ZTE Source (Cricket Wireless)

Assuming you’re able get Cricket Wireless’ LTE coverage in the first place, the ZTE Source delivers LTE speeds at a decent $189.99 price. In fact, that’s the carrier’s most budget option for an LTE device by quite a wide margin. Its second-cheapest handset, the Samsung Galaxy Admire 2, costs $250.

True, the Source isn’t banging on all cylinders (naturally, you’ll have to spend more dough if you want better specs): it can be sluggish at times and its camera’s image quality is less than stellar. However, it does feature a decently sized 4.5-inch screen, expandable storage, and Cricket’s recently revamped Muve Music service. Altogether, that makes the handset a worthy value if you’re on a tight budget.

The ZTE Source measures 5.31 inches tall and 2.64 inches wide. Given that it’s 0.40 inch thick and weighs 5 ounces, the device is hefty. I immediately felt its weightiness the moment I picked it up, and it feels bulky when I put it in my front pockets.

The edges are accented with a silver chrome-like finish, and on the left is a Micro-USB port for charging and a narrow volume rocker. Up top is a 3.5mm headphone jack and on the right edge is a sleep/power button.

ZTE Source (camera)

The Source features a 5-megapixel camera and a matte, soft-touch battery door.

James Martin/CNET)

The back houses a 5-megapixel camera with flash, and on the bottom left corner are two small slits for the audio speaker. Coated with a matte soft-touch material, the battery door surprisingly traps a lot of fingerprints and oils, but you can easily wipe them off. Using a small indentation on the bottom left corner, you can pry the battery door off to access the microSD card slot (which accepts cards of capacities up to 32GB), and the 2,070mAh battery.

Equipped with a 4.5-inch display, the handset has a 480×854-pixel resolution and 218ppi. This isn’t the sharpest resolution, and indeed, you can see a subtle “crunchiness” when it comes to default wallpaper photos and high quality YouTube videos. The graininess isn’t overly distracting, however, and the screen is still sensitive and responsive to the touch. I had no problem typing (either by pressing on the individual keys or by Swyping), and tapping on apps with my fingertips was a breeze.

Above the display is a 1-megapixel camera and below are three hot keys (for back, home, and menu). You can long-press the center home button to access recent apps.

Software features
The phone features many of Cricket Wireless’ own apps, which include its own navigator; a My Account app to manage your phone payments; and MyBackup, which lets you store your contact information in a cloud. There’s also a White Page-esque app called Cricket 411, where you can access information for the nearest pizza joint or grocery store; and a Cricket storefront that lets you purchase graphics and applications.

Finally, there’s Muve Music. Muve is a subscription service tied to your service plan, and it lets you download and play (offline, even!) thousands of songs and albums. It’s preloaded onto the Source, and after finally receiving a desperately needed face-lift, the service is more manageable and easier to use than ever. Features include Muve Mixes (formerly known as My DJ), which lets you access premade playlists organized by musical genres. There’s also a New Releases section and Shazam, the popular music-searching app. The app can be accessed as a home-screen widget, wherein you can launch the Shazam tool directly, and pause and skip music tracks.

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

ZTE Source (Muve Music)

The Muve Music widget (left) along with other Cricket apps, and the Muve app itself.

Lynn La/CNET)

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, a voice dialer, and a world clock.

Camera and video
Casual shutterbugs shouldn’t mind the handset’s photo quality too much, if all you’re looking for is to take some informal shots here and there. However, don’t expect to take impressive photos. For one thing, colors tended to look muted, and ran on the cold, bluish side. The camera also struggled to focus at times; even when I held it extremely still, nonmoving objects still managed to appear blurry with ill-defined edges. It also didn’t take much to take pictures riddled with digital noise. Even a well-lit indoor setting can produce the issue quite easily. For more on the camera’s picture quality, check out the images below. And feel free to click on them to view them at full resolution.

Both the 5-megapixel and front-facing camera has autofocus, a 4x digital zoom, five white balance options, five ISO levels (from 100 to 1600), geotagging, compositional grid lines, and three photo qualities. However, the rear camera can shoot in five photo sizes (from 640×480 to 2,592×1,944 pixels), while the 1-megapixel camera can only shoot in two (from 640×480 to 1,280×720 pixels).

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