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Cricket Engage LT (Cricket Wireless) review: Though stylish, not worth its high price

Though a looker, the Cricket Engage LT is rather pricey considering it features just a 3.2-megapixel camera, a slow processor, and a heavy build.

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Lynn La
Lynn_La2.jpg

Lynn La

Senior Editor / Reviews - Phones

Lynn La covers mobile reviews and news. She previously wrote for The Sacramento Bee, Macworld and The Global Post.

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5 min read

Though more stylish than what you usually get from manufacturer ZTE, the Engage LT is a $179.99 device that doesn't have much going for it. Other than a rather skinless Android 4.0 experience and Cricket's music service, Muve Music, the handset is slow, both in terms of data and processing speeds, and it doesn't justify its nearly $200 price tag.

Cricket Engage LT
5.7

Cricket Engage LT (Cricket Wireless)

The Good

<b>ZTE's Cricket Engage LT</b> runs a nearly vanilla Android 4.0 user interface, has a chic design, and includes the carrier's Muve Music subscription service.

The Bad

The Engage LT is sluggish, takes poor photos, and has a heavy build.

The Bottom Line

Pass up the ZTE Engage LT's poor performance and relatively high price for other entry-level Cricket phones, like the <a href="http://reviews.cnet.com/smartphones/htc-one-sv/4505-6452_7-35561188.html">HTC One SV</a>.

In addition, Cricket offers better Ice Cream Sandwich handsets, in terms of performance and specs, around the same price range. (Oddly enough, even its predecessor, the ZTE Engage has more powerful specs than this phone -- like an 8-megapixel camera and 1.9GHz processor -- for $50 less.) Needless to say, it's better to disengage (see what I did there?) oneself from considering the Engage LT and look toward Cricket's contract-free alternatives.

Design
Compared to most entry- to mid-level ZTE devices, the Engage LT has a higher-quality build and a more stylish look. I like its smooth, matte silver finish and sturdy construction. However, weighing in at 5.09 ounces, it's a bit heavy. I noticed how dense it felt almost immediately when I held it in my hand. In addition, its 0.44-inch profile is quite thick, but you'll still be able to fit it in your pockets or bag.

The rest of the handset measures 4.78 inches tall and 2.53 inches wide. Up top are a 3.5mm headphone jack, a Micro-USB port for charging, and a sleep/power button. On the right is a volume rocker.

Cricket Engage LT
Despite what looks to be a cheeky wink, the Engage LT's profile is actually sad because it's rather thick. Josh Miller/CNET

On the back are a camera lens and flash. Below those is a single horizontal slit for the audio speaker. The battery door is easily removable via a small indent on the left edge of the plate. Once off, you can access the battery and microSD card slot.

The 4-inch WVGA display has a 480x800-pixel resolution. Text and app icons are clear and the touch screen is actively responsive. However, you can see some graininess with color gradients, and at certain viewing angles (particularly when the screen is vertical and you're looking at it from above), images become washed out and are difficult to see.

Above the screen is a front-facing camera and below are four hot keys for home, menu, back, and search.

A closer look at the ZTE Cricket Engage LT (pictures)

See all photos

Features
The phone runs on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and comes loaded with a bunch of Google staples: Chrome, Gmail, Google Music, Plus, Local, Maps with Navigation and Latitude, Messenger, Search, Talk, YouTube, and access to Play Books, Magazines, Movies and TV, Music, and Store.

Basic task management apps are loaded as well, including a calculator, a calendar, a clock with alarm functions, a native browser and e-mail client, music and video players, a news and weather app, a notepad, a sound recorder, a timer/world clock, and a voice dialer.

There are also Cricket-specific apps, like its own navigator, a My Account app to manage your phone payments, MyBackup, which lets you store your contact information in the cloud, a Yellow Page-esque app called Cricket 411, where you can access information on the nearest pizza joint, grocery store or what have you, and a storefront that lets you purchase graphics and applications.

The handset features Cricket's Muve Music service. Josh Miller/CNET

Other apps include the security app, NQ Mobile Security, two games (Block Breaker 3 and Uno), and the mobile suite Documents To Go.

You also get Muve Music service. Developed by Cricket, Muve Music lets you download an unlimited amount of music onto your Engage LT. The app comes with a feature called My DJ that 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, check out our full review.

Integrating a phone with a music service is a neat idea, but one drawback is that you can't access the music you have on any other device. 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 more as a music rental service.

This passing sense of ownership over these songs wasn't my main issue with this, however. Instead, it was the confusing user interface. Even though I've used Muve before, menu items were still confusing; pausing a song or returning to the main menu took a while to figure out, and the endless process I had to go through just to download and then play one song was cumbersome.

In general, one of my favorite features of the device is that it offers a nearly skinless ICS user interface. Anyone who wants a vanilla Android OS will definitely appreciate the handset's lack of bloatware or overlaid UI, even though it's not as bare-bones as a Nexus. The only visible differences, which I'm not too fond of, is that a small gray box surrounds each app icon, and the dial pad looks simpler.

Camera and video
The 3.2-megapixel camera includes a few editing options like a digital zoom, flash, five white balances, five exposure levels (ranging from -2 to +2), 11 picture sizes (ranging from QCIF to 3 megapixels), and four color effects. The front-facing camera has even fewer options. Only the digital zoom, white balances, and exposure meter are retained, and you get four photo sizes (from QCIF to VGA).

Video options include a digital zoom, continuous flash, the same white balances and color effects, time lapse, three video qualities (QCIF to 480p), and three video durations (30 minutes, 10 minutes, and 30 seconds). The front-facing camera has all the same options except you get only two video qualities (either CIF or QCIF) and no color effects.

While the megapixels have diminished with this handset, which does diminish this phone's photo quality, it isn't a huge loss compared to the predecessor. Not because the Engage LT's camera is so great, but rather, the camera on the original Engage wasn't very hot in the first place. In indoor lighting, the LT's photos had a notable amount of digital noise, colors were muted, and objects lacked focus. To its credit, however, pictures taken outside in ample lighting fared much better, as colors were a bit more vibrant.

Cricket Engage LT (indoor)
Blurred outlines and digital noise plague this indoor shot. Lynn La/CNET
Cricket Engage LT (outdoor)
With ample lighting, colors in the flower petals appeared bright and vivid. Lynn La/CNET
Cricket Engage LT (SSI)
In our standard studio shot, the flash left a blue hue over the white background. Josh Miller/CNET

Video recording was also mediocre. The camera is slow, so you'll see a lag between movrment of the device and the corresponding feedback. Lighting also took a noticeable amount of time to adjust itself, a jarring effect as you can see a scene switch from soft yellow lighting to a colder blue. Also, in one of my recordings of a quiet office space, a soft buzzing sound can be heard over the audio.

Performance
I tested the tri-band (800/1900) handset on Cricket's network in our San Francisco office. Call quality was mediocre. Though none of my calls dropped, voices came off fuzzy and static-y, and max volume didn't seem loud enough. Audio was muffled, and there were even times when it cut in and out for less than a second. Calls through the speakerphone also sounded static-y, and during times of complete silence, I could hear a low buzzing noise.

Cricket Engage LT (Cricket Wireless) call quality sample

Listen now:

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Cricket's 3G network isn't the most robust, and data speeds were slow in our specific area. On average, the handset loaded CNET's mobile site in 20 seconds and our desktop site in 52 seconds. The New York Times mobile site, which usually loads fairly quickly even on entry-level smartphones, took about 35 seconds, while its desktop version took 1 minute and 16 seconds. ESPN's mobile site took 33 seconds, and its full site loaded in 1 minute and 13 seconds. Ookla's Speedtest app showed me an average of 0.27Mbps down and 0.32Mbps up. It took a whopping 32 minutes and 16 seconds to download the 32.41MB game Temple Run 2.

Cricket Engage LT Performance testing
Average 3G download speed 0.27Mpbs
Average 3G upload speed 0.32Mbps
App download (Temple Run 2) 32.41MB in 32 minutes and 16 seconds
CNET mobile site load 20 seconds
CNET desktop site load 52 seconds
Restart time 1 minute and 5 seconds
Camera boot time 2.4 seconds

The handset is powered by a 1GHz processor. Simple tasks like browsing through the app drawer and returning to the home screen pages are executed smoothly enough, but there's a lag of several moments waiting for tasks like switching from portrait to landscape mode, opening up the browser, and launching apps like Block Breaker 3 and Muve Music to be executed.

And as I mentioned earlier, the camera operates slowly; you'll need to wait a few seconds after pressing the shutter for it to fully save a photo. On average, it took 2.4 seconds to launch the camera, and 1 minute and 5 seconds to shut down and turn on the phone altogether.

The phone's 1,900mAh battery has a reported talk time of 8 hours. During our battery drain test for video playback, it lasted 5.93 hours. Anecdotally, it has a respectable battery life. It easily lasted the weekend on standby and can last through a workday (assuming minimal usage), without a charge. According to FCC radiation standards, the device has a digital SAR rating of 0.975W/kg.

Conclusion
Between the release of the original Engage and this model, Cricket has lowered the price of some of its better Android 4.0 devices, which lessens what little incentive one would already have to buy the Engage LT.

For instance, the HTC One V is currently $40 less than the LT. Though it's a bit older, you'll get the same 3G capabilities and Android 4.0 OS, plus it has a more stylish design and a better 5-megapixel camera with loads more features.

But if you want an even better upgrade, I'd suggest the HTC One SV. True, it's $100 more expensive, but at least the price merits the specs: you'll get 4G speeds, a great camera, and a dual-core processor.

Cricket Engage LT
5.7

Cricket Engage LT (Cricket Wireless)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 5Performance 5
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