Hands-On: New Cricket Phones
Sep 20, 2012, 8:03 PM by Eric M. Zeman
updated Sep 23, 2012, 7:29 PM
Phone Scoop spends some time with the ZTE Engage and the Alcatel Authority, two new Android phones headed to Cricket in the coming weeks.
The ZTE Engage is set to shake things up at Cricket Wireless. For a smartphone sold by Cricket, it packs a lot of punch. It's a slab-style smartphone that surprises with a good display and solid software.
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The Engage, which will be announced more officially in early October, runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. It's a bar-style touch phone that has a wee bit of personality. Looking at the device, it has crimped corners that round out what would otherwise be a boring rectangle. It's a black device, but uses different materials for the back and side edges that give it a two-tone look.
The Engage isn't going to win any awards for being thin. It's a somewhat thick device, but is surprisingly light. The plastics aren't top notch, either, be we were warned by the Cricket staff that that the devices on hand were preproduction units. The build quality could definitely be better, but for now we'll chalk that up to the preproduction units we saw. Despite the thickness, the Engage was comfortable to hold and use, and didn't feel unbalanced.
The display measures 4 inches and crams in 800 x 480 pixels. This combination of size and pixel density works out well for the Engage, as the screen looks very nice. It's not HD, but on-screen elements looked clean and free of any gross and obvious pixels.
The controls on the outer edge of the device were no problem to use. The volume toggle on the left and lock button on the top worked as intended.
The Engage is powered by a single-core 1.4GHz processor. Android 4.0 didn't seem to cause it any trouble. The demo device has a speedy user interface, and I didn't see the device slow down for any reason. It appears to be running a mostly stock version of Ice Cream Sandwich, and I didn't notice any odd software programs with the exception of Cricket's MuveMusic.
Perhaps the Engage's most appealing feature will be the camera. It has an 8-megapixel shooter. The software controlling the camera worked well, but we were unable to sample any results. If ZTE can get this feature right, it could have a hit on its hands.
The Alcatel Authority is a bit of an odd duck. Alcatel doesn't have too many devices available in the U.S. market, and the Authority enters the midle of the smartphone space.
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The Authority is a larger phone in part thanks to its 4.3-inch display. The Authority uses gray tones -- no blacks -- and has a textured skin. The overall look of the device is somewhat plain, but not in an unattractive way. It simply looks like what it is: a mi-range smartphone for a prepaid carrier.
The Authority is a little thicker than I'd like my smartphone to be, but it is not egregiously thick, not by any means. It is tall and wide, but still managed to fit comfortably in my hand. My thumb was able to reach all the way across the screen without and trouble.
As with the ZTE Engage, the Alcatel Authority we spent time with was a pre-production unit. Understandably, the fit and finish was not as sharp as I'd like it to be. On the plus side, the materials felt much nicer than those used by ZTE for the Engage. I liked the textured battery cover, as it gave the Authority some much-needed grip in the hand.
The 4.3-inch screen has 800 x 480 pixels. It was not as nice a display as the Engage's. Using the same pixel count in a larger space means lower pixel density, and it was obvious when the two devices were held side-by-side. Again, the Authority's display matched its status as a mid-range device.
The button placement was good, but the volume toggle and lock buttons both had minimal travel and feedback. We hope this will be corrected once production units become available.
The Authority runs Android 2.3.6 Gingerbread, and the 1.4GHz processor had no problem providing enough oomph to keep the user interface speedy. Screen transitions were smooth, apps opened quickly, and I didn't see anything bog down the performance of the Authority while playing with it.
The Authority has a 5.0-megapixel camera and flash, and can of course record video. The key selling point for this device will likely be the selling price. Cricket Wireless will announce pricing for the Authority by mid-October.
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