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ZTE Chorus (Cricket Wireless) review: ZTE Chorus (Cricket Wireless)


Editors' note: Portions about Muve Music and the camera speed in this review are taken from our review of the ZTE Score for Cricket.

ZTE Chorus (Cricket Wireless)

ZTE Chorus (Cricket Wireless)

The Good

With Muve Music, the <b>ZTE Chorus</b> has great sound quality both through the headphone jack and the output speakers. It also makes decent calls.

The Bad

The Chorus' resistant touch screen is hair-pullingly frustrating. The UI of Muve Music is cumbersome, and the phone is a little bulky.

The Bottom Line

If you have no interest in smartphones but want an audio player with unlimited song downloads, the budget-friendly Chorus delivers great song and call quality, but its display is extremely unresponsive.

Along with the ZTE Score, the ZTE Chorus is another phone from Cricket Wireless that features the music service called Muve Music. Users of this device can search and download an unlimited number of songs and albums from thousands of different artists.

Unlike the Score, however, the Chorus isn't quite a smartphone. Although it sports a familiar Android Gingerbread UI and has a touch screen (and a very unresponsive one at that), you can't check your mail, look at a map, or even download apps from the Android marketplace. The only thing you can do on Cricket's 3G network is browse the Web, play some games, and of course, download music.

For people who don't need all those fancy features, but still want access to music, the Chorus is worth considering.

Although the ZTE Chorus is 0.6 inch thick, it has a very lightweight feel and weighs only 3.7 ounces. Back in the day when smartphones weren't the norm and candy bars were ubiquitous, this device might not have been considered "bulky." But now that phones are as thin as razors (or Razrs?), slipping this guy into a pocket gets cumbersome. The good news is that at 4.4 inches tall and 2.2 inches wide, however, holding it in your hand is comfortable.

All around the edges of the black handset is a thin, shiny chrome finish. To the lower left side of the phone is the Micro-USB port where you can charge your phone. It's protected by a little door for an added layer against the elements. Above that is the volume rocker, which bumps out just enough for easier tactility. At the top of the phone in the dead center, is the 3.5mm headphone jack. Next to that, on the right-hand corner, is something I haven't seen in years: two little holes you can slip a phone charm or lanyard through. On the right side of the phone there is the sleep/power-off button.

The side of the phone is thicker than most phones of today, and it sports a silver edge.

The device has a 3.2-inch WQVGA TFT display with a resistive touch screen. If you don't know what "resistive" means in this context, you can probably guess it isn't good. Although I won't go into the technical details, it essentially means you'll have to press extra hard to access anything on the touch screen. And you can just forget about fast and easy texting--I had to use the tip of my pinky nail to type in a phone number, and even then it wasn't so accurate. By the time I entered in the contact info of the person I wanted to text, I was already too exhausted to write a message. It was one of the most frustrating things about this phone.

Otherwise, I had no qualms about the screen. It can display 262 thousand colors, and although videos and graphics looked a little grainy and pixelated (as expected), I thought the crisp appearance of the icons and menu items, plus the brightness of the display, prevented the Chorus from looking outdated or low-quality. Sure it isn't a smartphone with the latest LCD, Nova, or AMOLED screen, but I thought the slight graininess wasn't overly distracting or unattractive given the class of this device.

Above the display are the Cricket logo and a thin opening for an output speaker. Below is one physical shortcut button with a music note on it that accesses Muve Music. On either side of the circle are two touch-sensitive spots that do double duty. The left area is your menu and speakerphone key and the right is your home and back button. Both spots dimly light up in white when the display is on.

The back of the phone is plastic and has a glossy finish, so it does feel and look a little cheap. It traps fingerprints and oils easily, and it also sports a slight glitter pattern that doesn't help it any. Thankfully, this unfortunate speckle is extremely subtle--I only saw it after I held the device under a lamp.

If you look carefully, you can see the shiny freckles on the back of the phone.

At the upper left, you'll see the camera lens indented into a nice teardrop design. There are also two groups of grid lines that look like four tally marks on the back, which expose two additional rear speakers. The back easily pops out when you use your finger to push in a small notch on the bottom left-hand corner. When removed, the 1,000mAh lithium ion battery is exposed. It's a little difficult to remove the battery, but when you do, you'll gain access to the included 4GB microSD card underneath. Three of those gigabytes are dedicated specifically for storing your Muve Music.

The ZTE Chorus has 600MHz of processing power and runs on Cricket Wireless' 3G network. It comes with some basic functions that you'd expect on any device, smartphone or not. These include texting, Bluetooth, voice recording, a calendar, a calculator, a clock (that has an alarm, stopwatch, and timer feature), and a music player that's separate from Muve Music.

It also has features that you would expect on a smartphone, such as a mobile Web browser, a Documents To Go app for viewing Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files on your device, and a My Account app where you can manage your phone bill. There's also a Games and Apps icon that you can press to buy games, two of which are already included: Uno and Block Breaker 3 Unlimited. The latter is a basic ball and brick game set to electronic dance music that likes to unmute itself whenever possible, despite my efforts to lower the volume.

This phone isn't a Google Android phone per se, although the design of the user interface looks like it was lifted from its source code. With that in mind, you won't find any standard Google apps, like Gmail, Maps, or YouTube. There isn't even an Android marketplace. Instead, there's Storefront by Cricket. Here you can buy desktop pictures ridiculously priced at $1.99, and Applications. For the large part, the apps in the store are just games (Tetris, Bubble Bash 2, Solitaire, etc.). I also spotted the "Fast Five" movie available for purchase, but as for task-managing apps and the like, there aren't any.

As mentioned, the Score's biggest selling point is the Muve Music service. Developed by Cricket, Muve Music lets users download an unlimited amount of music onto your device. The app comes with a My DJ feature, which gives you access to premade playlists organized by musical genres, and Shazam, the popular music searching app. There's also the obligatory social networking feature called Get Social, where you can set up your user profile, search for friends, and keep track of your Shout Outs, where you post songs you're listening to for public viewing. For a more in-depth rundown of Muve Music, be sure to read CNET's review.

Cricket Wireless hopes to attract music lovers with its Muve Music feature.

The idea to integrate a phone with a music service is a neat idea, but during my time with the feature, I felt as if Muve Music was in some sort of beta stage. Getting music only works when you're connected to Cricket's 3G network, which was spotty in San Francisco. The good thing though, is that when you're not connected to 3G or even on a Wi-Fi network, you can listen to the music you already loaded.

Furthermore, you can't access the music you have on any other device, so it's pretty much stuck in your phone. And once you stop paying your phone bill, access to your songs will also stop. With all this in mind, it's best to think of Muve like a music rental service than anything else.

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.

Pausing a song also presented issues. 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. It took me a while to figure out, but I learned that if you to hold down the menu key on the left for a couple of seconds and wait for it to get back into 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 that required one too many steps, and it isn't intuitive.

The 2.0-megapixel camera features a few photo options. It can digitally zoom up to 4x, 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, a video recording can last up 30 minutes. If you decide to shoot something in low quality, you can only record for a maximum of 10 seconds.

I tested the tri-band (CDMA 850/1700/1900) ZTE Chorus in San Francisco using Cricket Wireless' services and the call quality was good. When I used the device indoors and outdoors, voices sounded clear and there was no extraneous buzzing in the background. It was reported to me that I also sounded crisp both in-ear and through the speakerphone, and there was no noise pollution. My voice came off as easy to hear.

ZTE Chorus call quality sample Listen now:

Unlike the ZTE Score, the Chorus features SRS WOW HD technology for higher-quality audio playback. I definitely had to give props to the device for this aspect--the output sound and volume was great, especially when playing music from Muve. When I listened to songs with my Klipsche s4 earbuds, they sounded full and the bass was rich. If you flip the phone over and play music from the speakers on the back, the sound was superb too--it was loud, clear, and didn't sound tinny at all.

For a 2-megapixel camera, the photo quality was adequate enough. Pictures taken outdoors and in the sun were easy to make out, but objects did appear blurry and colors appeared paler and bled together. The colors for indoor shots were not as vibrant as they looked in real life, and photos were grainy and smudged.

In this outdoor picture, you can see how colors blended into one another.

This shot of our CNET lobby featured some pretty washed-out lighting.

In our indoor test shot, colors were not as vibrant and appeared grainy.

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 have motion blur.

The quality of the videos was also subpar, as expected. Recordings were pixelated and grainy, and although the sound playback was loud, the voices that were recorded came off 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.

Browsing the Web on Cricket Wireless' 3G network isn't the fastest thing on Earth, but I found typing in URLs with the unresponsive keyboard to be more frustrating than the speed of the browser. Loading the CNET mobile site, for example, took an average of 40 seconds, while loading our full site took 56 seconds. The New York Times' full site took shorter on average, clocking in at 53 seconds, and its mobile site took only 23 seconds to load. ESPN's mobile site took 18 seconds, and its full site loaded in 52 seconds.

Using the phone's battery doesn't take a lot of time; its reported talk time is a mere 250 minutes. During our battery drain tests, the phone lasted about 50 minutes shy of that, at 3.35 hours. I couldn't go a full day downloading songs, making calls, or playing games, with at least one charge to bump up the battery. According to FCC radiation tests, the ZTE Chorus has a digital SAR rating of 1.29W/kg.

The ZTE Chorus is perfect for anyone who isn't interested in a smartphone and just wants to make calls. For music lovers, Muve Music also lends itself toward the Chorus' favor--sound quality both through the headphone jack and the speakers is superb and rich. Plus, for $49.99 and unlimited music downloads, this is a great deal. Unfortunately, the touch screen gets extremely frustrating, especially when it comes to texting or entering numbers. And on the days when you might want a smartphone to browse the Web or look up directions, you can't count on the device to do those kinds of things quickly.

ZTE Chorus (Cricket Wireless)

ZTE Chorus (Cricket Wireless)

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 6Performance 5