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

ZTE Director (outdoor)
The petals in these tulips are washed out by the bright sun, and their colors aren't muted. Lynn La/CNET
ZTE Director (SSI)
In our standard studio shot, the white background is grayed out and objects are not sharp. Josh Miller/CNET

Video was pretty much on par with camera performance -- colors were muted and objects were not sharp. Audio also sounded scratchy, though nearby sounds were picked up well. The camera needed several seconds to refocus for lighting changes, and recordings ended up looking pixelated.

I tested the tri-band device (800/1700/1900) in San Francisco and call quality was decent. Audio didn't cut in and out, and none of my calls dropped. However, voices did sound a bit fuzzy, and I could hear a slight buzz with every word spoken. Likewise, I was told I sounded muffled as well.

Unfortunately, although speakerphone calls sounded clear, maximum volume was incredibly low. I had to stick the handset practically against my ear just to hear the speakerphone, and I was told that when I spoke, I sounded like I was 5 feet away. Oddly, the stereo speaker didn't sound so low when I played videos or music.

ZTE Director (U.S. Cellular) call quality sample

Listen now:

I surfed the Web using U.S. Cellular's 3G network (EV-DO Rev. A), and data was pretty slow. On average, the handset loaded CNET's mobile site in 17.31 seconds and our desktop site in 44.13 seconds. The New York Times' mobile site took about 13.88 seconds, while its desktop version took 46.08 seconds. ESPN's mobile site took 14.23 seconds, and its full site loaded in 38.25 seconds. Ookla's Speedtest app showed me an average of 0.2Mbps down and 0.48Mbps up. It took an average of 18 minutes and 43 seconds to download the 32.41MB game Temple Run 2.

ZTE Director Performance testing
Average 3G download speed 0.2Mpbs
Average 3G upload speed 0.48Mbps
App download (Temple Run 2) 32.41MB in 18 minutes, 43 seconds
CNET mobile site load 17.31 seconds
CNET desktop site load 44.13 seconds
Restart time 46.56 seconds
Camera boot time 4.76 seconds

The phone is powered by a 1GHz Qualcomm processor. As I mentioned before, the Director is sluggish. Not only is the camera slow, but also simple actions like swiping the lock screen, changing from landscape to portrait mode, and returning to the home screen took a few moments longer than I'd like. While playing the graphics-intensive game Riptide GP, the app never stuttered or quit. However, it showed low frame rates, and it took a hair too long to launch and to quit the app. On average, it took 46.56 seconds for the phone to restart itself and 4.76 seconds to launch the camera.

During our battery drain test the phone lasted 8.4 hours for talk time. Anecdotally, the 1,500mAh battery lasts for a decent amount of time. With minimal usage, it can last the workday without a charge. It has a reported talk time of up to 6 hours and a standby estimate of 350 hours. According to FCC radiation standards, it has a digital SAR rating of 1.2W/kg.

With its 1-cent price tag, the ZTE Director under contract is inexpensive, but U.S. Cellular carries much more attractive options. The HTC One V, for example, has better build quality and a 5-megapixel camera that takes way better photos. And despite running the dated Android 2.3 Gingerbread OS, the Samsung Galaxy Metrix 4G has a bigger, better 4-inch screen and operates on the carrier's 4G LTE network. Both these devices are not only the same price as the Director, but they outshine it in performance as well.

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