, are about average for a midrange smartphone. Its 0.53-inch thickness though is definitely portly compared with much svelter devices such as the 0.3-inch Galaxy S3. Tipping the scales at a hefty 5.64 ounces, the Anthem 4G is heavy too, especially considering the Galaxy S3's featherweight of 4.7 ounces. That said, the phone fits comfortably in the hand, especially if the hand is a big mitt like mine, and all its buttons are within easy finger reach.

ZTE Anthem 4G
The ZTE Anthem 4G certainly won't win any awards for being thin.

On the right side sits a thin power button while on the left is the Anthem's double-humped volume rocker. Connections are typical for a mobile phone, with a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top edge and a Micro-USB port located on the right. One notable connection is a Micro-HDMI video port in the device's lower left corner. Above the Anthem 4G's 4.3-inch screen is the phone's VGA front-facing camera. Lined up underneath the display are four backlit, capacitive buttons for primary Android 2.3 Gingerbread functions.

On back of the Anthem 4G sit its 5-megapixel camera lens and LED flash, both encased in a rectangular silver strip. Also here is a plastic battery door, which is thin but coated in a soft-touch surface that provides a sure grip. I also like the curved stripes that run diagonally across it. I admit these grooves are a bit gaudy but they do add texture and some extra eye candy. Underneath the battery cover is a 1,780mAh battery that you can, and have to, remove to get at the full-size SIM card. The Anthem 4G sports a slot for microSD cards too, which supports capacities up to 32GB.

ZTE Anthem 4G
The back is coated in a soft-touch finish with wildly curving stripes. Sarah Tew/CNET

As far as modern smartphones go, the ZTE Anthem 4G's 4.3-inch, 800x480-pixel LCD screen doesn't stack up well. Compared with the larger 4.7- to 5-inch displays you'll find on flagship handsets such as the Galaxy S3 (4.8-inch AMOLED, 1,280x720 pixels), the Anthem's screen is dark and low-resolution. I found the handset's viewing angles shallow as well, plus the screen had a distracting blue tinge.

ZTE Anthem 4G
The screen is small and not very sharp, and gives images a bluish cast. Sarah Tew/CNET

Software and UI
In terms of software, the ZTE Anthem 4G doesn't measure up to today's advanced smartphones either. The device runs the Android 2.3 Gingerbread operating system, which is now going on two years old, making it positively archaic in the mobile world. Gingerbread lacks a host of fancy features to be found in Android 4.1 Jelly Bean or even Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, such as folder support, NFC, and faster performance, just to list a few. That's why I wasn't surprised when I found the Anthem's menus, fonts, and overall performance felt dated and creaky.

ZTE Anthem 4G
The phone runs the 2-year-old Android 2.3 Gingerbread. Sarah Tew/CNET

There are no shortcuts for jumping directly into apps and functions when you wake the phone up, either, there's just a simple lock screen. You do, however, have five home screens to choose from and personalize with application icons and widgets.

Features and apps
As a legitimate Android smartphone, the ZTE Anthem 4G is certainly much more capable than ordinary feature and flip phones or even BlackBerry handsets. Preloaded are all the hit Google services, including Gmail, Search, Maps, and Navigation for GPS guidance. You'll also find company's Play storefronts for books, movies, and music.

The standard e-mail app handles both corporate and personal e-mail accounts, and the Google+ social-networking service is present as well. Oddly enough, MetroPCS also installed an IM and Social application that aggregates Twitter and Facebook access along with IM clients for Microsoft, Yahoo, Google Talk, and AOL. Honestly, I think you're better off downloading separate software for each service through the Android Play market. There a wide selection of titles awaits you; by last count the available apps numbered over 700 thousand and growing.

ZTE Anthem 4G
The Rhapsody music service is onboard. Sarah Tew/CNET

MetroPCS bundles in its own applications and services too, such as another app store, MyMetro for checking account status, and MyExtras, which is a confusing assortment of news, shopping alerts, and weather information. Aside from Google staples and the standard Android music and video players, though, my favorite extra is the full "Kung Fu Panda 2" animated movie, which MetroPCS has lovingly provided. It's placed on a microSD Card that sits in the phone's slot. I also like the Dolby audio technology, which adds more cinematic impact to the movie's score and sound effects.

ZTE Anthem 4G
The full "Kung Fu Panda 2" movie is stashed on a microSD Card. Sarah Tew/CNET

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