Decent budget performance;
Solid build quality;
Compact, bog-standard screen
ZTE is one to watch when it comes to affordable Android smartphones. The ZTE Blade III really impressed us with its £70 price tag, excellent value for money considering its solid build and ease of use, and our only issues were the clunky processor and iffy camera. The ZTE Blade V looks to address the performance issue with a quad-core processor, and it even squeezes in a front-facing lens for video calls, but is this the sub-£100 Android phone we’ve been waiting for?
Solid as a rock
The ZTE Blade V is pretty much identical to older models in size and weight, and once again it’s a solid, chunky bit of kit that should happily soak up some punishment. We’d have no qualms throwing it into a backpack or handbag with a bunch of keys. The plastic frame enjoys a brushed metal decoration on the rear, and for well under £100 it’s a decent looking mobile. You can quickly and cleanly prise off the rear plate to reveal the removable battery, SIM Card slot and microSD memory card slot.
The four-inch display seems almost dinky compared to the slew of phablets we’ve had in lately, although it’s a good enough size for everyday use. Web browsing can be a little cumbersome when flicking through full desktop sites, although the resolution is sharp enough that text can be read when zoomed out, providing your eyesight’s up to it. Tapping links can sometimes prove problematic when they’re short and close together, and we also struggled to type on the tiny virtual keyboard unless we really took our time – something that is helped by turning the phone horizontally, to give each key a little more space.
This being a budget phone, the screen isn’t as sharp as more premium models although is still fine for enjoying YouTube clips. Viewing angles are narrow before the picture starts to fade and contrast levels are a little low, but we’re happy with the result given the asking price. It’s also bright enough to cancel out the harsh glare of our office lighting.
Android 4.1 Jelly Bean may be getting on a bit now, but it’s still a zippy and responsive OS that is satisfying to use. The ZTE Blade V supports up to seven desktops which you can fill with apps and widgets, and the notification bar has the usual fast-access buttons for toggling Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth and more.
Android runs like a dream thanks to the quad-core 1.2GHz processor, backed up by 1GB of RAM. It’s enough power to run most modern apps and games, although the most recent intensive titles such as Fifa 14 run a little sluggishly. You only get 4GB of built-in storage, not much space to carry apps and media around, but the memory card slot means you can easily expand.
If you don’t hammer the Blade V with apps all day, you’ll manage a full day of battery life without trouble. Stream video and you can expect an average five hours of playback from each charge.
Sadly the five-megapixel camera once again betrays this ZTE’s budget roots, proving just about good enough to capture bog-standard shots. One positive feature is the auto-focus, a neat addition at this price point. It helps to keep your subject sharp, but you need to be patient as it takes a few seconds to properly lock onto your target. You can also tap the screen to manually focus. Photos take with only a slight pause, and you can either prod the virtual shutter button or push down either of the volume controls to shoot.
So far so good, but on auto mode our photos were hit and miss, with many of them suffering from a soft, misty sheen. Bright objects often had an aura around them, and low light situations almost always came out with a grainy finish. You can thankfully manually tweak the main settings if you’re not happy with the results, providing you have the patience, and there’s a flash for evening shots.
You get plenty of extra features and settings to play with, from red eye removal to various obligatory filters, and ZTE has even thrown in a panorama mode for capturing attractive vistas, although again the end result is rather grainy. You can shoot basic home movies too, and then share the lot with just a couple of pokes via social media, email etc. Lastly, we’re glad to see a basic front-facing camera on the Blade V, so you can Skype your buddies or just capture the odd low-res selfie.
When smartphones dip under the £100 mark you have to expect some compromises, and the ZTE Blade V makes do with a bog-standard five-megapixel camera and an older version of Android. Still, Android 4.1 does run well and the quad-core processor can handle most modern apps, while the screen is stronger than many budget rivals. A fine choice for smartphone virgins on a tight budget.