TECH

ZTE Blade V8 Pro First Look: Premium Features at a Low Price

The ZTE Blade V8 Pro is one of a growing number of Android smartphones that provide all of the qualities you'd find in top-shelf phones at very affordable prices. In this case, the phone costs an almost-unbelievably low $230 but comes packed with high-end features.

These include a capacious battery, a large and vibrant display, and a microSD slot for expanding the phone's 32 gigabytes (GB) of onboard storage.

One of the V8 Pro's unusual benefits is a pair of rear-mounted cameras that work together to produce interesting effects. Dual cameras have just started to appear on expensive models such as the $900 iPhone 7 Plus.

We haven't started our lab tests yet—we'll wait until we can buy the phone at retail—but I've been using a press sample for several days and can offer first impressions. The ZTE Blade V8 Pro has its flaws, but overall I think it's a pretty good phone and great deal.

Here are the details.

A big phone that's hard to hold. The ZTE Blade V8 Pro has a dazzling 5.5-inch 1080P display. That's good. Not so good is the fact that the phone feels oversized in the hand.

In recent years, smartphone makers such as Apple and Samsung have done a phenomenal job of squeezing increasingly large displays into cases that are comfortable to hold.

For instance, I can easily grip the large Samsung Galaxy S7 edge in one hand and use my thumb to reach apps in the opposite corners of the desktop. That's largely because the phone's edges are tapered.

The Pro V8 is about the same size as the S7 edge, but it often requires me to use two hands: one to hold the phone, and the other to tap the screen.

One-and-a-half cameras. A small number of smartphones now have a pair of cameras on the back. (This is separate from the selfie camera in front.) Typically, one rear-facing camera handles most shots while the other acts as either a zoom lens or a wide-angle lens for shooting objects that are nearby.

The ZTE Blade V8 Pro takes another approach. Only one of its two 13-megapixel cameras takes still pictures and videos. The second camera is there to produce effects such as bokeh, in which the subject is in focus while the background is blurred out. (See more below.)

We'll formally evaluate image quality once we can buy a test sample. But one of our imaging experts took the press sample for a spin and said he liked its still images, especially under daylight conditions. Even pictures taken under low-light conditions had very little visual noise. Video performance was less impressive. For instance, objects shot in the shadows appeared too dark when we used auto settings. And autofocus was jumpy, especially in low light. (Consumers Reports has compiled a list of the phones with the best cameras.)

Photo effects. The bokeh worked well for the most part, according to our technician, particularly when we didn't want an extremely blurred background. When we did attempt to exaggerate the bokeh effect, it was difficult to get the camera to maintain the sharp focus where we wanted it, for instance on a subject's face. (For some reason, the camera kept focusing on her elbow.)

Another interesting effect is Monochrome, which let you make objects colored red, green, or blue pop out in an otherwise black-and-white picture. This feature worked well except when colors straddled more than one hue, such as aqua or turquoise. In those cases, the result looked messy, with too many sections of the image appearing in color.

Fast charging, slow-draining battery. Many of the top-performing smartphones in our ratings have batteries that can keep functioning for more than a day. The ZTE Blade V8 Pro may very well hit that benchmark, too, once we test it in the lab. The battery gauge barely moved as I streamed lots of videos and performed other battery-killing activities over a period of hours. When the battery was nearly dead, I brought it back in just about 2 hours using a USB Type-C quick charger.

One phone, two numbers. The ZTE Blade V8 Pro’s dual SIM-card slot allows you to add a second phone account, even from a different cellular provider. That can be very useful for people who want to make both business and personal calls from the same phone.

This is a GSM-based phone, which means you can use it with providers such as AT&T and T-Mobile, but not Sprint or Verizon. I used both a T-Mobile card and one from AT&T, and it was really cool switching between the two to make and take calls. You can view call logs and texts from both accounts on one screen.

The phone makes no assumptions about account preferences. Each time you place a call or send a text, you have to tell the V8 Pro which number to use by selecting the card at the base of the screen. Switching from one data plan to the other is more work: You have to go into settings.

The big downside to the V8 Pro’s SIM-card arrangement is that the second SIM card occupies the microSD slot.

That means you’ll have to choose between having two cell lines or extra storage. 

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