ZTE Blade Vec 4G Review

OVERVIEW

Along with the Blade L2 and KIS 3, Chinese manufacturer ZTE has recently released their Blade Vec 4G in Singapore, a mid-range smartphone at a budget price of S$299. However, it faces tough competition from the existing phones in the market, such as the similarly spec-ed Moto G HTC Desire 610 and Xiaomi’s processing powerhouse, the Mi3 (which retails for just $40 more). With so many players, it will have to deliver some serious performance if it really wants to stand out.

PROS:

  • Good Battery life
  • Price
  • 4G Connectivity
  • Ergonomic

CONS:

  • No SD Card slot
  • Only 8 GB user accessible memory
  • Poor UI design
  • Unimpressive camera

INTRODUCTION

The Blade Vec 4G is the latest entrant into the market for high-performance budget phones. As with all budget phones, its specs are decent, but no not stand out. On the positive side, they don’t stand out for being bad either.

Display 5.0”, 720p IPS LCD display
Camera 8.0 MP (Back)/ 1.0 MP (Front)
Video Recording 1080p at 30 FPS
Processor 1.4 GHz Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400
GPU Adreno 305
RAM 1 GB
Storage 16 GB (8 GB user accessible), No SD card slot
Battery 2300 mAh

UNBOXING, DESIGN, AND BUILD QUALITY

The packaging is similar to just about every mobile device today, with the device on top and the user manuals and tools lying underneath.

While the phone’s unimaginative design isn’t going to win it any awards, it is practical. (And at this price point, I don’t think the Vec intends to win any awards.) Still, it does look quite stylish. The front goes for the bezel-less look, and is quite similar to Sony’s Xperia series, while the back mimics the Kevlar Motorola Droid Razr, albeit with plastic.

Back
The Kevlar look-alike back

However, the plastic chassis is sturdy and doesn’t bend (ahem!) like some other phones. There is no camera button, just power and the two volume buttons. There aren’t any hardware softkeys either, which were probably forgone in favour of the bezel-less look. Simply putting a Kevlar pattern isn’t going to make it scratch resistant, but it did do a good job of masking the minute scratches that developed over 2 weeks of usage. It wasn’t so forgiving to fingerprints, though, which were fairly obvious. However, the front bezel, lacking Gorilla Glass, developed an obvious scratch just from normal usage. (Phones with Gorilla Glass can slide across a rough floor and remain relatively unhurt.)

HANDLING

Despite packing a 5” screen, the Vec 4G is quite small, making it easy to use in one hand. In fact, it feels much like an Xperia, only lighter. The power button is placed exactly where the middle finger rests, and can be very conveniently accessed. Even more conveniently than the Z2 with its recessed power button. On the other hand, it sometimes gets inadvertently pressed in my pocket, and I end up wreaking havoc on the homescreen. It is also interesting to note that ZTE switched around the USB and 3.5mm jacks on the Vec 4G for no apparent reason; the USB is on top and the audio jack on the bottom. It doesn’t make much of a difference and just takes some getting used to.

DISPLAY

The Blade Vec 4G boasts a 1280 by 720 IPS display that spans 5 inches. The resulting 294ppi pixel density does make pixels visible on close inspection, but for day to day usage, it is fine. That being said, Xiaomi’s Mi3 sports a full HD (1080p) IPS display for a slightly higher price. Although the Vec 4G’s IPS display does have wide viewing angles and looks great when viewed head-on, the blacks look slightly washed out when viewed from the side at higher brightness levels.

Auto brightness generally works quite well (especially for a budget handset).

USER INTERFACE, APPS AND AUDIO

The Vec 4G ships with Android 4.4.2 KitKat with some customisations from ZTE. When powered on, we are presented with a custom lockscreen, which features a ‘long press to unlock’ rather than the usual swipe found on most androids. This takes some getting used to and we would have preferred if ZTE had just left it stock. There is also an option to swipe across the bottom of the screen to access quick shortcuts. Funnily enough, that takes as much time as unlocking the screen and accessing the app from the homescreen itself.

On the other hand, the launcher (also ZTE’s own) features a closer to stock experience and works quite nicely. However, we would have preferred it if there were features that manufacturers usually include, like the ability to sort and search apps.

There is also a ‘family mode’, which makes the lockscreen and user interface much simpler and upsizes text and icons, presumably for younger children and the elderly. The lock screen also offers quick access to a pre-set emergency number, which it will call/message when the “SOS” icon on the lockscreen is long-pressed for 10 seconds.

ZTE has also announced that the Blade Vec 4G will soon start shipping with the Google Now Launcher preloaded, and with that would come the hyped “Ok Google” detection and a beautifully designed user interface.

The main apps like clock and calendar have also been themed. Most of the apps (except the calculator) would have been better off left to stock, however – their redesigned apps look like they belong on an Android 2.3 Gingerbread phone (a sin many OEMs are guilty of).

An interesting feature present on this handset is the option to hide the on-screen Navbar. In fact, there’s not just one, but 2 separate options. The “Virtual Key” option in settings automatically hides them after 5 seconds, which, I imagine, could keep them from interfering with games and other fullscreen apps. The other option, “Mi-POP” is not unlike the AssistiveTouch onscreen buttons on iOS 5+. Both take time to get used to, and I found myself tapping the bottom of the screen, expecting the app to close, and instead pressing something on the app. It is quite a shame that they did not include hardware soft keys, as there is a 1 cm of space below the screen which would have accommodated them perfectly.

Power users will find the 8.85 GB “Virtual SD Card” disappointing, considering that this phones does not include any SD Card slot. Although there is 3.88 GB of internal user storage, this can neither be accessed by a computer nor the built-in file manager, so this space is effectively wasted. (And they dare to call it “user accessible storage”!). The final 1.95 GB of system reserved storage gives a grand total of 14.69GB.

While the audio isn’t stunning, it’s perfectly acceptable for a budget phone, and the built in Dolby equaliser does enhance it further to make for quite an enjoyable audio experience. The built in speakers, aren’t special, but at least they don’t stand out for being bad.

Dolby Equaliser App
The Dolby equaliser features many modes and also allows for custom effects like virtual surround sound.

BATTERY LIFE

While 2300mAh may seem embarrassing when flagships are carrying around 3000+mAh of juice, the Blade Vec 4G can get through the day effortlessly, even for the power user. Whether it’s the efficient hardware or just pure magic, this handset lasts approximately as long the other phones at this price point, despite the Vec 4G being the only one of them to sport both a huge 5” screen and a 4G radio (both of which are notoriously battery hungry).

The Vec 4G gets through an average day without much ado.
The Vec 4G gets through an average day without much ado.

Despite it being a budget phone on a budget battery, it’s safe to say that you won’t need to carry around that cumbersome portable charger for this phone.

PERFORMANCE

The Snapdragon 400 that the Vec 4G houses provides enough crunching power for a generally lag-free user interface. The Adreno 305 GPU can run lighter games smoothly, but expect some hiccups on the latest graphics intensive games. We can’t complain, though, since virtually every other phone at this price point has the same chip at its heart. Except the Mi3. The engineers at Xiaomi have (unbelievably) found a way to put the ultra-powerful Snapdragon 800 (which we saw in the Xperia Z1, Galaxy Note 3 and LG G2) into their budget Mi3 which is barely more expensive than the Vec 4G. If processing power is your priority, then you’d be better off with that phone.

CAMERA INTERFACE

The camera app has nothing special, but it does function as expected. It includes a beginner mode and expert mode. As for features, it has the usual panorama and HDR mode. The google camera (downloaded) also enables the Lens Blur function, but Photospheres doesn’t get enabled.

CAMERA PERFORMANCE

The camera is snappy and there is no shutter lag. The photos are very accurate in colour reproduction, but it has the effect of making pictures look desaturated. And then there is the problem of image noise. Pictures range from acceptably grainy in the day to plain unusable at night.

Still Image Quality:

Day Samples:

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