ZTE Blade V review: Murdered by Django

Reviews Paul Briden 12:35, 26 Sep 2013

Want a smartphone on a budget? ZTE's Blade V costs less than £100, but is it any good?

Rating: 
3.5
Typical Price: 
£89.00
Pros: 
Affordable, Fast performance, Decent display
Cons: 
Clunky design, Garish UI, Low storage space, Poor camera
Verdict: 
A reasonably powerful and capable phone for only £89 offering an enjoyable Android experience on a budget.

Historically, if you wanted smartphone functionality but didn’t want to spend over £100 you’d be pretty much stumped. ZTE has been making Blade series phones for a while now and they’ve consistently been priced under £100 but, like other devices in their class, they’ve offered somewhat temperamental performance and some serious compromises in other areas which have significantly hampered the overall experience.

The company is now attempting to reinvent the brand, and that’s where the ZTE Blade V comes in. Does it achieve the goal of offering a good Android smartphone experience at this low-end price point? Let’s find out.

ZTE Blade V review: Design

The Blade V looks a lot like its predecessors with a similarly generic shape and rounded off corners. It’s quite thick at 10.9mm but is relatively lightweight and sits comfortably in the hand. The build is very plasticky and slippery, while there’s some audible creaking if you give the phone a squeeze.

Gorgeous it ‘ain’t, but then it’s only £89 –– so expecting anything particularly fancy is probably asking a bit too much.

The back panel and battery are removable, revealing a full-size SIM slot and microSD slot, while the microUSB charging port is on the left-hand side in the middle, just below the volume rocker. It’s rather awkwardly implemented as it causes an unsightly bump in the bodywork. The power button sits on top on the right-hand side and there’s a 3.5mm audio jack on the left. The controls are quite conveniently positioned for use with either hand.

There’s not much more to really say about the phone’s build, it’s ultimately a straightforward and utilitarian design borne out of the need to keep things affordable and there’s really nothing wrong with that.

ZTE Blade V review: Display

The touch display is incredibly bright and colourful for a budget model and while the sharpness isn’t the best it is well above average for this price point, putting many more expensive devices to shame.

It’s a 4-inch IPS LCD display with 16 million colours and an 800x480 pixel resolution at 233 pixels-per-inch, offering a reasonably clear picture.

I found multimedia consumption to be relatively rewarding rather than an absolute chore. Sure, it pales in comparison to higher end devices but considering that £80-£90 handsets would normally deliver nothing short of a soupy, blurry and dull mess I consider this a major win for the ZTE Blade V.

ZTE Blade V review: Hardware, connectivity and web

The ZTE Blade V has a mere 4GB of storage, which is perhaps to be expected at this price, however, the problem is there’s a reasonable amount of bloatware apps onboard as well as UI tweaks.

This makes installing more substantial apps a problem as there simply isn’t room – you’re ok for your standard set of social networking apps, but flashy 3D games are likely out of the question purely from a storage perspective. Real Racing 3, for example, takes up 1.4GB and would not install onto the device. This is frustrating as I had a feeling the ZTE Blade V’s quad-core processor would’ve coped reasonably well with more graphically demanding titles.

As expected for a low-cost phone, you won't find any of that fancy 4G stuff here, but it does have full 3G, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capability.

Web browsing is not the fastest on the block. Vellamo HTML tests chalked up 1323 in Chrome - slower than the Sony Xperia S, while Sunspider gave a sluggish 1979 milliseconds. In actual use it's not too bad and will get the job done, but there are much faster phones for browsing around.

ZTE Blade V review: Processor, software and performance

This is the ZTE Blade V’s crown jewel. It’s powered by a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 MSM8255Q clocked at 1.2GHz with 1GB of RAM and an Adreno 203 graphics processing unit (GPU). Day-to-day performance is excellent as the phone neatly and smoothly snaps between homescreens, menus and apps with no issues whatsoever. Video playback is also smooth and the handset can easily handle multitasking at the same time, impressive stuff. I still felt I didn’t get the chance to push the ZTE Blade V to its limits, however, because as I mentioned earlier it didn’t have the storage space to allow for more graphically demanding games – in that sense one could argue it’s almost a bit overpowered, not that this is a bad thing.

Onto the benchmarks. In AnTuTu the ZTE Blade V scored 11475 making it a little faster than the Samsung Galaxy S2 but slower than the HTC One X and Google Nexus 4. Oddly enough, Quadrant pegged the handset as faster than the HTC One X with a score of 4686. Vellamo clocked the handset with a score of 408, faster than the Galaxy S2 and Sony Xperia S but again slower than the HTC One X as well as Motorola’s Razr i and both the Samsung Galaxy S3 and original Galaxy Note.

Clearly the software is well optimised to the processor here, but it’s fair to say that Android 4.1 Jelly Bean has been extensively tweaked in other ways and you’re not getting the stock Android experience.

The custom UI icons are a bit clunky and garish, while the lock screen is a bit of an oddity, but the majority of menu and settings screens remain relatively faithful to Google’s design, even if they’ve been re-jigged slightly. Overall, the UI is a lot like the phone itself – quite usable, but not the best looking on offer. A third-party launcher would be of great benefit here.

ZTE Blade V review: Camera

At a budget price point you can’t have everything, and the sacrificial lamb in this case appears to have been the ZTE Blade V’s camera. It’s a 5-megapixel setup with an LED flash.

Sharpness, detail and colour saturation appear to be fairly reasonable at a quick glance but the resulting snaps are consistently ruined by terrible exposure and dynamic range, plus there’s also plenty of noise.

The effect is that all the photos look as if the viewer is about to pass out or have some outer body experience, with a fuzzy glowing sheen over everything.

ZTE Blade V review: Battery

The ZTE Blade V’s battery is a removable unit rated at 1,800mAh. I found that in a typical day of light-to-moderate usage – occasionally checking Facebook, using Google Hangout chat and browsing the odd webpage, the phone would easily last the entire day on a single charge. However, expect intensive use to put a severe dent in that kind of lifespan. Starting at 100 per cent charge I played Django Unchained with Wi-Fi on and full display brightness – the film is 2 hours 45 minutes long and the ZTE Blade V dropped out just before reaching the end.

For normal phone usage this handset should perform quite well day-to-day, but if you add gaming and films in to the mix you’re looking at least a daily charge and in fact probably more frequently than that. What is noteworthy though is that charge speed seems to be pretty nippy – after running the phone down to zero I put it on charge and within about half an hour it was already at 37 per cent. Add to this the ability to carry a spare and you’re looking at something which should stand up well provided you’re not looking for a workhorse of a multimedia device.

ZTE Blade V review: Conclusion

ZTE has pretty much set a new standard for sub-£100 Android devices with the ZTE Blade V. Performance is tremendously impressive and the screen is well above what I’d expect for the price. Make no mistake, it’s no HTC One with its clunky plastic body, small amount of storage and squiffy camera, but in terms of offering an extremely usable entry-level Android experience it’s virtually without equal at this stage in the game. It’s not going to move mountains, but it is the sort of phone I’d recommend to someone who wants a smartphone, wants the experience to be decent and doesn’t want it to cost the earth. No frills, no fuss. 

Specifications

Length 126mm
Width 64mm
Thickness 10.9mm
Weight 130g
Screen Colours 16 million
Screen Size 4-inches
UK Launch Q4 2013
Phone Style Touchscreen
Typical Price £89
Designer Lens No
Camera Resolution 5-megapixel, 2592х1944 pixels
Flash LED
Music Formats MP3/WAV/eAAC+
Music Player Yes
Song Storage Yes
Speaker Yes
Radio Yes

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