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ZTE Engage (Cricket Wireless) review:3G phone that bungles the basics

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Unfortunately, photo quality was poor. Bright colors, especially red, often turned out oversaturated, and whites looked washed out. My biggest problem, however, was the lack of focus. Even with ample lighting and a steady hand, objects came out blurry with fuzzy outlines. These pictures looked crisper when viewed on the phone, but when seen at their full sizes on a computer, they were very disappointing.

ZTE Engage (indoor)
Mmm, chicken! Despite a steady hand and multiple takes, my Wingstop meal still came out blurry. Lynn La/CNET
ZTE Engage (outdoor)
Though colors are bright and vivid, they appear more saturated in this photo than in real life. Lynn La/CNET
ZTE Engage (SSI)
In our standard studio shot, a yellow hue borders the edges of the photo and objects are out of focus. Josh Miller/CNET

Video quality didn't fare much better. Recordings were pixelated, and objects were often out of focus. Audio, however, was picked up without a problem.

I tested the tri-band (800/1900) ZTE Engage on Cricket's network in our San Francisco office. Call quality was mediocre. Though I was able to hear my friends easily, calls did sound static-y and rough. During times of complete silence, I could hear the static subtly. It wasn't overly distracting, but noticeable nonetheless. There were a couple of times that audio cut in and out, though I never had a call drop. However, I was told that I sounded perfectly fine and clear, and my friends didn't report any trouble on their end.

The audio speaker, although clear, could have been louder. There were times I had to hold it up to my ear just to hear better, even though I cranked the volume to its maximum level.

ZTE Engage (Cricket Wireless) call quality sample

Listen now:

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 32 seconds and our desktop site in a minute and 12 seconds. The New York Times mobile site took about 19 seconds, while its desktop version took a minute and 16 seconds. ESPN's mobile site took 22 seconds, and its full site loaded in 47 seconds. Ookla's Speedtest app showed me an average of 0.19Mbps down and 0.49Mbps up. It took about 18 minutes and 27 seconds to download the 32.41MB game Temple Run 2.

ZTE Engage Performance testing
Average 3G download speed 0.19Mpbs
Average 3G upload speed 0.49Mbps
App download (Temple Run 2) 32.41MB in 18 minutes and 27 seconds
CNET mobile site load 32 seconds
CNET desktop site load 1 minute and 12 seconds
Restart time 1 minute
Camera boot time 2.3 seconds

The device is powered by a 1.4GHz processor. Simple tasks like quitting applications and opening up the browser were executed smoothly enough, but it did take a notable amount of seconds to switch from portrait to landscape mode, open up simple games like Block Breaker 3, and there was a slight lag between my moving of the camera and what I saw on the viewfinder. On average, it took 2.3 seconds to launch the camera and 1 minute to shut down and turn on the phone altogether.

During my time playing the graphic-intensive game, Riptide GP, I didn't experience any forced quits or stuttering of the application. Understandably, compared with a quad-core or dual-core handset, frame rates were lower and graphics didn't look as smooth, but the game still played well.

The phone's 1,900mAh battery has a reported talk time of 8 hours. During our battery drain test for video playback, it lasted a mere 4.92 hours. Anecdotally, though, it had decent battery life, and it can easily last through a workday with no charge and minimal usage. According to FCC radiation standards, the device has a digital SAR rating of 0.741W/kg.

Cricket Wireless doesn't have many Android 4.0 handsets, so if having the more recent Ice Cream Sandwich OS is important to you (which is understandable), you should consider the ZTE Engage.

But, based purely on performance, there are better and cheaper Muve Music handsets available. For instance, if you get the Huawei Mercury, it'll mean going backward with Android 2.3. But, it's cheaper, you'll still get an 8-megapixel camera, and you'll gain excellent call quality.

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