ZTE Director (U.S. Cellular) review: Low-end specs that yield a low-end performance

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
  • 11

The Good U.S. Cellular's ZTE Director is reasonably priced and has respectable call quality.

The Bad The Director is sluggish and takes poor photos, and call volume is severely low on speakerphone.

The Bottom Line Although U.S. Cellular's ZTE Director is inexpensive under contract, the carrier offers better handsets at the same low price.

6.3 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 6
  • Performance 6

I have nothing against entry-level devices. As long as they work well and are priced reasonably, there's nothing wrong with these handsets for people who don't need to be on the bleeding edge of technology.

But while the ZTE Director is indeed priced inexpensively (without a contract, it's $99.99, but with one, the price drops to 1 cent), it's not a great performer. Its screen can be frustratingly unresponsive, its camera takes washed-out photos, and its processor is sluggish. Frankly put, the ZTE Director is more of a Tommy Wiseau than a Steven Spielberg.

With its long chin, smooth matte back plate, and indented edges, the Director looks pretty much identical to all other entry-level ZTE devices, like the T-Mobile Concord and the ZTE Fury, save for the fact that it features three hot keys (back, home, and menu) instead of four.

ZTE Director
The Director's right edge houses a shortcut hard key that launches the camera. Josh Miller/CNET

Compact and comfortable to hold, the handset measures 4.65 inches tall, 2.46 inches wide, and 0.48 inch thick. Its left edge houses a Micro-USB port for charging and a volume rocker. Up top you'll find a 3.5mm headphone jack and a sleep/power button, and on the right is a launch button for the camera.

On the back, in the left corner, you'll find a camera lens, flash, and a small reflective square for framing self-portraits. Below that are two small slits for the audio speaker. Using a small indent at the bottom, you can pop off the plate to access the microSD card slot (which accepts cards of up to 32GB) and the removable battery.

The 3.5-inch HVGA touch screen has a 320x480-pixel resolution. Unfortunately, the display isn't very responsive, and oftentimes it took several taps for an action to register, whether it be launching an app or closing a window.

It also looked grainy or speckled, which is especially apparent when it displays a blank white image. Lastly, the screen is very difficult to view in sunlight. While taking photos outside, I had to shield the display with my hand in order to see feedback.

The phone runs on Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich and features your standard complement of Google apps, such as Gmail, Google+, Chrome, Latitude, Local, Maps with Navigation, Messenger, several Google Play Store portals like Books, Magazines, Movies & TV, and Music, Search, Talk, and YouTube.

Other apps include several from Amazon (for its retail site, Appstore, Amazon MP3, Audible, and Zappos), the game Bubble Bash 2, City ID, Daily Perks (which notifies you of deals from U.S. Cellular), MiEasyAccess, Slacker Radio, apps for getting ringtones and games, Twitter, and a navigator app.

ZTE Director
The ZTE Director runs Android Ice Cream Sandwich and comes with Slacker Radio. Josh Miller/CNET

Basic task-managing apps include a clock with alarm and world time functions, a native browser, an e-mail client, a music app, a video player, a calculator, a calendar, a news and weather app, a notepad, a sound recorder, a timer, and a voice dialer.

Other features include Bluetooth 3.0, 4GB of onboard memory, and 512MB of RAM.

Camera and video
Understandably, the 3-megapixel camera has very few photo options. It has a flash, digital zoom, five white balances, three photo sizes, three shutter tones, a timer, compositional lines, an exposure meter, and geotagging. The video camera includes the same zooming, geotagging, and white-balancing options, and it has five video qualities (from QCIF to WVGA). Because the ZTE Director is slow, it takes several seconds for the camera to take a photo, and another several seconds after you press the shutter for it to ready itself for another shot.

Photo quality was obviously poor. Aside from needing to struggle to view the screen in sunlight as I mentioned before, brightly lit outdoor photos were often blown-out, colors appeared muted, and objects weren't quite in focus. Indoor photos fared even worse. You can see lots of digital noise, photos looked grainy, and colors, once again, weren't as vibrant as they were in real life.

ZTE Director (indoor)
In this well-lit indoor photo, you can see the graininess against the wall and the white chairs appear bluish. Lynn La/CNET

Comparable Phones

All phones

Best Products

All best products