While its bulky build, ordinary design, and 3.5-inch display won't impress any of your friends, this handset has all the basics covered: it supports 3G data, has a 5-megapixel camera, and runs on Android 2.3 Gingerbread.
As a Straight Talk device, the Merit comes commitment-free and costs $129.99. Though some might be put off by its low specs, the Merit is reliable and operates smoothly. It's a no-muss, no-fuss device that should do well for anyone who wants something simple but solidly built.
Editors' note: CNET has not yet reviewed Straight Talk's ZTE Merit. The following is a review of the AT&T Avail, which ZTE confirmed to be the same device. Please keep in mind that the two phones may differ by carrier in terms of features and performance.
I was initially struck by how bulky the Merit felt in my hand. It's not the sleekest thing around, measuring 4.57 inches tall, 2.46 inches wide, and a half an inch thick and weighing 4.48 ounces. Though it can fit in front or back jeans pockets, it is a snug fit.
Size does have its benefits, however: the Merit is sturdy. I dropped it a couple of times on soft carpet and threw it around in my bag and it held up with no noticeable scratches or dents. The handset's made out of a coated matte plastic that I like. This material keeps fingerprints off, and gives the whole product a slightly more luxurious feel than smooth, glossy plastic.
On the left side is a Micro-USB port and up top are a 3.5mm headphone jack and a sleep/power button. To the right are a volume rocker and a small slit for the output speaker.
At the back left corner is a 5-megapixel camera. Using your fingernail and a small indentation on the bottom right corner, you can pry off the back plate. Inside are a 1,500mAh battery, a GoPhone SIM card slot, and a microSD slot that is expandable up to 32GB.
Above the 3.5-inch TFT display is an in-ear speaker and below it are three physical buttons for menu, home, and back. The screen has a 320x480-pixel resolution and is responsive; it was sensitive to my touch when I swiped through the app drawer, unlocked the screen, and texted using XT9, which the phone is equipped with.
Unfortunately, the resolution wasn't so stellar. Menu icons had aliasing around the edges, text didn't look smooth, and default wallpaper images were grainy. Colors looked bright, however, and YouTube videos in HQ were passable.
The ZTE Merit is powered by a 600MHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, which can execute basic tasks -- like transitioning back to the six home screen pages, or switching from landscape to portrait mode -- without any hiccups. More complicated actions, like playing games and operating the camera, also ran smoothly, but the device did take a few seconds to open this type of larger app.
The handset runs on Android 2.3 Gingerbread and is stocked with some of your standard Google apps. These include: Google Books, Gmail, Search, Latitude, Maps with Navigation, Places, Talk, Play Store, and YouTube. There are also four AT&T-branded apps, too. One is a bar code scanner, another is AT&T's native map app, the third is AT&T Social Net (which consolidates all your social networking updates into one feed), and finally there is A&T's Mobile Care app.
Additional features include an app to check your data intake; Docs to Go, which lets you view and access Microsoft Office files; Facebook; a native music player and music store; two games (NFS Shift and Uno); a video player; a live TV portal; Twitter; and the Yellow Pages app. There are also several basic task-managing apps like an alarm clock, Bluetooth, a Web browser, a calculator, a calendar, an e-mail client, a new and weather app, a sound recorder, a stopwatch, and voice search.
The camera features a few photo options. In addition to a 2.5x digital zoom, an autofocus, and geotagging capabilities, it has an exposure meter (ranging from +2 to -2); four picture sizes (from 1 to 5 megapixels); three picture qualities (super fine, fine, and normal); four color effects (none, mono, sepia, and negative); five ISO options (auto, and then a range from 100 to 800 ISO); five white balances (auto, incandescent, daylight, fluorescent, and cloudy); an antibanding feature; and five different levels of saturation, contrast, and sharpness.