Hardware & Design
At first sight, the Blade S doesn't scream "originality", but the broad appeal of its glossy black body is more fetching than the first Blade. With its ultra-shiny surface, smudges quickly accumulate (the body and screen have obviously not received any anti-smudging treatment). While the Blade S won't be any sort of reference in the design world, the look will surely appeal to the general public.
The Blade S is a nice object to hold, in part because of the weight (120g), which is just right for its size. The finishing is fine for an entry-level product.
Frankly, it has a mediocre screen, with excessive blues and greens, and the colour accuracy doesn't quite come up to scratch. The contrast ratio, however, is good.
Interface & Responsiveness
Despite the market segment that ZTE's targeting (which puts the Blade S in a much lower category than its middle- and high-end competitors), the guts of the phone just about do the job. Just about...
In use, the Blade S lacks pep, experiencing noticeable lags during navigation and web browsing. Of course, if you've never owned a fast smartphone, you may not notice the difference. To use the Blade S comfortably, you're better off closing any apps you don't need open, otherwise the whole thing slows down considerably.
ZTE isn't in the business of revamping operating systems, and the interface on the Blade S is the basic Android interface. There's no additional user interface like HTC's Sense or Samsung's TouchWiz—just Android and little more. So what you get is five customisable homescreens with widgets and apps. The apps appear in alphabetical order, not in order of preference. The result makes the Blade S an easy device to get a hang of, but you'd better like the Android interface's visual style, because there's not much else to choose from.
Now let's have a look at this affordable smartphone's multimedia capabilities.
With its 5-Mpixel sensor, the Blade S just falls within average for smartphone cameras. Basically, that means it'll do for publishing your odd photo on Facebook or sending an MMS, but you definitely won't be blowing any pictures up and hanging them on your wall. Favour brightly lit settings; they'll reduce the noise in your image. You can't be too demanding when it comes to detail either, as the photos are highly smoothed. This camera does not work wonders; it's a last resort, at best. The Samsung Wave 3, which also has a 5-Mpixel sensor, gives better results.
Same goes for video, which isn't HD, but will do for when you just want to capture a moment and share it with your phone.
Audio-wise, the Blade S isn't shabby, although the volume could be louder. The rendering in stereo is fine, with good dynamics, as long as you use a better set of headphones than the ones that come with it. The player's interface is limited and not as pleasing to the eye as the ones that Apple, Samsung, HTC or Sony Mobile Communications offer.
As for web browsing, the Blade S's performance depends on the page you're trying to load. The less there is on the page, the faster it works. So, naturally, you're better off not having several tabs open at once, unless you want the phone to be slow. Basically, if you really need to look something up online, then the Blade S will do the job. But any mobile web surfing addicts will get quickly frustrated.
One last word about battery life. The Blade S hardly lasts a day with "normal" usage (3G and a little Wi-Fi, games, music, browsing, phone calls, maps). That's not long.