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ZTE Warp 4G review: Boost Mobile's best, most frugal Android buy

ZTE's revamped Warp 4G offers a lot of Android phone for its low $199 off-contract price.

Brian Bennett Former Senior writer
Brian Bennett is a former senior writer for the home and outdoor section at CNET.
Brian Bennett
7 min read

It’s usually the case that nabbing a smartphone off-contract requires lots of concessions. Not so with the $199 ZTE Warp 4G. Flaunting a swift 4G LTE data link, a big 4.5-inch screen, and sturdy build quality, this compact Android handset is currently the shrewdest option on Boost Mobile’s network. It certainly makes a heck of a lot more sense than forking over $350 for the privilege of owning a Boost-connected Samsung Galaxy S3. Now factor in the Warp 4G’s satisfyingly long battery life and relatively unmucked-around-with Android Jelly Bean software, and I’m sure you’ll forgive the phone’s effective but less-than-stellar processor.

ZTE Warp 4G

ZTE Warp 4G

The Good

Available for a low $199 off-contract, the <b>ZTE Warp 4G</b> delivers swift 4G speeds, and is equipped with a feature-packed camera. It also has long battery life, clean call quality, and solid construction.

The Bad

The ZTE Warp 4G’s processor is slow, and its camera struggles under low light.

The Bottom Line

At $199 sans contract, the ZTE Warp 4G is the best choice for frugal shoppers on Boost Mobile.

The affordable, surprisingly capable Warp 4G (pictures)

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My jaw dropped and eyes popped wide open when I learned of the ZTE Warp 4G’s low $199 no-contract price. That’s because when I scooped the device up and placed it in my hands, it felt good, I mean really good, an emotion rarely conveyed by plastic handsets. Not only does the phone have a sturdy and solid construction that doesn’t bend or flex, its textured back is easy to grip and repels grease and fingerprints. As a matter of fact, I prefer its backing to the Samsung Galaxy S3’s slippery back cover; Boost sells the S3 at a steeper $349.99 price.

ZTE Warp 4G
The ZTE Warp 4G's small chassis is compact enough to operate in one hand. Sarah Tew/CNET

The Warp 4G may lack the faux-silver accents of Samsung’s newer smartphones, namely the Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note 3. Even so, I found the device’s all-black color scheme sophisticated if a bit conservative. Dark gray, almost metallic, highlights ring the Warp 4G’s body and add an extra touch of distinction.

Measuring 5.2 inches tall by 2.6 inches wide and 0.41 inch thick, the Warp 4G is by no means wafer-thin. The Galaxy S3 (5.4x2.8x0.34 inches) is slightly larger, but the Warp’s profile is noticeably thicker. Tipping the scales at 4.7 ounces, however, the Warp 4G has the exact same weight as Samsung’s 2012 superphone.

ZTE Warp 4G
The Warp 4G is compact but not ultrathin. Sarah Tew/CNET

Above the warp 4G’s sizable 4.5-inch screen is a 1-megapixel front-facing camera and notification light. Sitting below the display are three backlit capacitive buttons for basic Android control (Back, Home, and Menu) represented by easy-to-comprehend symbols.

ZTE Warp 4G
The ZTE Warp 4G's back surface has a nice textured pattern. Sarah Tew/CNET

Along the phone’s left edge are two discrete buttons for adjusting volume up and down. Here, too, is a Micro-USB port for both charging the phone and physically connecting to PCs to transfer files. The right side of the device houses a dedicated camera key that engages the Warp 4G’s imaging system. It will not wake the handset up from sleep, though, to launch the camera app. Up top is the power button plus a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack for plugging in wired headsets.

Fans of battery swapping will appreciate the Warp 4G’s removable 2,070mAh battery hidden under the phone’s back cover. Separate slots for SIM cards and microSD memory cards are located here as well.

ZTE Warp 4G
Under the back cover are slots for microSD and SIM cards, plus a removable battery. Sarah Tew/CNET

ZTE, the manufacturer of the Warp 4G, decided to go big in terms of the phone’s screen size. The device flaunts a large 4.5-inch 720p HD LCD panel (1,280x720 pixels). While this can’t measure up to the Samsung Galaxy S3’s bigger 4.8-inch OLED screen in terms of color saturation, contrast, and viewing angles, it boasts the same 720p resolution.

That said, the Warp’s display gets decently bright, and its IPS (in plane switching) LCD technology does an admirable job of showcasing photos with lifelike colors and pleasingly crisp details.

Software and interface
The Warp 4G runs Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean, not the most recent OS iteration from Google, Android version 4.3. In the Warp’s defense, though, none of Boost Mobile's other phones features Android 4.2, let alone 4.3. There's not that much of a difference, either, in terms of features and functionality, between Android 4.1 and Android 4.2. Additionally, the handset’s software is mostly stock and therefore unadulterated, with a funky skin or unfettered by bloatware. That's always a positive trait in my book.

You have five home screens on the Warp 4G to customize, either by dropping widgets or app shortcuts onto. There are some carrier-branded apps preloaded , such as the Air G youth-targeted social media network, and Boost Zone to access your wireless account or view Boost-suggested applications.

Since the Warp 4G is a genuine Android phone, it links to Google’s vast ecosystem of software and services. These include all the usual suspects such as Gmail, Google Search, the Google Play digital storefronts for music, video, and books, plus the Chrome mobile browser. The Warp also links to the Google Play store to download apps from its wide selection of third-party software developers.

The ZTE Warp 4G uses a decent but not stellar camera with an 8-megapixel sensor and LED flash. The phone’s camera app does offer plenty of settings, features, and shooting modes to choose from. Picture sizes range from VGA resolution (640x480) all the way up to 8 megapixels (3,200x2,400). There are also manual settings for white balance, ISO, along with exposure, contrast, and saturation. The Warp boasts 16 scene modes (not counting Normal) such as Macro, HDR, Burst, and Panorama, just to list a few.

ZTE Warp 4G
Outside details weren't too sharp, but colors were bright. Brian Bennett/CNET

In bright sunlight, the Warp 4G snapped pictures quickly (in under a second) and the orange, yellows, and greens of fall foliage was vividly captured. Details weren’t as crisp as I’d like to see, however. The Warp was swift enough to nab shots of fidgety kids.

ZTE Warp 4G
The camera could capture images of moving subjects. Brian Bennett/CNET

Indoors, the phone’s imaging system struggled a bit. I noticed that my indoor still-life shots were dark and had murky details. The camera’s autofocus couldn’t lock onto subjects as quickly, which often translated into blurry pictures.

ZTE Warp 4G
Indoors images were dark and murky. Brian Bennett/CNET

With a scintillating moniker like the Boost Warp 4G, you might expect this smartphone to offer blazing application performance. Sadly, you’d be wrong. Under the Warp 4G’s hood is a competent, but not swift 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon 400 processor paired with 1GB of RAM. While this mobile computing platform enables the phone to tackle basic tasks, it’s light years behind modern chips such as the Snapdragon 800 and 600 powering the Galaxy Note 3 (2.3GHz Snapdragon 800, 3GB RAM), Galaxy S4 (Snapdragon 600, 2GB RAM), and HTC One (Snapdragon 600, 2GB RAM).

ZTE Warp 4G
The Warp 4G's Quadrant score was pretty low. Brian Bennett/CNET

Even last year’s Galaxy S3, which features a slower 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 Plus and 2GB RAM, packs more of a processing punch. As a result, the Warp 4G stumbled through benchmark testing, notching a low Quadrant score of 4,868. The phone’s unimpressive Linpack showing of 245.2 MFLOPs (multithread) was also disappointing. That said, in anecdotal use, the device wasn’t obnoxiously pokey, it just didn’t fire up apps and widgets, or flip through menu screens with the instantaneous speed I’ve experienced on true flagship superphones.

Call quality
I tested the Warp 4G on Boost’s CDMA network in New York, which really piggybacks on Sprint’s cellular infrastructure. ZTE says that the Warp 4G features noise-canceling technology from Qualcomm, the folks behind the ubiquitous Snapdragon processors. Indeed on my test calls, the people I spoke to reported that my voice came through loud and clear. They still could tell that I spoke to them from a mobile phone but couldn’t detect any artifacts, hiss, or static while I talked.

On my end, I found that the Warp’s earpiece didn’t get very loud, even when I dialed it up to its maximum setting. Similarly, the speakerphone lacked much oomph, and callers noticed a significant drop in audio quality, even when I chatted in close quarters on the Warp’s mouthpiece.

ZTE Warp 4G call quality sample Listen now:

Data speeds
A true 4G handset, the ZTE Warp 4G can connect to Boost’s (really Sprint’s) LTE data network. While Sprint hasn’t officially confirmed that its LTE service is up and running in New York, where I tested the Warp, I nonetheless was able to grab a signal.

ZTE Warp 4G
Boost Mobile 4G LTE was fast in New York. Brian Bennett/CNET

As a matter of fact, I clocked swift data throughput on the phone, with the Warp sucking down bits at an average of 15.8Mbps. Upload speeds were nimble as well, reaching an average of 4.9Mbps.

Battery life
ZTE dropped a 2,070mAh battery into the Warp 4G; that’s relatively high-capacity, given the phone’s modest components. The result is that the handset demonstrated impressive battery life on the CNET Labs video battery drain benchmark. On this grueling trial, which entails playing an HD video until the battery and device calls it quits, the Warp 4G threw in the towel after 9 hours and 3 minutes. By comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S3 didn’t last much longer subjected to the same benchmark, coasting 21 minutes farther.

I must confess that when I first caught wind of the $199 ZTE Warp 4G, I didn’t expect much from this midrange Android handset. After all, most off-contract phones I’ve looked at tend to leave me uninspired, to say the least. That was my experience with the Warp 4G’s predecessor, too, the original ZTE Warp.

When I wrapped my fingers around the Warp 4G, though, I knew times had changed. Not only did the device feel sturdy and well crafted, it flaunted a large 4.5-inch display, and came running Android Jelly Bean. Spending some time with the Warp 4G confirmed my early impressions, especially when the phone demonstrated long battery life and clean call quality.

That said the Warp 4G isn't the ultimate smartphone on Boost Mobile. This honor belongs to the $349 Samsung Galaxy S3 and its sky-high sticker price. Though it's no doubt an aging device, the S3 is a more capable handset thanks to a superior screen, faster processor, and far better camera. It's just way too expensive.

The Warp 4G, on the other hand, represents the best choice on Boost for Android penny-pinchers. I'd recommend it over the $299 LG Optimus F7 any day, which has nicer specs but costs more up front. And while technically a 4G device, the F7 had trouble grabbing an LTE signal during testing. The same goes for the less-capable, splash-proof, but 4G-challenged $149 Kyocera Hydro edge which makes sense only if you need a water resistant phone.

ZTE Warp 4G

ZTE Warp 4G

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7