ZTE started its life in the UK as a maker of phones that others rebadged in their own name. It has had a strong relationship with Orange, for example, having produced the San Francisco a few years ago – arguably the first phone that proved you could make good quality Android-based phones at budget prices.
ZTE now does its own thing and makes phones available in its own name – the Blade III is another low cost offering and Virgin Mobile has it for £69.99 on pay as you go plus another £10 for a top up. That’s not a lot of money for a smartphone, and there is a fair amount of competition hovering around the price so ZTE has its work cut out to make its place.
At first glance the Blade III looks like a more expensive handset than it actually is. The build is neat and tidy, and a raised lip at the bottom edge that’s rubberized like the backplate rather than shiny plastic like the rest of the front catches the eye. The phone feels sturdy too. We tried to bend and bow it in our hands and it resisted well.
On board memory runs to 4GB but checking on what’s actually available to be used told us that you’ve only got 2.5GB to play with. You are most likely going to need a microSD card whose slot sits securely under the backplate, but remember you won’t be able to put your apps onto this.
The single core 1GHz processor and its supporting 512MB of RAM are distinctly low and but not a surprise for a phone sitting in this price range. While they are adequate there is a certain, inevitable lag as you move around and within apps. You’ll have a noticeable wait for sizeable, complex web pages to resolve themselves. This isn’t a really big issue, though, and it is nothing more or less than you’ll find with other handsets that hover around this price.
The camera is a five megapixel flashless unit. Don’t expect it to cope well in situations where there is a lot of contrast or low light, but for general snaps it is fine. You will, though, need to practice the steady hands technique as there is a bit of shutter lag, and this will hinder your ability to shoot moving subjects too. There’s no front facing camera.
ZTE equips the Blade III with Android 4.0 – a little way behind the leading edge but perfectly adequate and at least ensures full consistency in design with some of the best apps around. ZTE beefs things up a little with a few software additions of its own. It builds in the TouchPal keyboard for example, which, with its Swype-like ability to type words simply by sliding your thumb around the screen will please some people. It is easily disabled if you don’t want it and prefer the standard Android keyboard.
Where ZTE has worked to raise the game of the Blade III is in the screen and user interface. The customized screen lock is a really neat little feature. It looks very appealing, which is always a plus point, and you can open the handset into any of six different apps or the home screen.
The screen measures 4 inches across the diagonal, hitting the sweet spot that’s so often overlooked in the Android market. With 800 x 480 pixels on offer the resolution isn’t fantastic, and viewing angles aren’t great either, but you can read web pages without too much faffing, video looks OK (so long as you steer clear of HD quality), and yet the phone is not too large to carry around or too difficult to use one handed if you are a smaller person.
So, that’s the ZTE Blade III. It is a fair handset for its price, and the fact that ZTE has paid attention to the screen size and produced a reasonably attractive hardware design are both points in its favour. For not too much more money you can get a significant step up in specs and performance, and we’d generally recommend taking that approach. If you are on a tight budget though it is worth a look.
Review written by Sandra Vogel