ZTE Groove (Cricket Wireless) review: Entry-level phone that's too little, too late

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MSRP: $149.99

The Good The ZTE Groove comes with Muve Music and up to 32GB of expandable memory.

The Bad Cricket's Groove runs on the dated Android 2.3, has a low-resolution touch screen with a narrow viewing angle, and a poor audio speaker.

The Bottom Line While the ZTE Groove can make calls, pass it over in favor of better Cricket handsets.

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5.0 Overall
  • Design 5
  • Features 5
  • Performance 5

Nothing about the ZTE Groove screams "modern." Maybe it's the outdated name (seriously, the only appropriate times to say "groove" is when ironically referring to the 1970s, or discussing jazz music), but mostly because it runs on Android 2.3 Gingerbread and has a very unappealing plastic construction.

Don't misunderstand me -- I have no qualms with entry-level handsets. They're great for users looking for something simple and easy to use. But the Groove is different. On top of being dated, it's plagued with mediocre call and audio quality, and a poor screen that simply render it a Groove I just can't get into. Sorry, Madonna.

When I first got hold of the ZTE Groove, I mistakenly thought it was a QWERTY keyboard device due to its thickness and segmented design. When I saw that it was just a candybar handset, however, it made me realize just how unattractive it was.

On the whole, its plastic construction keeps the phone lightweight at 4.5 ounces, but as a trade-off, it gives it a very cheap and toy-like feel. A faux-chrome strip runs along the edges, and every physical key (though easy to press) protrudes relatively far from the rest of the surface. The device itself is riddled with grooves (no pun intended) and ridges, and even the back plate features an unappealing dimpled texture.

ZTE Groove
The ZTE Groove has an unattractive dimpled back plate and an overall construction that feels cheap and inexpensive. Josh Miller/CNET

The Groove measures 4.67 inches tall, 2.46 inches wide, and 0.55 inch thick -- which, again, is pretty hefty for a simple entry-level handset. On the left are a MicroUSB port for charging and a small nook to loop a charm or lanyard through. Up top are a sleep/power button and a 3.5mm headphone charger. The right edge houses a volume rocker, a small flap for a microSD card, and a shortcut button for the camera.

On the back is a 3.2-megapixel camera and an LED flash. At the bottom-right corner are three small slits for the audio speaker. Using indents on either side, you can pop off the back plate and remove the battery.

The 3.5-inch HVGA touch screen displays only 262,000 colors and has a 480x320-pixel resolution. It has a very narrow viewing angle, so if you look at it at ever so slight of a tilt, the screen will appear black or shadowy. Aside from the heavily pixelated graphics that I saw when playing games and videos (even the simple outlines of circles in the Settings app were fuzzy), the screen also looked streaky. Scrolling through my apps became a bit nauseating because of all the fuzzy lines that appeared across the icons.

Above the display is a VGA front-facing camera, and below are four hotkeys that light up white when touched: back, menu, home, and search.

Software and features
The phone runs on Android 2.3 Gingerbread, making it already dated the moment it comes out of the box. You'll find a few standard Google apps such as Gmail, Maps with Navigation, Latitude, Places, Google Play, Search, Talk, and YouTube.

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 for the nearest pizza joint or grocery store, and a storefront that lets you purchase graphics and applications.

Other preloaded apps include two games that you can't uninstall: Uno, and a horribly ugly demo game called Bubble Bash 2 that looks as if it was designed around the time Netscape Navigator launched.

General task managing apps such as a native Web browser and e-mail client are installed, as well as a calculator, a calendar, a clock with alarm functions, a countdown timer, a world clock, a music player, a news and weather app, a sound recorder, a stopwatch, a video player, a voice dialer, and voice search.

ZTE Groove
The Groove is a Muve Music device from Cricket that enables you to stream and download (for offline listening) thousands of songs and albums. Josh Miller/CNET

Again, the Groove's biggest selling point is the Muve Music service. Developed by Cricket, Muve Music lets you download an unlimited amount of music onto your handset. 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-search 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.

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, so it's pretty much stuck on 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 more as 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 confusing user interface. Even though I used Muve before, menu items were still confusing and the constant clicking I had to go through just to download and then play one song was cumbersome. Also, keep in mind that when a song or album finishes downloading, there is no progress bar or notification. Instead, the song title's text will change from gray to white. Talk about subtle.

I also had problems simply pausing a song. Again, this wasn't my first time using Muve, but I initially had to go through numerous menu items just to return to a song that was playing in order to pause it because there did not appear to be designated shortcut "now playing" option.

Eventually, I discovered that if you hold down the menu key on the left for a couple of seconds and wait for it to return to the Muve Music menu, you can select the Music Player icon in the center to get to the song and then pause it. Despite this epiphany, in the end, I still thought that required one too many steps, and it wasn't intuitive.

Camera and video
The 3.2-megapixel camera features a few photo options. It has a flash and can digitally zoom up to 4x. It also has five white balances, three photo sizes, three quality adjustments, five saturation levels, and four color effects. The front-facing camera retains only the zoom, white balance, and quality adjustments.

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