ZTE Blade 3
7th Mar 2013 | 17:24
Mid-range features at an entry level price
The ZTE Blade 3 is the latest smartphone from the Chinese firm intent on bringing customers great value for money at the bottom of the mobile market.
While ZTE and it's Chinese compatriot Huawei both say they're targeting the full smartphone spectrum with recent high-end handsets such as the Grand S and Ascend D2, the reality is that they are still primarily considered budget handset manufacturers.
The budget ethos rings true with the ZTE Blade 3 as it will only set you back £69.99, plus a £10 top up from Virgin Mobile.
One of the reasons ZTE is able to keep its costs down is the fact that the Blade 3 is designed and manufactured in China, with the cheap labour and parts reflected in the final price.
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.
Although the price tag suggests that the Blade 3 is an entry level device it actually sits in the middle of ZTE's smartphone line up, with the high-end Grand series above and the super-budget ZTE Kis below it.
The mid-range tag becomes more apparent when you take a look at the specs with the Blade 3 sporting a 4-inch 480 x 800 display, 1GHz single-core processor, 512MB of RAM, 4GB of internal storage (although only 2.5GB is accessible) and a 1,600mAh battery.
It's not exactly a scintillating spec list, but considering the sub-£100 price tag you're getting a decent amount of bang for your buck.
This means the ZTE Blade 3 is going head to head with the slightly more expensive Huawei Ascend G330 and the likes of the HTC Desire C and Sony Xperia Miro, both of which will set you back around £100 more.
Indeed in terms of design there's little to choose between the Blade 3 and its Chinese counterpart the Ascend G330.
Measuring 120.5 x 63.5 x 10.85mm and weighing 133g the ZTE Blade 3 is a good size and weight with a well balanced finish reducing the risk of dropping the handset.
Unsurprisingly the Blade 3 has a noticeably plastic finish, although it's pretty sturdy and the slightly curved rubberised rear means it's easy to hold.
Up top there's a headphone jack and an easy to hit power/lock key, while down the left hand side is a volume rocker key with a microUSB port located on the base of the Blade 3.
Under the 4-inch display you'll find four touch buttons used to navigate around the Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich operating system.
The keys are typical Android fare; menu, home, back and search and all were pretty responsive to our various pokes and prods.
The display on the Blade 3 is responsive and Android looks crisp and clear, although on closer inspection it's obviously not HD quality.
You can easily peel off the rear cover of the Blade 3 giving you access to the microSD slot and removable 1,600mAh battery which should see you through the day thanks to the modest innards and screen.
ZTE was unable to confirm to TechRadar whether or not the Blade 3 will enjoy an upgrade to Jelly Bean from the Android Ice Cream Sandwich version it's currently running, and we don't think you should hold your breath for an update.
Luckily though the Blade 3 is running the vanilla version of ICS with ZTE opting not to stick its own overlay on the software and that's something we're grateful for.
Android feels relatively quick on the Blade 3 and considering it's only packing a single-core processor performance was pretty pleasing, although it's certainly the most fluid of experiences.
Flipping through the homescreens, of which you can have a maximum of nine, isn't too bad but the Blade 3 jerks between them instead of smoothly sliding.
The display on the Blade 3 is responsive and had no trouble picking up our various pokes and prods while Android looked crisp and clear, although you do notice the pixelation at times.
Something ZTE has added to the Ice Cream Sandwich interface is the quick settings bar in the pull down notification window, allowing you to quickly and easily toggle features such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS without having to dive into the settings menu.
Another area ZTE has tinkered with is the lockscreen. You're greeted with a large green button which invites you to hold down on it to unlock the Blade 3.
Hold down and a green lazar will encompass the button before taking your through to the homescreens.
It's a nice animation which offers up something different to the normal Android unlock process, but the Blade 3 doesn't always provide the smoothest graphics which can detract from the experience.
There's more to the lockscreen that first meets the eye too, with six shortcuts hidden away.
Swipe your finger out from the green button and the six icons will appear allowing you to jump directly into an app.
The Blade 3 also gives you the option to edit these shortcuts so you can hand pick the apps you want, making it a really helpful feature.
Unfortunately the single-core processor inside the ZTE Blade 3 becomes more apparent when it comes to opening applications, with some taking several seconds to load up.
The more demanding apps, such as Google Maps, took the longest thanks to the graphical intensity they demand, and meant we couldn't locate ourselves in a hurry.
While apps work correctly moving through them isn't the smoothest of rides, with transitions jolting instead of sliding which isn't overly satisfying for the user.
The screen was generally ok when it came to picking up our pokes and prods, but every now and then it wouldn't register our digits which was a little frustrating.
For the most part the ZTE Blade 3 is easy to navigate thanks to the relatively intuitive Android operating system, although its lack of power is apparent and really comes to the fore when you require the phone to do a more demanding task.
Contacts and calling
As you'd expect from any Android device these days the Blade 3 does a pretty good job of managing your contacts, with options to pull in friends from Google, Facebook and email accounts.
The contacts app is the stock Ice Cream Sandwich offering, providing a simple system to store all your numbers and associated details.
Although we were able to link our Facebook account to the Blade 3 the contacts app seemingly refused to pull through any of our buddies, even after numerous attempts to sync with the social network.
This meant we were unable to match up our Google contacts with their associated Facebook profiles and thus this left our contact list looking duller than dishwater thanks to the lack of profile pictures on display.
At least adding a contact was easy enough with a button in the bottom right of the screen taking you to a form where you can added a veritable feast of information on your new friend.
The phone app on the ZTE Blade 3, like contacts, is standard Android fare with a keyboard sporting blue accents and smart dialling features greeting you as you load it up.
There are tabs along the top of the screen to take your to your call history and favourite contacts.
In terms of signal the Blade 3 always managed to find some, although there were times where we'd expect a 3G connection and the handset would only be offering EDGE or worse.
Call quality was acceptable for a phone costing £70, so don't expect to be blown away with crystal clear acoustics, but at least the Blade 3 is a perfectly serviceable telecommunication device.
The ZTE Blade 3 was able to keep hold of signal well and we didn't experience any dropped calls.
All your standard messaging services are present on the ZTE Blade 3, be it email, texts or social networks.
It's more stock Android apps when it comes to text messaging and email, which provide intuitive and clutter-free methods for tapping out your various missives.
The messaging app offers up a list of your conversations complete with pictures of your chums, that is of course if the contacts app has managed to pull them through from the social networks.
Click through and you're greeted with the familiar speech bubble layout showing the entire conversation you've had with your aforementioned buddy.
It's not the prettiest of layouts, but it's a functional one, plus you have the option to attach files such as audio clips and photos if you fancy sending a multimedia message.
In true Android fashion the Blade 3 not only comes with the Email app pre-installed, but also the Gmail app, which unsurprisingly only deals with your Google address.
If you prefer a universal inbox you can add your Gmail account to the standard Email app along with a host of others.
Both apps provide you with all the email functions you'd expect, from creating new messages to reading, deleting and filing messages in a simple and efficient manner.
Social networking is a pretty big deal these days and considering the low price of the ZTE Blade 3 it's safe to assume it will be falling in the laps of many pre-pubescent teens.
Luckily ZTE has pre-loaded the official Twitter and Facebook applications onto the Blade 3, meaning your little angels can begin ignoring you straight out of the box, without having to visit Google Play first.
Just to mix things up a little the default keyboard on the Blade 3 isn't the Android offering, instead ZTE has installed the TouchPal version.
We'll be honest the TouchPal keyboard is far from our favourite input method on Android, with a confusing number of buttons crammed onto the screen, which makes typing accurately rather tricky.
We'd recommend a quick trip to Google Play to download an alternative - our favourite is SwiftKey which works nicely on the 4-inch display of the Blade 3.
The ZTE Blade 3 comes with 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity, allowing you to get online pretty much anywhere.
You've got a couple of options when it comes to browsing the web on the Blade 3, with the stock Android browser and Google Chrome both pre-loaded onto the handset.
Both offer up a pretty similar experience and features, however the one advantage the Android browser has over Chrome is its ability to save pages for offline reading - perfect if you want to read something on the train home and know you'll be out of signal.
In terms of browsing speed the Blade 3 is pretty darn slow over 3G and Wi-Fi. It seems that the 1GHz single-core processor inside the handset struggles with the World Wide Web.
Over 3G the TechRadar mobile site loaded in about five seconds, where as the desktop version took 18 seconds, although we were able to start browsing the site after 10.
Turn on Wi-Fi and speeds improve by a second or so, but the ZTE Blade 3 is never going to blow you away with super slick browsing, but at £70 we can forgive it slightly.
The 480 x 800 screen means images aren't particular sharp and you'll need to zoom in a bit for text to become legible.
As you zoom the Blade 3 takes a second or so to sort itself out and properly render the page at the new level which isn't a huge issues but it does slow down your experience slightly.
Text automatically reflows on the Blade 3 which makes reading articles a lot easier as you don't have to mess around with scrolling sideways and done - it's a feature which we'd love to see on every smartphone, but sadly one that doesn't always make the cut.
Now that Android has dropped its support for Flash the web medium is no longer available on handsets, meaning you won't be able to enjoy content which relies on the technology on the Blade 3.
Camera and video
The ZTE Blade 3 comes sporting a rear facing 5MP camera giving you the opportunity to snap quick pics on the go, but there's no front facing option for video calls with your nearest and dearest.
Sadly there's no flash incorporated on the rear of the Blade 3 which does put it at a slight disadvantage compared to the competition such as the Ascend G330 and Xperia Miro, and also means you won't be shooting anything in low light or dark situations.
The camera app is the stock Android Ice Cream Sandwich affair, but there are no shooting modes or panorama features to choose from.
What you do get is a couple of sliders on screen for brightness and the 4x digital zoom, while in the menu there are controls for white balance, exposure and focus mode.
It's hardly an awe-inspiring offering, but the app is simple to use and the tap-to-focus is a handy addition.
You can use the volume rocker keys on the left of the Blade 3 to take pictures, or the more traditional shutter key on screen, with the handset taking a couple of seconds to properly focus and snap the image.
As you may expect results are not exactly stunning, but they suffice for a smartphone which will set you back less than £100.
Colours are not overly bright, nor is the image quality razor sharp, but for the occasional Facebook profile pic the Blade 3 just about manages.
As with the camera the video capabilities on the ZTE Blade 3 are basic, with it offering up an average VGA shooting capability.
You can toggle white balance and the zoom level but that's your lot, although the zoom can be adjusted once record has been hit.
At least the app is easy to use, although as you may expect video quality isn't stellar and you won't be shooting the next Harlem Shake YouTube sensation on the Blade 3.
The ZTE Blade 3 isn't the sort of phone you'd purchase for consuming a lot of media on, but that doesn't mean it can't do it.
The 4GB of internal storage, of which only 2.5GB is actually available for use, isn't exactly brilliant but the addition of a microSD card slot under the plastic rear cover means you can quickly and easily expand that by up to 32GB.
As well as sticking content onto the miscoSD card you can also hook the Blade 3 up to your computer with the bundled USB cable and use the tried and tested drag and drop method to transfer.
The music player is a pretty bog standard affair, displaying your music my artist, album, title, playlist or favourites.
You can create and edit playlists on the fly, while the player screen gives you the basic controls including play/pause, skip, shuffle, repeat and scrub.
Surprisingly the Blade 3 does come with a graphic equaliser allowing you to tweak the audio output of the handset so you can get the perfect tone for your tunes.
It's a simple and easy to use app which doesn't include any overly fussy features or grounding breaking technology, but for catching a few tracks on the go it does a decent job.
The ZTE Blade 3 can play various music formats including MP3, WAV and eAAC+ meaning your current library should work on this smartphone.
Sound quality is pretty middle of the road, the ZTE Blade 3 won't knock your socks off, nor will it completely disappoint but for any audiophiles out there you may what to look at other alternatives.
Video was never going to the Blade 3's strong point and the low resolution, 4-inch display provides an adequate viewing experience, although we wouldn't want to watch a full blown movie on it.
There is a dedicated video player app, which is something of a rarity on Android handsets and this makes it easier to browse through your videos instead of having to go to the gallery and dig them out among the deluge of photos.
We found the screen wasn't overly bright on the Blade 3 and the image lacked the sharpness and clarity we've seen on other displays.
For short videos and YouTube clips the ZTE Bade 3 does a decent enough job, and its small lightweight frame means it's easy to hold - but it didn't like all of our video formats so you'll need to make sure what you have will play.
The Gallery app on the ZTE Blade 3 is your one stop shop for all your photographic needs, with snaps arranged into various albums depending on where they originated, be it from the camera, Facebook, WhatsApp, downloads or the microSD card.
You can also create additional folders it you fancy organising your images in a different way.
There's a very simple picture editor built into the gallery which lets you crop and rotate an image as well as added various Intsragram-style effects.
It's hardly a full blown piece of editing software, but it's simple to use and will be enough for most people.
Battery life and connectivity
The ZTE Blade 3 comes equipped with a pretty standard 1,600mAh battery, but that's not a big issue considering its single-core processor and low-resolution display.
With moderate use we were able to eek out a full day without breaking a sweat, and with minimal use the Blade 3 will keep on going for a couple of days between charges.
As with any smartphone these days the more you use your handset the quicker the battery will drain, but the lowly processor comes to the Blade 3's aid some what as it puts you off performing overly intensive tasks as the phone struggles slightly with graphical demanding games and applications.
You can remove the battery from the Blade 3, allowing you to swap out a dead battery for a fully charged one if you're that way inclined.
The battery doesn't obstruct access to the microSD slot also found under the rear cover, but you'll need to pop it out to get to the SIM card, but it's unlikely you'll be changing that on a regular basis.
When it comes to connectivity the ZTE Blade 3 has all the major bases covered from 3G and Wi-Fi to A-GPS, Bluetooth and a microUSB port.
We've already mentioned the microSD port located under the rear cover, which can support cards up to 32GB in size which will build on the 4GB of internal storage provided in the Blade 3.
You can also turn the Blade 3 into a wireless hotspot, allowing you to easily share your mobile data connection with other devices such as tablets and laptops.
There's no NFC option available on the Blade 3, but we're not really surprised as the majority of entry-level handsets overlook the contactless technology.
Maps and apps
The ZTE Blade 3 comes equipped with the excellent Google Maps service providing you with the world at your figure tips, ensuring you never get lost again.
It's not the most fluid of experiences though as the image heavy app puts strain on the single core processor inside the Blade 3, meaning maps take a few seconds to load up.
The Blade 3 was able to locate us surprisingly quickly after just a couple of seconds, although it took a further five or so seconds to accurately pinpoint our whereabouts.
Instead of gliding around the maps the Blade 3 does it with a judder and you'll need to be patient at times as the phone processes what you've asked it to do.
Google Maps also offers you route planning and free turn by turn satellite navigation which can be a life saver if you "shoulda taken that left turn at Albuquerque."
As the ZTE Blade 3 is currently only available through Virgin Mobile the network has stuck some of its own apps on the handset, although the Chinese firm assures us that's it's in talks with other carriers and retailers meaning a SIM-free handset may be on the horizon with less bloatware.
Handily the official Twitter and Facebook apps come pre-installed, but if you require more you just need to head over to Google Play where a swath of over 800,000 applications will greet you.
ZTE has also added some extra apps to the Blade 3, with the popular note taking offering Evernote residing on the handset.
The well equipped application lets you sync your notes to the cloud meaning you can access them on multiple devices, although if you want a simpler experience you may want to check out the basic Notepad app also on the Blade 3.
We love a good, old fashioned File Manager application and the ZTE Blade 3 doesn't disappoint with its basic offering letting you explore all the files stored on your device, which is sometimes easier then trying to go through dedicated apps.
If you fancy changing the app shortcuts on the lockscreen you can do this via the Mi-EasyAccess app - providing a clear and intuitive display which lets you select what you want to appear in the bubbles. Simple, yet effective.
X-office is another simple app that allows you to view Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDF documents on the ZTE Blade 3, but there's not support for editing any of these on the handset.
It's probably just as well as we reckon the Blade 3 would struggle a bit if we asked to for full editing rights on a complicated spreadsheet, plus the 4-inch screen doesn't provide the biggest surface area to work with.
Hands on gallery
The ZTE Blade 3 is a capable Android handset sporting a seriously low price tag and it's difficult to fault considering how little you'll pay for it.
It's not the most attractive of phones, and it won't win any prizes for speed, performance or screen quality, but it could be perfect for anyone looking to enter the world of smartphones for the first time.
Considering the Blade 3 is only going to set you back £70 it has a pretty healthy line up of features including the 4-inch display, 5MP camera and powerful Android operating system - all be it Ice Cream Sandwich and not Jelly Bean.
The price is obviously a huge attraction and those who are new to the smartphone game should be suitably impressed with the Blade 3, especially if they are upgrading from a featurephone.
Of course the ZTE Blade 3 is far from perfect, although that's not a huge surprise considering its low cost.
The Android system isn't particularly slick and we found web browsing was lack lustre thanks to the slow processor.
Round the back the camera is serviceable but don't expect a wealth of options in the app or top quality results, plus the screen doesn't exactly do justice to visually impressive games or feature films.
The ZTE Blade 3 isn't a polished offering but we can almost forgive it when we are reminded of its price tag. This is a cheap and cheerful handset aimed at giving people an entry point to the smartphone market.
While it could be tidied up round the edges, made to run a little smoother and upgraded to the latest Jelly Bean version of Android, we are suitably impressed with the Blade 3 as an entry-level device.