Like Huawei and OPPO, ZTE is pushing in to the global market with affordable alternatives to the bank-busting flagships we’ve all come to know and expect. The Blade Vec is one such low-cost device, priced varyingly depending on your market, but generally falling between the OPPO Neo 5 and Motorola Moto G – two phones that offer some serious bang for your buck.
So, how does the Blade Vec do in the face of such staunch competition? Not well, unfortunately. On paper it reads like a budget buyer’s dream, but the reality is starkly disappointing.
The look and feel of the Blade Vec gives no indication of its underlying problems. This is a well-constructed device for this end of the market. The thin, flat profile and almost sharp edges fit comfortably in the hand. The textured back hails back to the Motorola flagships of yesteryear and the buttons are easily reached by righties and lefties alike, although the latter may have troubles with volume-up.
The lock and volume buttons themselves are a little loose, but who cares at this price? The Home, Back and Multitasking buttons are on-screen. There are two SIM slots on the left-hand side, one of which is 3G and the other 2G-only.
Under those is the microSD slot, which takes cards up to 32GB. You’ll probably need one eventually – storage is just 8GB, with 5GB available to the user.
The side bezels are unexpectedly thin. Along with the crisp 720p display this gives the Blade Vec the appearance of a more-expensive device.
The top and bottom bezels aren’t uncommonly tall, either. Overall this is a perfectly attractive-looking low-price option.
The 720p 5-inch display is pretty close in quality to the one found on the Moto G, which is fantastic.
Unlocking requires you to press and hold, rather than swiping. This is a little strange and takes longer than the more-usual method, but it’s an idiosyncrasy that you quickly adapt to.
The UI itself isn’t overly pretty, but it’s not boring. It’s a familiar Android experience.
So far so good.
A small niggle is that plugging the phone in to a PC requires you to select “Turn on USB storage” for any files to show up. This is unnecessary but still isn’t really worthy of serious complaint.
So, what’s the problem?
Once you try to use the Blade Vec to actually do anything the magic shatters. Whether it’s WiFi or 3G it doesn’t matter. You’re in for a frustrating ride.
3G works in patches, but they’re few and far between. You’ll spend a lot of your time with under 1Mb/s down, which is about a tenth you can expect to get from some other 3G phones these days on the right network. It’s basically unusable. Not even your Facebook or Twitter feeds will load reliably.
2G isn’t much better. Missed calls and texts went totally undetected until we swapped the SIM out and in to another phone, at which point we were swamped with a torrent of notifications. All of this was because nothing could even get through to tell us we’d missed anything.
Half the time while this is happening you’ll still have two or three bars, so you won’t even know you’re not connected until you try to go online or someone tells you in person that you’re not getting messages.
WiFi’s not much better. Scratch that; it’s worse. On two separate networks where other phones worked fine at around 6Mb/s, the Blade Vec crawled along as slow as 0.1Mb/s. That’s not even fast enough to get the Google Play store to load so that you can download a speed test app. We had to do that during one of the sporadic pockets of 3G.
It’s such a shame. The connectivity is so bad at every level that the Blade Vec is just unusable as a phone, or even a WiFi device.
One thing did work: Bluetooth. There’s no NFC so connecting to a device means going through the menus, but other than that there were no issues.
The camera is another problem. Both the OPPO Find 5 and Moto G have passable cameras despite their low price. The Blade Vec starts fighting you before you even snap off a shot.
Autofocus doesn’t really work, so you need to tap on the screen to get going and pray that your subject doesn't move an inch. For some reason, no matter what volume profile you have set, doing this triggers an obnoxiously loud sound. The shutter, too, feels the need to announce to the world that you’ve just taken a photo.
Now that everyone in the room is looking at you, you'd better hope you had perfect lighting or get prepared to wow them with an image that could have been taken by a mid-range handset from in 2010.
If you did have perfect lighting then you may have missed your shot anyway thanks to the occasionally, but not reliably-long time it takes for the shutter to activate once you've pressed the button.
Assuming everything went off without a hitch, you'll have a satisfactory image. It'll be blurry when blown-up on a computer monitor, and anything outside of the focus area will be a bit hazy, but it's good enough to throw on instagram.
If it was just the slow, daytime-only camera then the Blade Vec could be forgiven. At this end of the market there are always sacrifices, so asking your customers to pick a beautiful screen and comfortable design over decent quality photos would not be inappropriate.
Unfortunately, the connectivity issues mean that it’s useless as anything other than a media player, if that media is stored on-board… in the 5GB of available hard drive space.
We wanted so much to like this phone. Manufacturers like OPPO, Motorola, Huawei and even HTC are starting to release great handsets for very reasonable prices. The Blade Vec looked like one on paper, but as it turns out that was a cheque that it just couldn’t cash.