ZTE Blade V
18th Nov 2013 | 15:25
Its cheap, but is it cheerful?
There is much that can be said about the ZTE Blade V, the price and the quad-core processor. It almost singlehandedly proves that rise of the budget smartphone can't be ignored.
Varying international markets, a global recession and a rise in smartphone-buying teens mean that demand for cheaper smartphones has never been higher.
Firms such as Chinese brands Huawei and ZTE have now become synonymous with low spec low cost devices, with Samsung's Galaxy range of smartphones attacking every single area of the market.
At just over £80, locked to Virgin Mobile, the ZTE Blade V is clearly pitched towards the very budget conscious, ideal for those that want a cheap smartphone to take to school.
Has the Chinese firm given the Blade V enough to fight it out and shine against the competition?
With the price being so low, there have been some obvious cut backs, obvious being the optimal word there.
Don't go expecting the latest version of Android, although the ZTE Blade V does come packing Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. In all, a reasonable start.
The design of nigh on every smartphone, all but the odd BlackBerry, that hits the market is dominated by the screen. On the face of the Blade V is a 4-inch IPS screen, with a 480x800 resolution.
You almost get the feel that ZTE has tried to beat the Samsung Galaxy Round and LG G Flex to market with a flexi screen of its own, but the reality is that it is just the way the screen sits poorly in the chassis.
Running your finger from top to bottom gives a definite flex in the screen, giving the ZTE Blade V a really cheap feel.
The plastic casing also gives a cheaper feel, but with the low price we didn't expect the premium feel of the aluminium HTC One.
The screen is noticeably low resolution as well, but given that you only get 4GB of internal storage (less with OS), we don't see there being a lot of desire to watch HD movies on the Blade V.
Now we come to the kicker. That 1.2GHz quad-core processor. Yes, quad-core. While it doesn't match the 1.6GHz chips found in older handsets like the Samsung Galaxy S3, given competitors are running 1GHz single and dual-core insides, the added size is something we can see really appealing to consumers.
These multiple cores are backed up with 1GB of RAM to help ease the strain, reducing any excessive battery drain associated with the multiple cores.
Other key specifications include a 5MP rear camera for those funky playground shots, and a VGA front facing camera for those profile pictures. We've heard that sparrow faces are the latest craze.
As mentioned, there is only 4GB of storage. This can be expanded with the inclusion of a microSD card, with the ZTE Blade V supporting cards of up to 32GB.
In terms of buttons, there are the three standard Android soft keys sat beneath the screen, meaning that the Back, Home and Menu buttons aren't on screen affairs.
The volume rocker is sat on the top left, fairly flush to the Blade V, although still providing enough of a raise to be easily located and pressed. The power/lock button is on the top.
Thankfully, the smaller size of the ZTE Blade V means that all buttons were easy enough to hit one handed.
The ZTE Blade V also has all the regular ports, with the microUSB say halfway up on the left and the 3.5mm headphone port on the top, leaving both the bottom and left hand side of the device free.
Behind the removable back cover sits a 1800mAh battery, the SIM port and the microSD port. It's a little fiddly to get the card in and out, but we were pleased to find that it was hot swappable.
In all, it is clear to see where all the focus of the ZTE Blade V is going to sit, slap bang on that large processor/small price combination. Initial impressions elsewhere reflect the cost cutting measures involved in making the ZTE sub £100.
Android Jelly Bean 4.1 is the OS of choice for the ZTE Blade V, and we are less than hopeful for an update to take it to any of the superseding Android Jelly Bean updates, let alone to Android 4.4 KitKat.
There is a little bit of skinning over the top of Android, there are a few noticeable UI changes such as icons and a new lock screen, but on the whole ZTE has stuck with the vanilla Android.
Whilst this means that there is not a lot of added functionality, it does mean that anybody that has used Android before will feel right at home.
The quad-core processor comes right into play here, and to cut things short, we were a little disappointed. There was none of the nip, buzz or kapow that we have become used to with quad-core chips.
We did notice some difference over the top of other processors, noticeably over that of the Samsung Galaxy Fame, but we somehow expected a little more.
Starting at the lock screen, you can see one of ZTE's biggest changes. Holding the padlock will give a quick animation and unlock the screen. Pinching out will give you a choice of apps to quick launch.
We've seen quick launching into apps done much better, look at TouchWiz on the Galaxy Fame. We found that it felt too fiddly, and didn't always respond.
Throughout the UI, you can see the few custom icons which does help make the Blade V feel a little different, but we're glad that there is still a very Android heavy flavour.
This means that the app drawer is still there. Cue sighs of relief, not least because the Emotion UI on the likes of the Huawei Ascend Y300 omits it.
As we mentioned, standard Android flows through the ZTE Blade V, meaning that populating the nine home screens with widgets and apps is done by long pressing them from the app drawer. Deleting is done by long pressing and swiping upwards.
Notifications are also at the top as usual, with access being done by dragging the bar downwards. Again, being Android Jelly Bean, notifications can be expanded and swiped away.
We weren't blown away by the interface on the ZTE Blade V, the optimal word is probably underwhelmed. It is nowhere near as intuitive as TouchWiz, but far better than the Emotion UI that comes on Huawei devices.
The quad-core chip kept things moving along nicely, but there is no way that it comes close to those that populate the flagship phones. Honestly? We'd rather have seen a larger dual-core chip.
Contacts and Calling
Anybody that has used an Android phone before will feel instantly at home with the ZTE Blade V.
The standard light blue and white screen that is on all standard contacts screen is there, almost identical to that on the Huawei Ascend Y300. The biggest difference we noted was that the contact images were on the right, not the left.
A list of all your friends is presented in a typical fashion, with a standard list of names. It's a functional app, with not a lot that can be pointed out that is different or special compared to others.
That isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it means that it doesn't overload you with hundreds of thousands of added features that you just don't need or want.
Being Android, the ZTE Blade V will pull in all your contacts from all your varying social media apps, such as Facebook and Twitter. These will then be aggregated, and can be joined easily enough.
The Contacts app also comes with the standard Android Groups and Favourites functionality. We can't say that we find it particularly useful, but we haven't got enough contacts, nor are they sorted well enough.
It does mean that you can access and message people a lot easier though, and that can't be a bad thing.
Tapping the contacts image brings up a little contact card which makes things slightly easier when it comes to contacting. It isn't on the same level as swiping left and right to call or message, as in TouchWiz on the Galaxy Fame, but it works well enough.
From the contacts screen, calling someone is easy as pie. Tap their photo, then their number and the phone will dial them for you.
For those that either don't want to rummage through their contact list, or are dialling a new number, you can access the dialler screen by tapping the little phone icon on the dock.
This brings up the standard dialler that every man and his dog will have used. Well, every dog that has ever used a telephone that is.
It is the same standard blue and black dialler that comes with Android, and it still supports smart dialling. Smart dialling is something that we have found to be useful, but only when searching for a number that we've dialled but not saved.
It can also be used to search through your contact list, but we always go via the contacts app for that.
It seems a little odd that there isn't a direct link between the contacts and dialler app, if only because that is something that we have always seen on other devices. Instead, you are greeted with three tabs; the dialler, call logs and most contacted.
For call quality, we can't complain. We talked, the people on the other end heard. Simple really. Being locked to Virgin (that backs off EE) did mean that we didn't really struggle for signal, except in areas that we knew our EE phone suffers.
Anyone that has bought a smartphone will know that the majority of time will be spent on it sending messages, rather than making calls. It seems that the phone call is all but dead, with emails, SMS and IM taking over the mantle.
The same goes for the ZTE Blade V. Of course, to send any of these messages you are going to need a decent keyboard. ZTE delivers here.
Well, Google delivers here. The standard keyboard is the Android keyboard. We were a little confused as to why this was the standard choice, as TouchPal also comes preinstalled.
We didn't feel the need to move between the keyboards, as the Android keyboard does a more than half decent job, as does the TouchPal offering. Neither live up to the likes of SwiftKey on the Play Store, but are credible alternatives.
Both keyboards also work in landscape mode, and the 4-inch screen means that it isn't too difficult to hit all the keys. That said, we found the 4-inch screen to be wide enough to hit the keys in portrait, so there was little need to turn the Blade V.
After having chosen your preferred method of typing, you can now type out your messages to all your friends. You'll undoubtedly start in the SMS app.
As ever, the SMS app on the ZTE Blade V is highly uninspiring, but again built around functionality.
There are no funky colour options, changeable backgrounds or customisable themes, areas where the Galaxy Fame, the Ascend Y300 and even the LG Optimus L3 2 win out. Of course there are downloadable third party SMS replacements like GO SMS or Handcent.
The majority of users won't download a different app, and we can't see why they would unless looks really ARE that important.
Instant messaging is also supported, in the form of Google Hangouts and Google+ messaging. Other apps such as Skype, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are downloadable off the Play Store.
For those that like to send lots of emails, there is both the Gmail and stock Android option installed. As with everything on the Blade V so far, these are both built around functionality.
We'll always prefer the Gmail app, as Google have made it an easy to use, good looking app with the same level of functionality that comes on the desktop.
The stock email does come well stocked though, providing everything that you could possibly ask for, including an aggregated inbox to handle multiple accounts.
Android Jelly Bean on the inside means that the ZTE Blade V comes packed with both the stock Internet app, and the Google Chrome app.
We can't see why most manufacturers offer both, it takes up more room on already limited internal storage space, and both generally provide similar levels of functionality.
Our suggestion would be to opt for Chrome here, though. The levels of functionality that we have seen the likes of HTC bake into their browsers is missing.
Basic things such as the ability to choose to load desktop pages is missing, and ZTE has still included the menu button, despite having the menu soft key sat below the screen.
We can't envision a lot of heavy internet browsing being done on the ZTE Blade V, for a few reasons. The main reason being that the screen is just not big enough or high res enough to provide anything more than a satisfactory browsing experience.
Browsing speeds were actually pretty decent though, with the quad core helping to keep things moving along pretty smoothly. Even the full TechRadar site loaded in a few seconds over Wi-Fi.
3G speeds were okay, although we wouldn't say that the Blade V had anything to shout about here.
We also found that the Wi-Fi connection seemed a little poorer than other devices we had, with a full signal registering on our HTC One, yet only receiving one or two bars on the Blade V.
The most disappointing thing about the Blade V's internet experience isn't even the lack of Flash. Yes, Flash doesn't come installed as Adobe has killed the mobile version. We know there are some handsets out there with it, but we're not expecting to see it much these days
What we really miss is text reflow. It's something that we know is missing on quite a lot of modern smartphone browsers, but it is something that is so simple and intuitive that it makes smartphones seem less smart.
Chrome does do a good job of syncing your browsing experience over varying devices, so if you're browsing on Chrome on the desktop and then move to your phone, and then to your iPad, you can always choose to view the same tabs that you had open.
Overall, we can't say that the internet experience is stellar, but it isn't unusable. In fact, if the screen was a little better and text reflow was included, we would suggest that the ZTE Blade V was onto a winner.
It seems that 5 is a magic number, as the ZTE Blade V matches its nearest rivals with a 5MP sensor. This would seems that there might be some hope, as we have seen some really decent sensors packed into 5MP offerings.
Unfortunately this isn't one of them. Not even close.
There is, however, a front facing camera as well that performs about as well as you might expect, but we'll look at that more closely later. The rear camera does come with a flash, albeit one that we don't feel is all that powerful.
As we said, the 5MP sensor really is a massive let down, and we mean massive. For our test, we were lucky enough to take the ZTE Blade V along to Comic Con. We didn't dress up, but we had fun. Until we got home that is.
Going through our snaps we noticed something rather obvious, and we were a little shocked given that it's something we think shouldn't occur when you take into account the quad-core chip that is sat inside.
The exhibition room was relatively well lit, yet the sensor struggled speed wise meaning that there were a lot of unusable snaps.
Taking a photo meant that you had to stop and give the sensor time to adjust, which was often a second or two. This problem was also noticeable on the forward facing sensor.
These problems can be disguised to a certain extent by using the Sepia, Negative or Black and White filters.
There are also other features such as being able to fiddle with ISO levels, brightness and exposure, but we feel these are things that are the preserve of more professional photographers who won't be picking up the ZTE Blade V.
The poor experience that we found in taking still images is, unsurprisingly, repeated on the video camera.
The bland camera app is out again in force, although interestingly unlike other Jelly Bean handsets, you still have to manually toggle between still and video recording.
We know it isn't a whole lot of effort, but it's the small things that allude to a smarter experience overall.
Unfortunately, there are none of the fancy camera tricks to be used on the video, meaning that you have to record just standard imagery (no black and white or sepia tone to cover up the cameras deficiencies).
Within the settings menu, there is very little to be found. You can turn the video recording down, from 480p to QVGA to QCIF.
This should aid in sharing all your antics with your friends via the likes of WhatsApp, but will never be sufficient for uploading to the web.
You can also toggle the time lapse interval, the white balance, as well as choosing whether or not you want flash on during recording. We couldn't see a way of manually zooming whilst recording.
Video recording results are also poor. We wouldn't use the ZTE Blade V for anything more than recording our cat doing something silly, although if you want that clip to become the next YouTube sensation, you will want to look at an alternate handset.
As media is proving ever popular on smartphones, it is vital that the ZTE Blade V lives up to the ever increasing standards.
We've already talked about the 4-inch screen, which we don't feel is up to the task of watching anything more serious than a few YouTube clips.
That doesn't appear to matter, however, as the ZTE Blade V only comes equipped with a total of around 2.5GB storage out of the 4GB it quotes. This is also broken up so that you only get 0.98GB that you can store apps on (without moving to the internal SD).
MicroSD support is provided, up to 32GB, meaning that should you want to put in some movies or a larger music collection, you can.
Unsurprisingly, there is also a rear speaker found on the back of the Blade V. We found this to be sufficient when showing off internet shenanigans to our friends, but it was never going to cope with any intense music sessions in the same way that the HTC One range can.
We would certainly suggest that the majority of the media experiences that surround the ZTE Blade V are going to be audio based, so we'd hope for a decent music player.
Thankfully for ZTE, the music player that comes in the stock Android software is not a letdown. The letdown is the lack of any real customisation from the Chinese firm.
As with nigh on every handset that we have reviewed, album artwork takes centre stage. This can be swiped left or right to display any downloaded lyrics, and the current playlist.
The play/pause and track skip buttons sit below the album artwork, with the expected shuffle and repeat buttons also found in a similar location.
We were thankful to see that you could play/pause and skip tracks through both the notifications bar and the lock screen, as this is something that we missed on the likes of the Huawei Ascend G510.
Navigating to the settings menu allows you to use the track as a ringtone, share it, or add to playlists and favourites.
There is very little else on offer when it comes to the music app. The two more interesting offerings there are that you can set a sleep timer (so that the Blade V will switch itself off after a set period as you drift off), and can play around with an equalizer.
There are some preset configurations, such as Heavy Metal, Jazz or Hip Hop, and you can also create custom settings. We're not all that fussed though, as we highly doubt anybody that is going to use the Blade V for music will want to fiddle so deeply within the settings.
Audio support isn't the greatest, but the ZTE Blade V will play MP3, WAV and eAAC+ files.
Video wise, the ZTE Blade V will play MP4, H.264 and H.263 files. Tapping the video app brings up a list of all the videos that you have stored on your ZTE Blade V.
Unlike some video apps that we've seen before, on the likes of the Sony Xperia L, the Blade V doesn't pull in videos from the cloud.
Again, as with the music player, the video player is nothing more than the stock Android offering. This means that there is no added functionality over the playing and pausing, or skipping through the video file.
You won't be surprised to learn that video playback is distinctly average of the Blade V. If you're at a loose end then you could well watch a movie on the handset - we can't guarantee you'll enjoy it though.
We might once have said that FM Radio's are becoming an almost standard feature on modern smartphones. The Samsung Galaxy S4 shipped without this capability, so although it might not be a hot topic, it is something that can provide a bit of a talking pint.
We are always thankful for the inclusion of an FM radio, though. Thanks ZTE.
As always, headphones will need to be plugged in, though that doesn't mean to say that you can't play music through the rear speaker.
In terms of functionality, we weren't overly impressed with the Blade V. It found most of the stations we expected, but audio quality was a little poor.
Battery Life and Connectivity
Now we come to what we feel is probably the hardest part of the review to write, simply because what we feel is a decent battery life might be stellar to some, and diabolical to others. As with every device, how you use it will vary.
That said, we'd suggest that the ZTE Blade V battery life is pretty decent. We were a little worried that the extra cores were going to put a strain on the 1800mAh battery, but this doesn't seem to have been the case.
We easily managed to get the Blade V through a day out, and although we might not have been intensely messaging people, we were connected to the Wi-Fi for a couple of hours, and we took a lot of photographs.
The smaller screen might go some way to helping, as will the notification bar toggles that we have become accustomed to on other Android handsets, namely TouchWiz based devices such as the Samsung Galaxy Fame.
There are no real surprises when it comes to the ZTE Blade V's array of connectivity options. For those that are expecting a 4G connection to sit alongside the four cores that are in the Blade V, you're going to be disappointed.
That said, it is possible to connect via 3G/HSDPA to 7.2Mbps and HSUPA at 5.76Mbps.
Wi-Fi connection is also possible, although those that read the Internet section will know that we found this to be rather lacking. We were sat no more than eight feet from our router, and the Blade V failed to register a full signal.
Bluetooth is supported to 4.0 standard, with A2DP, meaning that you can connect to all your accessories. GPS and A-GPS are also both supported.
NFC is omitted, however. This is by no means a deal breaker, but it is something that we are seeing on an increasing number of devices so we're a tiny bit disappointed. With Google Wallet seemingly on the UK horizon, it does mean that the Blade V might miss out on its full functionality.
Connecting to PC is easy enough, done via the supplied microUSB cable, that doubles up as the charger. You will manually have to select how you want to connect the Blade V, as the USB mass storage that we always plump for wasn't selected by default.
Maps and apps
For apps on the ZTE Blade V, the Android OS is a massive clue to how you are going to download them. This is all done via the Google Play Store.
With the phrase "There's an app for that" pushing Apple to the forefront of the smartphone market, every OS developer has seen fit to follow suit. Google's Android OS first launched with the Android market, since rebranded, and now heavily populated, Play Store.
The Play Store is well organised, split into categories, with general apps and games being split into two categories, and then both being split further still. Games and Apps are also viewable by Top Free, Top Paid, Top Grossing, Top New Free and Top New Paid. This is useful to help filter out the poorer apps that aren't filtered otherwise.
One of the major bonus points that Android has over other OS' is its customisability. For instance, should you not like the messaging app, or the keyboard, it is simple to download a new one, like Handcent SMS or Swype. It is also possible to install custom apps from other sources, including other app stores.
In the way of preinstalled apps, ZTE Blade V does come with some useful, and some not so useful apps. Google apps such as Google+, Talk, Gmail, Google Play, Play Music and YouTube are all present, alongside the Mapping apps such as Maps, Local and Navigation.
The most notable preinstalled apps are Amazon Kindle (for books), Kingsoft Office (another Office program that allows you to create and view files), Mi-EasyAccess (to change the quick launch apps on the lock screen) and Torch (to use the camera flash as a flash light).
Google Maps is possibly the most well known Google product, after its search function. Thankfully, Google has made its mapping application available on Android since its inception.
It has been said time and time again, the Google Maps application is absolutely superb.
We won't go into too much detail, as you've heard it all before, but Google Maps is one of the most comprehensive mapping applications we've used, more than eclipsing Apple's offering.
Google Maps also includes Navigation software. We've always been impressed by Google's effort here, not least because its free. There are other Satnav apps available from the Play Store, but for when you're in a spot of bother, Google will easily sort you out.
GPS lock on is fast, finding us in our car and able to provide us a route around town in next to no time.
Hands On Gallery
So, there we have it. One ZTE Blade V review. We know that a few of you will have skipped everything that we've written in all the previous sections and come right here, in which case, shame on you.
We've put the ZTE Blade V through its paces, and we are able to say that it is possibly the best piece of kit that the Chinese firm has put out to date, but when its competition is the likes of the awful ZTE Kis, that was hardly going to be difficult.
It is hard to say that we didn't like the quad-core processor, because it kept everything moving along smoothly. It allows for some more intense use, whilst making sure that there was little extreme slow down.
We also thought that battery life was pretty impressive. It managed to last a day with some pretty intense photography and a couple hours of Wi-Fi use (helping us to work out which minor celebrities were at Comic Con).
Having a microSD card slot is also a massive bonus. We don't see it enough on modern smartphones, with the likes of the HTC One and Apple iPhone omitting expandable storage. We'll always encourage manufacturers to pop a slot in if possible, because it allows users to take more control over their device.
Whilst we can say that we liked the quad-core processor of the ZTE Blade V, we can also say we didn't like it. It felt through the entire time that we had it, that the Blade V was underpowered. We would much have preferred to have had a higher powered dual-core offering.
The camera was also nothing short of atrocious. We thought that the quad-core would help make the camera quick, but there was a very noticeable time to focus and shoot, which meant that we came out with some really poor shots.
Internal storage is also an issue. The way the 4GB is broken down means that there is only 2.5GB for users, with only 1.5GB of that as an internal SD card. This means that any apps that you can't install onto SD, and all the files that allow those that do, soon clog up the internal storage.
Overall, we are left asking ourselves just how the ZTE Blade V coped for about £80. For those that are after a cheap handset to take to school, or as a back up to something a lot more powerful, there is little that can be argued with.
But for those that are after a more dedicated handset, we really have to advise that you spend your money elsewhere, as some of the more basic smartphone functions are badly handled.
A quad-core processor will doubtless handsets, but there are some problems. Stripped down OS' just doesn't need that much power, with single cores often pushing Android on nicely like in the LG Optimus L5 2, or on Windows Phone like the Nokia Lumia 520.