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ZTE Speed (Boost Mobile) review: You won't feel the need for this Speed

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The Good The ZTE Speed is compact, comfortable to hold and comes at a bargain prepaid price.

The Bad It has a slow processor, a mediocre camera and a low-res screen that can be unresponsive to the touch.

The Bottom Line The Speed's price may be tempting, but skip it for better prepaid handsets that are faster and more reliable.

5.0 Overall
  • Design 5
  • Features 5
  • Performance 5

As smartphone technology advances with higher-end features and specs, finding a low-cost device that gives a great value is becoming an increasingly difficult task. And at first, the ZTE Speed's competitively low $100 price on Boost Mobile may be a tempting offer.

But don't be fooled -- despite its name, the Speed's quad-core processor lags with even the simplest task. Its 5-megapixel camera also takes underwhelming photos, and its low-res display requires a few repetitive taps from time to time due to unresponsiveness.

What compounds the ZTE Speed's faults even more is the fact that there are plenty of phones on the market that perform smoother and more reliably than the Speed at nearly the same price. Boost Mobile offers some (like the LG Optimus F3 ), and other prepaid carriers have alternatives too (Cricket Wireless' HTC Desire 510 for instance). Whichever channel you choose though, it won't be hard to find a phone that's much faster than the ironically named ZTE Speed.

Design

Though it's compact at 5.3 inches tall and 2.6 inches wide, and rather lightweight (it weighs only 4.8 ounces), the Speed is thick, measuring 0.4 inches on its side. That means that while it can slip into jean pockets, it will be a snug fit. It's still comfortable to hold though. I can easily maneuver it with just one hand, and I had no problem reaching across the display with my thumb.

The handset sports a 4.5-inch LCD display with a 960x540-pixel resolution. Though text and images are still legible and easy to see, they didn't look sharp or crisp. It doesn't take a very close eye to spot blurry or pixelated edges, and aliasing around letters. The display can also stand to be brighter on its maximum level, and at times, it's unresponsive. There were occasions when I had to tap or swipe repeatedly to get an action to register, which was frustrating.

The handset features a 4.5-inch LCD display with a 540p resolution. Josh Miller/CNET

On the left edge is a Micro-USB port for charging and up top are the 3.5mm headphone jack and sleep/power button. To the right is a volume rocker. All the keys are raised slightly above the surface, making them easier to find with your fingers. On the back are a 5-megapixel lens and flash, as well as two small slits at the bottom right corner for the audio speaker.

The battery door is made out of a soft, matte plastic, which does well to ward off fingerprints and improve grip. Unlike most backings, the battery door isn't a flat plate -- instead it curves around all four edges of the device. You can still pry off the backing by using a small indentation on the left bottom corner, but it'll require a little muscle. Once removed, you'll have access to the microSD card slot. Unfortunately, the 2,000mAh battery inside is embedded. That's not a deal breaker for me, but it might be a sour note for users hoping to swap the battery when it runs low.

Software features

The phone ships with Android 4.4.4 KitKat and comes with a number of Google's services, like the Chrome Web browser, Drive, Gmail, Search, Plus, Hangouts, Maps, Photos and YouTube. The Google Play stores for apps, Books, Games, Movies and TV, Music and Newsstand are included as well.

There are other several preloaded apps too like 1Weather, the social-networking portal AirG, a gaming portal called PlayPhone, Amazon, TouchPal (which activates an optional keyboard and text-inserting function), NBA Game Time, Next Radio, the rideshare service Uber and the navigation app Scout. Fortunately, if you don't find many of these apps useful or relevant, you can uninstall them.

A glipse at the phone's app drawer (left) and the pre-loaded Mobile ID app interface. Lynn La/CNET

Boost Mobile threw in some of its own apps like Boost Music, Boost Wallet and Boost Zone, where you can check your usage and account information and stay updated with carrier news. Messaging Plus is an SMS and video calling service and, lastly, there's Mobile ID. This lets you download preselected apps, widgets and other items depending on which ID profile you choose.

Of course, there are basic apps too, such as a native email and and browser client, a calculator, a calendar, a clock with alarm functions, a voice dialer and an audio recorder.

Additional features are 1GB of RAM, 8GB of internal storage and Bluetooth 4.0.

Camera and video

Photo quality for the 5-megapixel rear camera was passable, but don't expect to take crystal clear photos. While objects are easy to make out, edges can look blurry. Faces especially looked particularly fuzzy. There was also a notable amount of digital noise and graininess, and some photos had light sources that casted a slight blue tint.

In general, colors looked muted and dark hues were hard to distinguish. The camera itself is also slow -- you'll need to wait a few beats before it can ready itself to take another shot. For more on photo quality, check out the images below and click on each individual picture to see it at its full resolution.

Video quality yielded similar results. Although both moving and still objects were easily identifiable, images weren't particularly sharp and had blurred edges. Light sources retained that same blue tint, and varying dark colors were simply reduced to jet black. Fortunately though, both nearby and distant audio picked up well.

In this outdoor shot, dark hues are hard to distinguish, and the details in the building facades blend together. Lynn La/CNET
Here you can see the random blue tints that were casted by light sources. Lynn La/CNET

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