Look and feel
Attractive, with no frills; feels reassuringly solid.
Ease of Use
Stock Android with few ZTE flourishes save the useful lock screen.
As befits a low-cost phone, there aren’t many, but the build quality definitely deserves another mention.
Performance is patchy. The screen isn’t great, nor is the camera, while the processor really struggles with some relatively simple tasks.
For a £70 phone, you can’t expect too much, but four hours and 40 minutes of media streaming is about average.
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,4/2/2013 3:17:06 PM
Ease of use
Easy set-up; solid build; good internal search; excellent price
Poor processor; no front-facing camera; rear camera not great
While the £69.99 price tag looks like it belongs to an entry-level smartphone, the ZTE Blade III’s specs are closer to that of a mid-ranger.
The reality is, when all things are considered, its somewhere in between. The performance isn’t what we’d expect from a mid-range phone with a mid-range price, but it’s far better than the rock-bottom price would suggest.
The first thing that grabbed our attention is the design. With a shiny black bezel, slightly rubberised rear and chrome band across the top and sides, it looks more expensive than it is. Sure, look a bit closer, and you’ll see that the chrome band is plastic but it succeeds in giving the phone a more premium look. The sense of quality extends to how it feels, too. In the hand, the nicely curved Blade III feels solid and trustworthy. It measures 120.5 x 63.5 x 10.85mm, weighs 130g and is well-balanced.
It’s a pleasant change to use a phone that can be operated entirely using one hand, and the Blade III’s power button can easily be reached by the firefinger. However, the cracks begin to show when you turn the phone on.
ZTE promises that the new Blade offers a better multimedia and gaming experience than its predecessors, however it doesn’t quite hit the mark. The simplest games run just fine, but try to move beyond Doodle Jump, and the phone finds itself in trouble. Games like Vector are unable to run at full speed and the phone will not even entertain more graphically-intensive games, crashing immediately.
This is where we see the Blade’s biggest failing – its struggling processor, 1GHz single-core backed up by 512MB of RAM. This problem manifests itself elsewhere, too; the UI is sometimes slow to react, for example, hitting one of the dedicated soft keys below the screen takes a touch longer than we’d like, and there is a noticeable wait when opening apps and using the web.
The five-megapixel camera is a let-down, too. Shutter lag is a problem, as is a ropey autofocus, and images do not end up as crisp as they should be.
But then thoughts turn to price, and it’s hard to be too critical when the thing in our hands costs just £69.99 (providing you spend another £10 on credit). Seventy quid for a robust, four-inch, 1GHz, Android 4.0 device with a decent battery. It’s really not bad, is it?
Running on Ice Cream Sandwich, Android 4.0 has generally been left alone, although ZTE has added its own lock screen options, which are quite neat. Swipe the screen and you are presented with a petal-like menu, whereby you can jump to one of six default functions, including the camera and messaging. This menu is also customisable, so you can swap all six out for apps and games you want immediate access too.
Hold down instead of swiping, and the phone buzzes while a cool, green electric ring zips around your finger. It’s a nice touch that makes the phone feel all futuristic.
The 1600mAh battery won’t last a terribly long time if you hammer apps and games (we got a below-par four hours and 40 minutes of video streaming at full brightness), but comfortably lasts a day of average use at automatic brightness.
The four-inch, 800x480 falls between the budget and mid-range stools, offering strong colours in most cases and decent viewing angles, but struggling with deep blacks and in sunlight.
ZTE claims it's in talks with other mobile carriers about ranging the Blade 3, but for now only Virgin Mobile have the handset in store.
Above average looks and build, with below average performance, you nonetheless get far more than you are paying for with the ZTE Blade III. At just £69.99 it could set fire to our bins and we’d still recommend it.
This will make an ideal back-up phone for those who need something cheap and reliable in case their main device dies, and is also a great choice for undemanding users and smartphone first-timers.