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ZTE Warp Sequent : Good performer, but not a great value

The good: The ZTE Warp Sequent has a sturdy construction, delivers a nearly skinless Android 4.0 experience, and has a decent 5-megapixel camera.

The bad: Boost’s Warp Sequent runs only on 3G, and its camera’s shutter speed is slow.

The bottom line: The Warp Sequent’s impressive performance and decent midrange specs is a step up for ZTE, but its sluggish 3G speeds and price don’t merit a buy.

You have to hand it to ZTE. In its seemingly infinite supply of mediocre handsets and mounting security concerns, the Chinese phone manufacturer raised the bar just a bit. Disregarding the ZTE Warp Sequent’s oddball name (I know it’s the successor to the Warp, but what’s this name supposed to evoke anyway — two warps whirling one after another?), it has more higher-end specs than what we’ve seen in past ZTE handsets, and its performance isn’t plagued with buggy software or glacial internal speeds. To put it frankly, this is one ZTE handset that isn’t a total disappointment.

Yet there are still a couple of things that hold it back. It operates only on Boost’s 3G network, and even though you don’t have to sign a contract for this $199.99 phone, there are more powerful Boost handsets available for just a few bucks more.

Design
The ZTE Warp Sequent has a more premium feel than any ZTE device I’ve handled, and it reminds me somewhat of the last two Nexus’ (which is a huge improvement, as far as ZTE goes). The general shape is the same; it has a slab construction, rounded corners, and top and bottom edges that curve slightly outward. But this handset’s smaller, measuring 5 inches tall, 2.56 inches wide, and 0.39 inches thick. Weighing in at 4.6 ounces, it’s not heavy, but it feels solid and dense. Though it’s a snug fit in small jean pockets, it’s comfortable to hold in my hands, or when pinned between my face and shoulder.

On the left are a Micro-USB port and a volume rocker, while up top are a 3.5mm headphone jack and sleep/power button.

ZTE Warp Sequent (back)The ZTE Warp Sequent has a lined back plate and a 5-megapixel camera.

On the back’s top left corner is a 5-megapixel camera with an LED flash, and on the bottom are two small slits (though only the left opens to the audio speaker). The thin plastic back plate features a striped, rectangular indentation in the middle, which slightly helps with grip. I like that it’s also coated with a soft-touch material since it keeps fingerprints at bay. You can pry the plate off to access the microSD card slot and 1,650mAh lithium ion battery.

Above the display are an LED notification light, a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera, and an in-ear speaker. Below it are three hotkeys for back, home, and menu.

The 4.3-inch qHD touchscreen is, again, one of the better ones I’ve seen on a ZTE phone. For one thing, it’s sensitive to the touch and doesn’t require multiple taps or swipes as others do. Browsing through the app drawer, messaging with Swype (which it comes with), and switching home screen pages went smoothly.

Texts and app icons were crisp, default wallpapers were bright and clear, and it has a decently wide viewing angle in sunlight. Some images and many HQ YouTube videos did have some noticeable pixelation, especially with color gradients, but for the most part, the screen display shows marked advancement for ZTE.

Software features and OS
The ZTE Warp Sequent ships natively with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Aside from a handful of extra apps (we’ll get to those later), the device offers a pretty pure ICS experience that I really like. Anyone who wants a vanilla Android OS will definitely appreciate the handset’s lack of bloatware or overlaid UI, even though it’s not as bare-bones as a Nexus.

It comes with the usual slew of Google apps including Chrome, Gmail, Plus, Latitude, Local, Maps with Navigation, Messenger, access to Play Books, Movies, Music, and Store, Search, Talk, and YouTube.

Basic task management apps are loaded as well, such as a clock with alarm functions, a native browser, e-mail, music and video players, a calendar, a battery and energy manager called Mi-Power, a news and weather app, a notepad, a timer, a voice dialer, a world clock, and a free trial to visual voicemail.

ZTE Warp Sequent (lock screen)The Warp Sequent doesn’t run a totally pure Android 4.0 experience, but it comes close.

Boost included two of its own apps. One is Boost Zone, a help portal that also lets you check your phone balance and fees.

The other is Mobile ID, which allows you to customize your phone with preselected apps, widgets, and other items depending on which ID profile you choose. For example, if you select the E! package, you’ll get E! apps and widgets pertaining to the celebrity news channel. You can also choose a Business Pro package, which includes tools to aid with business travel plans, financial investments, and backing up data.

Note that deleting a Mobile ID package won’t uninstall the apps that you downloaded — you’ll have to remove those apps manually. So far, there are 26 available packs. Unlike most Boost devices, Mobile ID isn’t so integral to the UI, and you can remove the Mobile ID app from the home screen’s dashboard if you so choose.

Camera and video
The 5-megapixel camera features a flash, touch focus, 4x digital zoom, a brightness meter, panoramic shooting, geo-tagging, and an exposure meter that ranges from -2 to +2. Other options are five white balances, five picture sizes ranging from 1- to 5-megapixels, a timer, three shutter tones, composition lines, three photo qualities, four color effects, five ISOs, and five levels of sharpness.

The 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera retains a handful of the same features. However, there’s no flash (obviously), panoramic shooting, sharpness meter, white balances, exposure meter, touch focus, and timer.

There are only a few video options with the rear-facing camera. These include a flash, 4X digital zoom, geo-tagging, five white balances, and six recording qualities that range from QVGA to 720p. You can also take photos while recording by tapping on the screen. The front-facing camera has two fewer options, since it doesn’t have a white balance module and a flash. Surprisingly, all six recording qualities are retained.

For a 5-megapixel camera, the photo quality was impressive. In ample outdoor lighting, objects were in focus and well defined, and colors were true to life. This is especially true with whites, which were captured accurately. Indoor photos, though noticeably more grainy, looked relatively sharp as well. However, colors came off more muted and there was a lot more digital noise.

ZTE Warp Sequent (indoor)In this brightly lit indoor shot, colors are muted, but objects are in focus.

ZTE Warp Sequent (outdoor)Flowers in this outdoor shot are bright, true-to-life, and well defined.

ZTE Warp Sequent (SSI)Though objects aren’t the sharpest in our standard studio shot, the white balance is accurate.

Video quality was also perfectly adequate. Audio picked up well, there was little pixelation or rendering, and color contrast was accurate. One thing I did notice, however, was that the camera can be slow at times. I noticed a lot of lag when I tried to rapidly click the shutter, and focusing took some time with both pictures and video recording.

Performance
I tested the dual-band (800/1900) ZTE Warp Sequent on Boost Mobile’s network in our San Francisco office. Call quality was good and volume was at a reasonable level. I had no dropped calls, audio didn’t cut in and out, and I didn’t hear any extraneous buzzing or static. Outdoor signal quality was also solid, and I heard my friends’ voices clear and strong. On the other hand, a few of my friends told me that my voice sounded muffled or stuffy, or that I sounded like I had a slight cold. For the most part, however, I was told I could be heard just fine.

Listen now: ZTE Warp Sequent call quality sample

 

Using Boost Mobile’s 3G network, data speeds were slow, though they were on par, if not slightly faster than the LG Venice. On average, the device loaded GNz’s mobile site in 28 seconds and our desktop site in 51 seconds. The New York Times mobile site took about 22 seconds, while its desktop version took 35. ESPN’s mobile site took 15 seconds, and its full site loaded in 36 seconds. Ookla’s Speedtest app showed me an average of 0.41Mbps down and 0.69Mbps up. It also took about 10 minutes and 37 seconds to download the 23.32MB game Temple Run.

Performance: ZTE Warp Sequent
Average 3G download speed 0.41Mpbs
Average 3G upload speed 0.69Mbps
App download (Temple Run) 22MB in 10 minutes and 37 seconds
CNET mobile site load 28 seconds
CNET desktop site load 51 seconds
Power off and restart time 46 seconds
Camera boot time 2.34 seconds

The handset is powered by a 1.4GHz processor, and during our internal speed tests, it performed a couple of seconds faster than did the Venice. Simple tasks such as opening the camera app (which on average took about 2.34 seconds), transitioning back to the five home screen pages, and scrolling through the app drawer were executed smoothly. On average, it took about 46 seconds to reboot the phone.

Simple games such as Temple Run performed adequately, but when I played Riptide GP, a game that requires even more tilting, it wasn’t so great. While it didn’t stutter or freeze, the frame-rate wasn’t very high. Also, the device doesn’t have a gyroscope (just an accelerometer) and the reaction-time between my moving the Sequent and the response of the video game was off, resulting in my poor little jet skier being thrown from wall to wall.

The device has a reported talk time of 8 hours. Though I didn’t finish our battery drain test, anecdotally, it had decent battery life. When I finished a 45-minute phone conversation, the battery reserves drained about 13 percent. According to FCC radiation standards, the device has a digital SAR rating of 0.764W/kg.

Conclusion
Let’s make this clear: the handset has a lot of high points. The Warp Sequent is a promising, reliable device. It’s a notable step up for ZTE that I hope will only continue and progress with phones similar to this.

Unfortunately, ZTE doesn’t compete in a vacuum, and there are plenty of handsets available that offer slightly higher specs for a decent amount of money. If you don’t mind forking over $50 more, you can get 4G speeds with the HTC Evo Design 4G. The LG Venice has a sleeker build, a better screen, and costs only $20 extra. And if that wasn’t convincing enough, theKyocera Hydro is only $80, runs on Android 4.0 too, and is waterproof. Water. Proof. In general, unless you can get the Sequent for $99 or less, consider another handset.

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