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ZTE Overture review: A lot of power for the price

Aio Wireless' ZTE Overture won't play in the smartphone big leagues, but it delivers a lot for its low price.

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Kent German
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Kent German

Senior Managing Editor / Features

Kent is a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and has worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog, or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).

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The ZTE Overture is just the kind of smartphone that you'd expect from Aio Wireless. Neither its generic design nor its midrange feature set stands out from the larger Android crowd, but it all comes in a simple, easy package. LTE is a nice bonus and the processor is fast, but the handset is stuck on Android 4.1. That last bit is disappointing, but for $150 without a contract (Aio is AT&T's prepaid brand), that's pretty much what you'd expect.

ZTE_Overture_SS4.jpg
7.0

ZTE Overture

The Good

The <b>ZTE Overture</b> packs a fast processor and LTE data speeds in a comfortable user-friendly design. And at $150 without a contract, it's a bargain.

The Bad

The Overture runs Android 4.1. Call volume was low and voice quality wasn't always accurate.

The Bottom Line

With its fast processor and LTE, the ZTE Overture is a great deal from Aio Wireless and one of the carrier's best starter smartphones.

All of that comes together to make this one of Aio's best phones for your dollar. At any other carrier it would be completely unremarkable, but given Aio's smallish lineup, it's worth a serious look for anyone on a budget.

A look over the ZTE Overture (pictures)

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Design and display
As common as the Overture's design may be, it makes a nice effort to look more expensive than it really is. A silver ring around the phone's perimeter breaks the basic-black monotony and I like the textured surface on the battery cover. What's more, for a budget device, the Overture is a comfortable size (4.88 inches long by 2.58 inches wide by 0.46 inch thin) and it has a firm, sturdy feel (at 4.53 ounces).

The 4-inch WVGA display can look the slightest bit washed-out, but it's still vibrant for a handset of this price range. The full resolution is 480x800 pixels. Like on any other Android device, you can populate the home screens (you get only three) with shortcut icons for your favorite apps and various widgets.

I liked the shortcut options from the main lock screen. Screenshot by Kent German/CNET

The Overture has a couple of signature touches to the home screen that I haven't seen before. For example, when you press and hold the green circle icon to unlock the screen, a lightning bolt animation orbits the circle as the handset unlocks. It may sound gimmicky, but I just thought it was cool.

More useful is the selection of six shortcut icons that you can access without actually unlocking the phone. To show them, just pinch open the green circle until they expand in a flowerlike shape. If you don't like the default options, you can switch them out for others. Of course, you won't see this option if you secure the phone with a password, PIN, or pattern (face unlock is available, as well).

The Overture has a standard icon-based menu design. Josh Miller/CNET

Below the display are the standard Jelly Bean touch controls: back, home, and settings. On the left spine is the large and easy-to-find volume rocker, the Micro-USB charger sits alone on the right spine, and up top are the power control and 3.5mm headset jack. The camera lens and flash protrude just slightly on the Overture's rear side, but a slight ridge should protect them from any damage. Just keep your finger out of the way when taking a photo. The single external speaker is just to the left. You'll have to remove the battery cover, but not the battery, to access the microSD card slot.

Interface and apps
As mentioned, the Overture supports Android 4.1.2. Though that's still a version of Jelly Bean, 4.1 is getting rather long in the tooth. After all, Android 4.3 is now three months old and KitKat (Android 4.4) may be released as early as the end of this month. Yes, I realize that a budget handset like the Overture is unlikely to have the newest version of Android, but I'd like it be no more than one update behind.

The back cover has a textured material. The camera lens and flash are at the top center. Josh Miller/CNET

Of course, you'll find the usual selection of Google apps like Google+, Hangouts, Gmail, Maps and Navigation, and YouTube. And as always, there are more apps available in the Google Play store. Fortunately, Aio doesn't cram the Overture with any bloatware. You'll see useful apps for accessing your account and your voice mail, though.

Organizer apps include a calculator, a notepad, a calendar, voice dialing and search, an alarm clock, a voice recorder, a timer, a file manager, and a world clock. And as you'd expect, there's e-mail for POP3 and IMAP4 accounts, as well as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. A basic version of Kingsoft Office, which lets you view Office docs, comes free on the device, as do the Android apps for Facebook and Twitter.

Our standard indoor shot was one of the best photos that I took. Kent German/CNET

Camera
The Overture's 5-megapixel camera has more than enough editing options and an attractive and straightforward interface. Features include a self-timer, a 4x digital zoom, a multishot mode, four white-balance options, an adjustable ISO, geotagging, three color filters, and a night mode. You change the image resolution way down to VGA and adjust the exposure, brightness, contrast, saturation, and sharpness. The 1-megapixel camera around front is at your disposal, as well.

The Overture's camera also performed relatively well under cloudy skies. Kent German/CNET

Photo quality was decent for a midrange phone. Not surprisingly, you'll get the best results when you have enough light and aren't staring straight into the sun. Yet, I also was pleased with a photo of the Empire State Building against a cloudy sky and the fountain at New York's Lincoln Center at dusk. Interior shots were about the same. For example, the photo of the CNET rug under a skylight turned out much better than our standard studio shot under florescent lights.

I even liked this photo of the Lincoln Center fountain at dusk. Kent German/CNET

Camcorder options are fewer than the still shooter has, with just four quality settings (the highest is 720p), geotagging, and four white-balance settings. A bonus feature, however, lets you take photos while filming. MMS videos are capped at 1 second; otherwise, you can shoot for as long as the available storage allows (4GB internal, plus up to 32GB with the external memory slot).

Sunny days produce the best conditions for photos. Kent German/CNET

Music and browser
The remaining features are no different from other Android phones in its class. You can go to Google Play to purchase content for the video and music players or use the preloaded Google Play Magazines, Music, Books, and Movies apps. There's also a dedicated news and weather widget.

Fluorescent lighting? Not as good. Kent German/CNET

The Overture also comes with both a standard Android browser and a dedicated Chrome browser. I continue to prefer the latter since you can browse in incognito mode and sync it with your computer or tablet to share tabs and bookmarks.

Processor and battery
The Overture has a 1.2GHz Qualcomm dual-core processor, which was better than I was expecting. As such, performance was mostly satisfying. The handset started relatively quickly (just suffer through an annoying Aio jingle as the phone powers on), there's barely any shutter lag, and I didn't have to wait for applications to open. The touch interface on the display was responsive, as well. Yes, there are faster phones, but the Overture was quite zippy for a midrange device. In my tests, the Overture had an average Linpack score of 216.140 MFLOPs (single-thread) with a high of 231.367 MFLOPs. On the Quadrant benchmark it has an average score of score of 4,721. For comparison, that's about as fast as 2012's HTC One X.

The 1,780mAh battery has a reported talk time of 9.5 hours and a standby time of 12.5 days. During our battery test for continuous video playback, the Overture lasted 5.52 hours.

ZTE Overture Performance testing
Average 3G download speed 7.61Mpbs
Average 3G upload speed 4.89Mbps
App download (CNET) 3.72MB in 32.21 seconds
CNET mobile site load time 4.53 seconds
CNET desktop site load time 12.23 seconds
Restart time 24.83 seconds
Camera boot time 1.37 seconds

Data speeds
Honestly, it wouldn't have shocked me if Aio had left the Overture on 3G, which is why I'm so glad to see that it supports 4G LTE speeds. That connection remained solid and fast throughout my trial period in everything from Web browsing to app downloads. Out of five separate tests in the same location using Ookla's Speedtest.net app, I clocked an average download speed of 7.61Mbps and uploads at 4.89Mbps. The highest upload score was 8.62Mbps and the highest download score was 5.16Mbps. When LTE isn't available, the Overture will fall back to 3G (UMTS 850/1900/2100).

On the default Android browser, the CNET mobile site loaded in 4.53 seconds, the full CNET site loaded in 12.26 seconds, and the full site for American Airlines loaded in 8.59 seconds. The CNET Android app (3.72MB) downloaded in 32.21 seconds and launched with updated content in 12 seconds.

The Overture is small enough to fit in your pocket. Josh Miller/CNET

Call quality
I tested the dual-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) ZTE Overture in San Francisco. Remember that as a brand of AT&T, Aio uses AT&T's regular network. Call quality was satisfying on the whole, though it wasn't without a few issues. When calling another cell phone, the signal remained strong and free of static, though some audio had an unnaturally high pitch. It wasn't a big deal, but a couple of my friends didn't quite sound like themselves. The volume level on the Overture could stand to be a bit louder, as well.

On their end, callers had no complaints. One friend specifically mentioned that the Overture didn't pick up any background noise. I also had no trouble using an airline's automated calling system when calling from a quiet office. I was able to walk several steps through a voice command menu without having to repeat myself. Granted, my experience would be less ideal if I tried calling from a noisier place, but that would be the case with any almost other cell phone.

ZTE Overture call quality sample

Listen now:

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The speakerphone didn't fare as well, unfortunately. Though the volume was loud through the single external speaker, I had to repeat myself occasionally if I spoke from anywhere besides a quiet room. Voices didn't have the same high pitch that I heard on regular calls, but I noticed some distortion in the audio quality. On the whole, it was about average for a cell phone speaker: not really good and not really terrible. The Overture has a maximum SAR of 1.25 watts per kilogram as tested by the FCC. It supports M3 and T4 hearing aids.

Conclusion
Unless you're willing to open your wallet wide for a Samsung Galaxy S4 ($579), an iPhone 5C ($549), or an iPhone 5S ($649) on Aio Wireless, the ZTE Overture is one of the best smartphones of its class that you can get on the carrier. For just $150 and no shackling contract, you get a well-built device with a bright display, a fast processor, and enough features (especially LTE) to keep you interested. Call quality could be better and the Android 4.1 OS is dated, but there's much more to like about this phone than there is to shun.

As for Aio's other starter smartphones, I'd definitely choose the Overture over the 3G-only Samsung Galaxy Amp. The Samsung Galaxy Express delivers slightly superior features, though you'll need to shell out an extra $100 for the better goods. Alternatively, the $99 Nokia Lumia 620 has a great display, a decent camera, and NFC just as long you're willing to consider Windows Phone 8. Of course, if you're not sold on Aio, you have a world of options available at other carriers. Handsets similar to the Overture and at the same price are indeed plentiful, and I'd hardly hold it up as the best buy of them all.

ZTE_Overture_SS4.jpg
7.0

ZTE Overture

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7
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