A lot of fun for a lot less money.
The ZTE Blade may be a budget smartphone but it stands out from the rest thanks to a few cool features.
Almost all Androids feature gesture-driven controls, but the Blade has taken it to the next level. For instance, you can get it to play music without unlocking the phone by just holding the volume key and tracing the letter V on the screen. Drawing an O will pause music playback. Or if you urgently need a flashlight, all you have to do is shake the phone twice.
Launching the camera app is equally easy – when picking it up from say, the table, all you have to do is press the volume button down and hold the phone in landscape orientation like you are about to snap a photo.
There are many more such features like Auto Call, Auto Answer, Pocket Mode and Flip Mute, making the Blade one of the more fun phones around.
However, it will take a little practice to get all the gesture controls right as some are a bit tricky.
The ZTE Blade runs on an octa-core Snapdragon 615, a fairly powerful processor that’s popular in mid-range smartphones, and has 2GB RAM.
It had no problems handling games such as The Wolf Among Us and Asphalt 8: Airborne or when used for web browsing and social media.
It scored 3,236 points on the Work Performance test on PCMark For Android benchmark which puts it behind devices such as Lenovo A7000 (4,124 points), Oppo R7 (3,964) and Samsung Galaxy A7 (3,951).
The Blade’s resolution is only 720p but it seems fine for the 5in screen and colour accuracy was good too.
It runs on Android 5.0.1 Lollipop with a custom user interface (UI) called MiFavor. The UI is pretty basic which is not a bad thing but it isn’t consistent in design. For instance, the messaging app still sports the look of Jelly Bean, a much older Android.
ZTE has also taken out some features from the Settings page and turned them into standalone apps which might annoy some users. For example, the System Update feature for updating over-the-air is a separate app.
On the bright side, it comes with a few handy apps such as UC Mini browser, Camera360, WPS Office and Clean Master.
The 13-megapixel camera shoots in 4:3 ratio by default. It can shoot in widescreen (16:9), but like most budget cameras, the resolution takes a hit. In the case of the Blade, the resolution drops to 9 megapixels.
ZTE has kept the camera app minimal as there are only two modes – Simple and Expert.
The Simple setting allows you to tweak modes such as HDR, Panorama, Beautify and Instagram-like filters while Expert offers even more choices such as ISO, exposure and white balance.
The photos turned out pretty decent with good detail and colour accuracy but the white balance was off is some areas as they were a little too bluish.
The main camera was also good for macro shots.
The 5-megapixel front camera also faces white balance issues but is otherwise okay.
The Blade only has a 2,400mAh battery which might seem small by today’s standards but it’s actually sufficient for the smartphone.
It lasted seven to eight hours even with heavy social media usage and a couple of hours of gaming.
However, the phone tended to heat up pretty quick.
The Blade is an affordable mid-range Android which offers decent battery life, speedy processor and fun gesture (and motion) controls.
The user interface felt a little basic and unrefined but hopefully ZTE addresses these issues in a future update.
Check out the Blade if you are a first-time Android user or don’t want to spend much on a smartphone.
Pros: Good performance; decent display; long battery life.
Cons: Camera has white balance issues; UI could be better.
Operating system: Android 5.0.1 Lollipop
Display: 5in 720p (720 x 1,280 pixels)
Camera: 13-megapixel rear camera, 5-megapixel front camera
Connectivity: Micro USB 2.0, Bluetooth 4.0
Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 (quad-core 1.5GHz Cortex-A53 + quad-core 1.0GHz Cortex-A53)
Memory: 16GB internal storage, 2GB RAM
Expansion slot: MicroSD (up to 64GB supported)
Dimensions (W x D x H): 70.7 x 7.7 x 144mm
Price: RM899 (inclusive of GST)
Rating: 3 stars
Review unit courtesy of ZTE (Malaysia) Corporation Sdn Bhd, (03) 2161-5966