One of the things I look forward to this year is the widespread adoption by the market of affordable quad-core solutions. At last year’s MWC, I was amazed that no one had enthusiastically embraced the Cortex-A5 but Qualcomm has since then managed to get four of these cores in the MSM8225Q and boosted the clock speed beyond my expectations to 1.2GHz (as well as upping the GPU to a beefier Adreno 203).
Just over two years after the arrival of the first quad-core smartphone (that was the LG Optimus 4X HD) at the very top end of the market, this technology has trickled down to the entry level.
Today, I’m looking at a new model from Chinese manufacturer ZTE. That new smartphone, Blade V (V for victory not five), is exclusively available from Virgin Media on PAYG for £90 plus an initial £10 top up or £71.99 if you are already a Virgin Media customer (note that there is no commercially available unlock method for the ZTE Blade V at the time of writing).
The phone is also available from £13 per month on pay monthly plans. The phone is exclusively available from there and in one colour only, one which might be referred to as “Pebble Blue”, because of the striking similarity the back of the device bears with the Samsung Galaxy S3.
Of the three Blade smartphones that came before this one, the most notable was the first one which was sold as the Orange San Francisco three years ago. This was a ground-breaking handset offering a great set of hardware (800MHz SOC, 3.5in WVGA AMOLED display, 512MB RAM) for under £100, a stunning price back then. No wonder then that the original ZTE Blade sold well over two million units.
Fast forward to 2013 and it seems that ZTE wants to achieve the same impact with the Blade V although we have to question the wisdom of partnering with Virgin Media rather than with the big four mobile operators. On the outside, it looks vaguely like the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini smartphone.
ZTE eschewed the former boxy form factor of the original Blade for a more organic, rounded shape that sits in one’s hand more comfortably. It has the same plasticky finish with a brushed plastic back that is now the signature finish of the Galaxy S3 range. It is a tad chunkier as well; 126 x 64 x 10.9mm with a weight of 130g compared to 122 x 63 x 9.9mm with a weight of 112g for the Galaxy S3 Mini.
A slightly-protruding camera is located at the top of the handset next to the speak grill, the camera and the accompanying flash LED is situated near the upper left corner of the device with a speaker grill directly underneath it at the other end. At the top are the power button and the earphone plug with a micro USB port on the left. Nothing on the right or bottom sides.
There’s a notch that allows you to remove the cover more easily; other manufacturers should take heed of that. You don’t need to remove the battery to access the micro SD card slot and it is worth knowing that the ZTE Blade V takes standard size SIM cards.
Inside though is where all the fun happens. The phone is powered by a quad-core MSM8225Q as mentioned before. There’s also 1GB of RAM, a microSD card slot, 4GB onboard storage, a 4in IPS display with a 800 x 480 pixel resolution (same as the first Blade but with a lower pixel density), a 5-megapixel rear camera (with a flash) and a front facing VGA one, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi, FM Radio, GPS and a 1,800mAh battery.
Note that the card reader can apparently take 64GB models; we’ve tested a Samsung card successfully despite the fact that ZTE says that it can only accommodate up to 32GB ones.
As expected, the display is as vibrant as it can get for an entry level IPS display that sports a plastic rather than a glass overlay; it is rather responsive and only its extreme propensity to attract fingerprints could be seen as a disadvantage. Scrolling, video handling, opening and closing applications were as fast as one would expect. Not once did I experience any stuttering or slowing down.
As for benchmarks, I was pleasantly surprised by the results. The Blade V, it seems, is not too shabby; it scored 11,561 on Antutu v4.0.2, a higher score compared to the Samsung Galaxy S2. It reached 4,618 on Quadrant standard which is just short of the HTC One X and far higher than the Asus Transformer TF201 tablet, both of which run a quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 SoC. The superiority of the MSM8225Q over the Tegra 3 was confirmed by the third benchmark reading where it attained 1,327 on Qualcomm’s Vellamo, ahead of the LG Optimus 4X HD. Oddly enough, all three benchmark apps report different SoC as the MSM7227, MSM8625Q and MSM8225 respectively.
All in all, I am quite enthused by what I saw. ZTE has a winner on its hands and if the company can convince anyone of the big four mobile operators to market it, the Blade V could well become an entry-level favourite. You just need to bear in mind that this is a sub-£100 handset, not one that costs £300. Now if they could only up the screen resolution to HD and add LTE for the next one, that would be a compelling buy for those looking for an affordable 4G handset.