Plastic, But Decent PlasticAlthough no high-end handset would be seen dead in a plastic casing these days (2011 is all about metal), that doesn't mean that all plastic phones have to have cheap, low-quality finishes. In fact, although the Blade is made entirely from plastic, it has an excellent build and finish. It's pleasant to touch and handle, and feels like it's made to stand the test of time.
The practicality of its deign, however, isn't quite as convincing. ZTE has kept physical controls to a bare minimum and, to be honest, they're not the best of quality either. Fewer buttons inevitably means you have to spend more time searching through the menus to find various options. Plus, the buttons themselves aren't immensely practical, as they just seem to be a ridiculous shape and size. No matter what your thoughts on touchscreen interfaces, there's no denying that a certain number of physical buttons and shortcuts can be really handy.
Basic InterfaceWe're not entirely convinced by the internal user interface either. The Blade runs on the basic, unadulterated version of Android v2 with no aesthetic or functional tweaks. That makes it look and feel a bit empty. The GUI also lags quite often and for no apparent reason when you're browsing through menus in the OS—not even the task manager gives any hint as to why these slow-downs happen.
These lags are all the more surprising since the handset seems relatively at ease with demanding apps, such as games to photo editing apps. Don't forget that the Blade is only equipped with a 600 MHz Qualcomm MSM 7227 processor and with 256 MB of RAM though, so you'll have to be careful not to overload it with too many power-hungry apps.
Multimedia Could be BetterAlthough video playback (including DivX files) poses no real problem, HD is less reliable. Moreover, shooting video and taking photos are far from being strong points of the Blade, as the 3.2-Megapixel camera is incapable of doing its job properly. It overexposes bright or light shades, it often takes blurred photos, and the white balance is pretty dodgy with impressive colour tinges at times. In other words, these are functions for functions' sake since they're not really worth bothering with.
However, the screen goes some way to making up for things. The AMOLED technology is borrowed straight from Samsung and ensures excellent contrast and brightness ... as well as the same colour fidelity issues. The touchscreen works perfectly well too, proving both fast and sufficiently sensitive.
The headphones socket gives a fairly clean output—unlike the speaker—but you'll have to make do with the very basic Android media player for listening to music on the move.
We've got no complaints about the Blade's battery life, as it easily withstands a whole day of typical multimedia smartphone use. That's a real plus point too, as not all manufacturers can boast as much.
All in all, the ZTE Blade is no rival for market heavyweights, but it does a decent job for a low-cost handset. It's not a million miles from Samsung's first Galaxy phones (but without the cheap finish and ugly plastics) and, in spite of its obvious flaws, it's a promising start for little-known manufacturer ZTE. Who knows—perhaps ZTE could shape up to be this decade's answer to HTC ...