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

Equipped with a decent 5-megapixel camera and LED flash, the ZTE Anthem 4G has a basic camera app. For instance, you won't see any of the slick new features starting to find a home on high-end camera phones, such as panorama, burst, or HDR modes. You can, however, adjust the resolution from 1 to 5 megapixels, and manually set the ISO from 100 to 800.

ZTE Anthem 4G
The camera app is bare-bones. Sarah Tew/CNET

Overall, the Anthem snaps photos of adequate but not outstanding quality. Indoor images taken in adequate lighting had natural colors and correct white balance, but details were soft. Under low light I saw increased color noise and grainy details as well. The camera is also very slow, often taking over 2 seconds to cycle between shots, which made snapping pictures of fast-moving subjects very difficult.

ZTE Anthem 4G
Indoors, colors were natural but detail was soft. Brian Bennett/CNET
Color noise and grainy details were a problem under low light. Brian Bennett/CNET

Outdoors in the faint winter sun, details were slightly sharper and color noise lessened, but the images I captured lacked the level of crispness I've enjoyed on other handsets. The same goes for video I recorded using the Anthem 4G's 1080p HD camcorder. Footage was shaky and the frame noticeably skipped occasionally, especially when I panned across the scene. In its defense, the phone picked up audio well, grabbing sounds at least 20 feet away.

Outside, details were not as sharp as I would like. Brian Bennnett/CNET
In weak winter sun, colors were natural but not vivid. Brian Bennett/CNET
The camera lacks an HDR mode, but in fading sunlight I didn't need it. Brian Bennett/CNET

Equipped with a modest 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor paired with 512MB of RAM, the ZTE Anthem 4G is by no means a speed demon. In fact from the way it stuttered through menus and took its time launching apps, I immediately knew this device was underpowered within 30 seconds of picking it up. Also annoying was how the screen didn't respond to my finger taps every so often.

Benchmark tests confirmed the Anthem 4G's sluggish performance. The handset coughed up a low Linpack score of 57.98 MFLOPs (multithread), much less than modern dual-core smartphones, which typically notch at least 150MFLOPs.

One bright spot in this phone's performance is call quality. I tested the ZTE Anthem 4G on the MetroPCS CDMA network in New York and enjoyed clean, clear calls that were free from static. Audio also came through the earpiece with plenty of loudness, forcing me to dial the volume down a few steps from its maximum. Callers reported that my voice sounded warm, though they still could tell I was speaking over a mobile connection. The speakerphone held up admirably as well, with callers saying they could hear my voice clearly, though they found it slightly muffled compared with calls made with the earpiece. Despite a large speaker, though, speakerphone volume is not very loud.

ZTE Anthem 4G call quality sample Listen now:

Data speeds on the MetroPCS 4G LTE network in New York were solid, but not spectacularly swift. I clocked average download throughput at 3.7Mbps and average upload at 3.9Mbps. These numbers are more in line with performance I expect to see from a fast HSPA+ or even 3G connection, not LTE, which can typically be three times as fast.

ZTE claims the Anthem 4G's 1,780mAh battery provides up to 8 hours of talk time and 260 hours (10.8 days) of standby time. In the CNET Labs video battery drain test, however, the handset lasted just 5 hours and 49 minutes (349 min). By contrast the Samsung Galaxy S III persevered for a long 9 hours and 24 minutes (564 min) on the same benchmark.

I understand that wireless carriers have a business to run and that no-contract providers like MetroPCS lack the funds to absorb the cost of premium phones. Still, they can certainly make choosing the right smartphone a difficult decision. The $199.99 ZTE Anthem 4G is a perfect example. MetroPCS promises that this device provides Android, dual-core processing, 4G LTE, and "rich features [designed] to keep up with your lifestyle." That's all well and good but the reality is that the Anthem 4G marches to the slow slog of a weak processor and obsolete Android software. Now combine this with the phone's dim, low-res screen and thick, boring plastic construction and you're left with a device only desperate Android seekers should consider. For all other tech-savvy MetroPCS shoppers, I suggest two options. You can save your pennies toward one day owning the pricey though top-tier $499 Samsung Galaxy S3. Another, and much wiser option, is the $149 LG Motion 4G. The Motion boasts a faster processor, the more recent Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich OS, and a better camera, for $50 less than the ZTE Anthem 4G.

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