If you think you're having deja vu, you're not. You've seen the ZTE Score M before, but as a Cricket Wireless device (there it didn't have the "M" in its name). When it was on that network, it featured a smaller battery (1,200mAh, compared with 1,500mAh in this one) and Cricket's Muve Music service.
But don't despair, music lovers, as MetroPCS has your back. If you pay an extra $60 a month on top of the $99 no-contract price, you get not only unlimited talk, text, data, and e-mail, but also unlimited song downloads from Rhapsody Music. Otherwise, the phone's specs remain relatively identical, meaning it still has the same set of problems. Despite its decent call and audio quality, I just couldn't get past the glacial processor and lousy display.
Editors' Note: Because they are nearly identical devices, our review for the ZTE Score M on MetroPCS’ network heavily borrows from our review of the ZTE Score on Cricket Wireless.
The ZTE Score M is slightly bigger than the original Score because of the bumped-up battery. The M measures 4.4 inches tall and 2.44 inches wide. At 0.54-inch thick, it has a very sturdy build, but it's a little bulky when slipped into a slim jean pocket. This doesn't mean it's too heavy, in fact it only weights 4.8 ounces, but its thickness is apparent.
The device has a black glossy coating, and the back is made out of a rubberized textured material that gives the handset a sporty feel to it. I personally wasn't a fan of it (I have a thing against clusters of small holes), but it did make the phone easier to grip.
On its left side, you can charge the device using the Micro-USB port that's protected by an attached door. On top is the sleep/power button and a 3.5mm headphone jack. On the right, there's a volume rocker and below it is a small door for your microSD card slot. The included SD card is 2GB. To get it out, you have to press it so it pops up. This might be difficult for anyone who has short nails or large fingers, but it's not impossible.
Below that slot, there's a dedicated camera button. Hold this down for a few seconds and the camera app will open. This only works if the display is on and your phone is unlocked.
On the back of the handset is the camera lens. At the bottom, there's a small slit for the speaker. You can pop off the backing easily by a little indent on the device's left side, where you'll find a lithium ion battery.
The Score M's 3.5-inch HVGA touch screen displays a resolution of only 320x480 pixels at 165ppi, so don't expect lush graphics. Aside from the heavily pixelated images that I saw from menu items and videos (even the simple outlines of circles in the Settings app was fuzzy), I also thought the screen appeared "streaky." Whether it was my eyes that were the problem, scrolling through my apps became a bit nauseating because of all the fuzzy lines that came across the icons. The display also has a narrow viewing angle. If I tilted the device just a little from any side, it became difficult or nearly impossible to make out what was on the screen.
Below the screen are the four usual menu, home, back, and search buttons that dimly light up whenever you touch them. My biggest problem with the original Score on Cricket's network was that its display was quite unresponsive. I had to push down firmly it in order for it to register my movements. On the MetroPCS unit, however, I found it to be much more sensitive.
The ZTE Score M runs on MetroPCS network and is powered by a 600mHz Qualcomm processor. Both factors don't make it the fastest thing on Earth, but for some of your basic features like making calls, calculating tip, and text messaging, it'll do the trick. Speaking of text, the phone does come preloaded with the Swype typing feature.
As an Android handset, you'll find a lot of standard Google apps such as Google Books, Gmail, Maps with Navigation, Search, Places, Talk, and YouTube. Since this isn't the latest and greatest thing on the market, don't expect the hottest OS, either -- the device ships with Gingerbread.
There are also a handful of MetroPCS apps that some might find useful. And, because they can be uninstalled, you don't have to be stuck with them. These include: Metro's own brand of maps, mail, app market, and Web browsing; M Studio, which stores media files like ringtones; a Wi-Fi hot-spot app called MetroPCS Easy WiFi; Metro411, which searches and locates for nearby businesses and restaurants; an entertainment and media app called MyExtras; and myMetro, which let's you check your account balance and plan.
You'll also find a number of basic task management applications common in most devices, such as a clock with alarm features, a calculator, Bluetooth 2.1, a calendar, text messaging, a voice recorder, and a news and weather app. Uncommon apps include IM and Social, which consolidates all your social networking portals; the mobile media suite known as Pocket Express; and Loopt, which lets you share your location and restaurant check-ins with friends. There is also three Yahoo branded apps: the sports news app, Sportacular, Yahoo Movies, and Answers.
As previously mentioned, the Score M comes preloaded with Rhapsody's music subscription service. You can search and download thousands of albums and artists on major U.S. record labels. Despite the fact that you can't play songs offline unless you add it onto a playlist, the service is pretty neat compared with Muve Music. Its UI is intuitive, songs downloaded without any hiccups and played continuously. Most importantly, audio playback was solid. When I plugged in my Grado SR60 headphones, music sounded rich and full of depth. Songs played on speakerphone weren't as clear as in-ear, however. The bass wasn't as rich and instruments bled together, but the volume was still loud and ample.
The 3.2-megapixel camera features a few photo options. It can digitally zoom up to 4x and has five white-balance options (auto, incandescent, daylight, fluorescent, and cloudy); a brightness meter; photo size and quality adjustments; and color effect menu items that include none, mono, sepia, and negative. You also can change the saturation level of the camera across five different levels.
The video camera includes the same color effects, a white-balance meter, and a choice between shooting various levels of quality. If you choose to shoot in high quality, a video recording can last up 30 minutes. If you decide to shoot something to send over MMS, you can only record for a maximum of 10 seconds. You can also record a low-quality recording for 30 minutes, or a high-quality video optimized for YouTube for 10 minutes.
I tested the tri-band (CDMA 850/1700/1900) ZTE Score M in San Francisco using MetroPCS' services. Although the call quality was good and there was no extraneous buzzing, voices sounded muffled on my end. To compensate for the stifled sounds, I cranked up the volume and found that its max volume level could have been louder. As for the receiving end, my friend told me that I sounded extremely tinny and that my voice sounded so harsh at times that it "hurt her ear." The others I talked to said that although I did sound too sharp at times, it wasn't too intolerable.
Listen now: ZTE Score M call quality sample
The photo quality of this handset was adequate enough. For pictures taken outdoors and in the sun, photos weren't "blurry" per se -- however, colors did bleed into one another. Especially after viewing them on a computer, some photos looked almost like paintings that were drawn with broad brush strokes. Indoor shots looked a little grainy and colors were not as vibrant as they appeared in real life, but objects were not impossible to make out.
Unfortunately, the camera lagged a lot. After pressing the shutter button, I'd have to stand very still for a few seconds until I heard the shutter sound go off. If I moved at all in between those few seconds, the picture would be very fuzzy.
The quality of the videos was subpar. Recordings were pixelated and grainy, and voices sounded muffled. Feedback lagged significantly behind my moving of the camera. Since there was no focusing feature, windows were washed out, and it was hard to distinguish dark or black objects.
MetroPCS' network isn't the most robust network, and a few of general speed tests show that. Although it occasionally runs on EV-DO 3G technology, most of the time the device went down to 1X. Loading the CNET mobile site, for example, took an average of 20 seconds; loading the full site took 2 minutes and 35 seconds. The New York Times' full site took slightly shorter on average, clocking in at 2 minutes and 16 seconds, and its mobile site took 19 seconds to load. ESPN's mobile site took 1 minute and 4 seconds, and its full site loaded in a minute and a half. Ookla's Speedtest app showed me an average of 0.09Mbps down and 0.05Mbps up.
During our battery drain tests the phone lasted 6.43 hours. Anecdotally, the battery performed pretty long. After a day downloading a bunch of songs, making calls, and watching videos, the device still held onto about a third of its battery. Charging up didn't take long, either. Plugging it in for 10 to 15 minutes gave me a third of the battery life back. According to FCC radiation tests, the ZTE Score M has a digital SAR rating of 1.45W/kg.
The ZTE Score M on MetroPCS is better than the model on Cricket's network, but only slightly. Its touch screen is more responsive, the network isn't as spotty as Cricket's, and the extra 300mAh of battery power doesn't hurt. Then again, when you don't have a lot to begin with, these small improvements won't mean anything much. The handset is still slow and its narrow viewing angle makes it hard to handle unless it's directly facing you. If you're looking for a reliable device from MetroPCS, it'd be best to save an extra 100 bucks and get the Samsung Galaxy Attain 4G instead.