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ZTE C88 review: ZTE C88


Nicole Lee Former Editor
Nicole Lee is a senior associate editor for CNET, covering cell phones, Bluetooth headsets, and all things mobile. She's also a fan of comic books, video games, and of course, shiny gadgets.
Nicole Lee
4 min read



The Good

The ZTE C88 is a well-built flip phone with a few basic multimedia features like a music player and a camera. Call quality is excellent.

The Bad

The ZTE C88 suffers from a flat keypad, and the external display can't be used as a camera viewfinder nor can it display photo caller ID. Photo quality was disappointing and the music player has very limited controls.

The Bottom Line

The ZTE C88 is a mostly ho-hum midrange phone from MetroPCS, but it does offer superior call quality.

Even though ZTE is one of China's largest cell phone manufacturers, most of us here in the United States aren't aware of the brand. However, ZTE is attempting to make some inroads in the U.S. with its first-ever U.S. cell phone, the ZTE C88. The C88 is a fairly average handset and appears to be tailor-made for mainstream appeal; with a traditional flip-phone design and midrange features like a camera, music player, and stereo Bluetooth, the C88 will please most people. That said, the C88's designated carrier is MetroPCS, which is only available in selected regional markets. It's available for $139, with no contract required.

The ZTE C88's design is nothing new. With its wide and slim flip-phone look, the C88 looks a lot like all the other skinny Razr clones we've seen in the past few years. Measuring 3.9 inches long by 1.9 inches wide by 0.66 inch thick, the C88 is flat all the way around and is thin enough to fit comfortably in a back or shirt pocket. And at less than 3.5 ounces, it won't weigh you down, either. The hinge mechanism felt solid as we were opening and closing the phone, and the phone itself fits comfortably in the hand.

The ZTE C88 has a basic VGA camera.

Like with most flip phones, we're glad to see a 1-inch diagonal external display on the C88. It is a color display, but unfortunately it can neither be used as a camera viewfinder nor as photo caller ID, which we think is a shame. It does display the usual date, time, status, and battery information, though, as well as regular caller ID. Above the display is the camera lens, but there's no flash or self-portrait mirror, which is a double shame since you can't use the external display as a viewfinder. A dedicated camera key plus the volume rocker sits on the left spine and the charger jack is on the right.

Flip open the phone and you'll find a 2-inch-wide 262,000-color display. Though images were saturated with color, we would've preferred a sharper look. We also weren't fans of the blue-washed default menu screen. You can adjust the backlighting time, the menu style, the clock format, the dialing font size, as well as the wallpaper.

Underneath the display is the C88's navigation array, which consists of two soft keys, a square toggle with middle OK button, a speakerphone key, a Back key, plus the Talk and End/Power buttons. The toggle also doubles as shortcuts to the contacts list, MetroPCS's @metro download portal, the messaging menu, as well as the Web browser. The whole keypad, including the navigation array, felt quite flush to the surface of the phone, with only the tiniest of grid lines for tactile difference. The two soft keys and side controls of the navigation array felt especially crowded. We definitely wouldn't recommend dialing by feel because of that.

The ZTE C88 is middle-of-the-road as far as features go. It doesn't have EV-DO, so you won't find any high-end video or music services, but you do get a few multimedia features as well as the basics. The C88 comes with a 500-entry contacts list, with room in each entry for four numbers, an e-mail address, and notes. You can organize contacts into caller groups and pair them with one of 20 (72-chord) polyphonic ringtones. Other basic features include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a calculator, an alarm clock, a calendar, a tip calculator, a world clock, and a voice memo recorder. On the higher end, there's also stereo Bluetooth and a voice-command function. However, do note that you can only use the voice dialing if you already have contacts listed in the phone--we were not able to voice dial a number that wasn't in the phone book, for example.

The ZTE C88 has disappointing photo quality.

The music player on the C88 is pretty bare-bones--all you can do is play/pause, mute/unmute, and play it on loop/normal. The C88's camera isn't too advanced either, with a VGA camera instead of a higher quality megapixel. You can take pictures in four resolutions (640x480, 320x240, 176x144, and 160x120), three quality settings, five white-balance presets, and three color effects. Other camera options include a self-timer, three shutter sounds (including a silent option), brightness and contrast settings, plus up to 5x zoom. As far as VGA cameras go, the picture quality wasn't too bad. Images were saturated with color, and colors seemed true to life. That said, the VGA camera resulted in horribly blurry and pixelated photos, and suffered badly under low light conditions. The C88 comes with a healthy 59MB of internal storage, which is good enough for the C88's low multimedia needs.

You can personalize the C88 with a selection of wallpaper and ringtones, many of which are available from MetroPCS's @metro data services portal. The C88 comes with Sudoku, but you can always download more games from @metro, as well.

We tested the dual-mode (CDMA 850/1900) ZTE C88 in San Francisco using the MetroPCS service. Call quality was excellent--callers thought we were calling from a landline, and we too heard them loud and clear. Voices sounded natural with plenty of volume. Speakerphone calls didn't fare so well, though--sound quality was tinny and callers often had to ask us to speak up. We successfully paired the C88 with the Jabra BT8040 Bluetooth headset, and made and answered calls just fine.

As was our experience with the speakerphone, sound quality from the phone's speakers was predictably tinny and hollow, with little to no bass. The sound quality streamed over to the headset was much better, however. The C88 has a rated battery life of 3.3 hours talk time and 5 days standby time. We managed to get a tested talk time of 3 hours and 2 minutes. According to the FCC radiation tests, it has an SAR rating of 1.17 watts per kilogram.