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ZTE Sonata 4G (Aio Wireless) review: Cheap, 4G Android phone still slightly off-key

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The Good The ZTE Sonata 4G is competitively priced, scores respectable data speeds, and has expandable memory.

The Bad In addition to a thick profile, the Sonata has a mediocre camera and a low-resolution screen.

The Bottom Line If you can live with unimpressive photos, the Sonata 4G is a reliable phone for those on a budget, but LG's prepaid Optimus F6 is the better option.

6.0 Overall
  • Design 5
  • Features 6
  • Performance 7

For just $80 off-contract, you might be able to look past the ZTE Sonata 4G's chunky design, so-so screen quality, and underwhelming camera. Overall, the unassuming Android phone -- sold on AT&T's prepaid Aio Wireless network -- gives you decent value when you consider its strong 4G network speeds and reliable call performance.

Still, a little more money can pocket you a better phone, like Aio's Motorola Moto G for $149.99. And, if you can't budge from the $80 mark, but can change carriers, we'd still take MetroPCS' LG Optimus F6 with LTE any day.

Though compact in size (4.9 inches tall and 2.56 inches wide), the Sonata 4G sports an unflattering and thick 0.45-inch profile that renders it a snug fit in jean pockets. In addition, though the smooth white battery door looks chic, it makes the device quite slippery in the hand.

The left edge houses a volume rocker and a microSD card slot for up to 32GB of expandable memory. Up top you'll find a 3.5mm headphone jack and a sleep/power button. Finally, the Micro-USB port for charging is located on the bottom edge.

ZTE Sonata 4G (profile)
The handset has a hefty profile at 0.45 inch thick. Josh Miller/CNET

On the back is a 5-megapixel camera with flash and there's a small slit for the audio speaker to the left. You can take off the battery door using a small opening at the bottom, and access the removable 1,785mAh battery and SIM card slot.

As for the 4-inch display, it has a 480x800-pixel resolution. This isn't very high at all, indeed, the menu icons look can look grainy, and you can see notable color-banding with the default wallpapers. Furthermore, the touch screen has a narrow viewing angle. Tilt it slightly to the left or right and the display will wash away. And while its brightness is fine indoors, the screen is difficult to look at in direct sunlight. Below the display are three hot keys that light up white when in use for back, home, and menu.

Software features
The phone runs Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean and as such contains several Google apps: Chrome, Gmail, Plus, Hangouts, Maps, YouTube, and access to the Play Store's Books, Games, Movies & TV, Music, and Newsstand portals.

Other apps include Facebook and Twitter, an alarm clock, native browser and e-mail clients, a calculator, a calendar, a news and weather app, a notepad, a sound recorder, a timer, and a voice dialer.

Users will also get TouchPal X, an optional keyboard and text inserting function you can activate, and the mobile office suite, Kingsoft Office. Finally, additional features include 4GB of internal memory, Bluetooth 3.0, and 1GB of RAM.

ZTE Sonata 4G (Android)
The device runs Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean and includes your usual gamut of Google apps. Josh Miller/CNET

Camera and video
The 5-megapixel camera's photo quality was middling, and showed a notable amount of blurriness. Objects in photos lacked focus and edges were ill-defined. You can also see some digital noise, especially in dimly lit areas, and graininess. Colors also came off a bit muted and washed-out. For more on the camera quality, check out some test shots below, and be sure to click on the pictures for their full resolutions.

Features include touch and autofocus, a 4x digital zoom, flash, five white-balance options, five ISO levels (from 100 to 1600), geotagging, compositional grid lines, and three photo qualities. It can shoot in five photo sizes (from 640x480 to 2,592x1,944 pixels) and has three photo filters, three antibanding options, rapid capture and panorama shooting modes, a timer, and separate meters to adjust for exposure, brightness, contrast, saturation, and sharpness.

ZTE Sonata 4G (outdoor)
In this well-lit outdoor photo, the buildings in the background and grass in the foreground look fuzzy. Lynn La/CNET
ZTE Sonata 4G (indoor)
You can see a notable amount of digital noise in the dark areas and the walls in this indoor picture. Lynn La/CNET
ZTE Sonata 4G (indoor 2)
Despite plenty of light, the leaves in this plant lack focus. Lynn La/CNET
ZTE Sonata 4G (SI)
In our standard studio shot, the harsh flash washes out the center of the photo. Josh Miller/CNET

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