If you're trying to entice today's youth to a phone, unlimited music is a surefire way to do it. And that's exactly what ZTE and Cricket have done with one of their devices, the ZTE Score. Their main pitch is that the device is integrated with Muve Music--a music service that gives access to an endless number of artists, albums, and songs.
The Score isn't the first device to come with this feature; that title would go to the Samsung Suede. When we reviewed that phone last year, Jessica Dolcourt wrote that Muve Music still had room for improvement and needed to "iron out the kinks."
It's been nearly a year now, and the same holds true. Muve Music's interface is still clumsy and confusing to navigate. Putting that aside, the ZTE Score has some other problems. Yes, it makes decent phone calls, you don't have to sign a contract, and it's inexpensive--it costs $69.99 at Best Buy, where it's being exclusively sold--but I just couldn't get past the glacial processor and the not-so-sensitive touch screen.
The ZTE Score measures 4.4 inches tall and 2.5 inches wide. At half an inch thick, it has a very sturdy build, but is a little bulky when dropped into a slim jean pocket. This doesn't mean it's too heavy, in fact it only weighs 4.5 ounces, but its thickness is apparent.
There's a nice black matte coating that goes around the edges of the phone, and the back has a glossy plastic backing that gives the device a higher-quality feel that I personally liked. Both the screen and this backing are a magnet for fingerprints though.
On the left side of the phone, you can charge the device using the Micro-USB port that's protected by a little attached door. On top are the sleep/power button and a 3.5mm headphone jack. On the right, there's a volume rocker and below it is a small door for your microSD card. The included SD card is 4GB big, and three of those gigabytes are dedicated specifically to storing your Muve Music. To get it out, you have to press it so it pops up. This might be difficult for anyone who has short nails or large fingers, but it's not impossible.
Below that slot, there's a dedicated camera button. Hold this down for a few seconds and the camera application will open. Unfortunately, this only works if the display is on and your phone is unlocked. This defeats the purpose of having a quick-access button since you still have to click the power button and swipe, but it does shave off the few seconds you'd take to press the camera app on the screen.
On the back of the phone, inside a decorative silver circle that serves no purpose, is the camera lens. At the bottom, there's a small slit for the speaker. You can pop off the backing easily by pressing your nail in a little indent on the device's left side, and you'll find a lithium ion battery inside.
The Score's 3.5-inch HVGA touch screen displays only 262,000 colors. Below the screen are the four usual back, menu, home, and search buttons that dimly light up whenever you touch them. My biggest problem with the display was that it was quite unresponsive to my finger. I had to push down on the screen often in order for it to register my movements, which became annoying after a while.
Aside from the heavily pixelated graphics that I saw when playing games and videos (even the simple outlines of circles in the Settings app were fuzzy), I also thought the screen appeared streaky. Whether or not it was my eyes that were the problem, scrolling through my apps became a bit nauseating because of all the fuzzy lines that appeared across the icons.
The ZTE Score runs on Cricket's 3G network and is powered by a 600MHz processor. Both factors don't make it the fastest phone on Earth, but for some of your basic features like making calls, calculating tip, and text messaging, it'll do the trick. Speaking of text, the phone does not come preloaded with the Swype typing feature. Instead, it uses XT9 text input.
Because it is an Android 2.3 Gingerbread phone, you'll find a lot of standard Google apps such as Google Books, Gmail, Google Maps with Navigation, Search, Google Talk, and YouTube. There are also some Cricket-specific apps, like its Mobile Web browser app, a My Account app for managing your phone payments, and a Yellow Page-esque app called Cricket 411, which you can use to find contact information for the nearest pizza joint, grocery store, or gas station.
Other preloaded apps include two games that you can't uninstall: Uno and a horribly ugly demo game called Bubble Bash 2 that looks like it was designed around the time Netscape Navigator launched. Photobucket and Poynt (another app that searches small businesses and restaurants not unlike Cricket 411 and Yelp) are also included.
General task-management apps such as a calendar and e-mail, news, and weather apps are installed on the device as well. Another neat app, Documents To Go, lets you view Microsoft Word, Excel, and PDF files and even Google Docs on your phone.
Again, the Score's biggest selling point is the Muve Music service. Developed by Cricket, Muve Music lets you download an unlimited amount of music onto your device. The app comes with a feature called My DJ that gives you access to premade playlists organized by musical genres, and Shazam, the popular music-searching app. There's also the obligatory social networking feature, called Get Social, where you can set up your user profile, search for friends, and keep track of your "Shout Outs," where you post songs you're listening to for public viewing. For a more in-depth rundown of Muve Music, be sure to read CNET's review.
Integrating a phone with a music service is a neat idea, but during my time with the feature, I felt as if Muve Music was in some sort of beta stage. Getting music only works when you're connected to Cricket's 3G network, which was spotty in San Francisco. The good thing, though, is that when you're not connected to 3G or even on a Wi-Fi network, you can still listen to the music you already loaded.
Another drawback is that you can't access the music you have on any other device, so it's pretty much stuck on your phone. And once you stop paying your phone bill, access to your songs will also stop. With all this in mind, it's best to think of Muve more as a music rental service than anything else.
This passing sense of ownership over these songs wasn't my main issue with this, however. Instead, it was the horrible user interface. Menu items were confusing and the constant clicking I had to go through (again, on an unresponsive screen) just to download and then play one song was cumbersome. Also, it was unclear at first when a song or album finished downloading, as there is no progress bar. I only started realizing when something was ready for playing when the song title's text appeared in white instead of gray. Talk about subtle.