Over the past few years, CES has gotten quite a bit quieter in regards to smartphone-related news. Appliances, TVs, and cars tend to reign supreme at the event nowadays, but even with this being the case, mobile-related news and announcements aren't completely dead at all - you just have to know where to look to find them. ZTE held their official press event earlier today, and mobile was the star of the show. While the company did take some time to talk about their crowdsourced and self-adhesive phone - the Hawkeye - the majority of the time was spent going over the Blade V8 Pro.
The V8 Pro is the first Blade series smartphone that ZTE is bringing to the US, and it's a sign of the company's attempt to be as relevant as possible here in the Western market. The company's Axon line remains as their flagship series of smartphones in the States, whereas the Blade lineup is all about offering a premium experience at as low of a cost as possible. The V8 Pro is the latest smartphone from ZTE to be made with this mantra, and we got to go hands-on with the phone at the company's press event. There's quite a bit to like here for the price, and while we'll of course have to wait for our full review to get a complete idea of what it has to offer, we were able to pick up some solid, initial impressions of what the V8 Pro is bringing to the table.
The overall design of the Blade V8 Pro might be one of its weakest points, but that's not to say it's all that bad. It's certainly serviceable, but it's just kind of boring. A metal frame keeps the phone feeling nice and sturdy in the hand, but unlike the all metal-clad Honor 6X that we just took a look at yesterday, ZTE opted for a plastic-made back on the V8 Pro. The plastic being used here does feature a textured design to provide for a bit of added grip, but there's no doubt that it's quite a bit less premium feeling than similarly priced smartphones that are currently on the market.
A fingerprint sensor lives below the display that we'll talk about in just a second, and I was happy to see that ZTE decided to make the sensor a clickable button rather than a non-moving slate. USB Type-C is also present here, and while the design of the Blade V8 Pro might be a bit sub-par compared to that of the Honor 6X, at least it isn't rocking a microUSB port in early 2017.
Going back to that display, ZTE is using a pretty typical 5.5-inch screen size with an LCD panel and resolution of 1920 x 1080. The display looks just like you'd expect it to, with pretty sharp text, nicely vibrant colors, and stark whites. You're certainly not going to get nearly as much detail or saturation here as you would with a Quad HD Super AMOLED panel, but for a screen of this size and the price range that it's currently placed in, the display situation on the V8 Pro is more than adequate. It isn't really jaw-dropping or mind-blowing by any stretch of the imagination, but it gets the job done and isn't a pain to look at.
Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow is running on the Blade V8 Pro out of the box with ZTE's own custom skin layered on top of it. The skin being used here looks to be the same one that's present on the Axon 7, meaning that while there certainly are some noticeable tweaks and changes that ZTE has made, the overall aesthetic and look of the software is more reminiscent to stock Android than anything else. Scrolling through home screens and the app drawer all felt incredibly smooth, and the changes that ZTE has made to the notification shade and system settings look to be for the better rather than for the worst.
There's currently no word as to when the Blade V8 Pro will be receiving the update to Android 7.0 Nougat, but ZTE has been pretty committed as of late to getting their phones updated to the latest software as soon as possible. The company announced today that the update to Android 7.0 Nougat would be arriving for the Axon 7 soon, and while no plans for this update were announced at the press event, we've got to imagine that it won't be too long before Marshmallow finally sees its way out the door on the phone.
As for the processor, ZTE decided to opt for the Snapdragon 625 and 3GB of RAM. Similar to the display, this is a combination that won't blow you away, but also shouldn't leave you disappointed. Light to average usage should run like butter on the Blade V8 Pro, and if you happen to be a bit of a gamer, the occasional graphically intense game will be playable here as well.
Like many other phones that have been released over the past few months, ZTE decided to include a dual-camera setup on the Blade V8 Pro. This particular system is using two 13-megapixel sensors to capture images, and when both lenses are used in conjunction via the camera app, you can adjust focus and aperture settings, take completely monochromatic shots, or select only one particular color to be present in your photos. This is the same kind of stuff that we've seen from the likes of the Honor 8 and Honor 6X, and although it isn't necessarily anything new, it's still great to see this added functionality being brought to the sub $300 price bracket.
As for the actual quality of the images, we're still not entirely sure on this one. We did snap a couple shots while attending ZTE's press event, but lighting conditions were far from ideal for really putting this camera package through its paces. Considering the conditions we were in, the photos we managed to take didn't look terrible. The dual-camera features also seemed to work quite well when playing with then, but then again, this is something we won't really get that great of an idea for until we get to spend a bit more personal time with the phone.
Powering all of the tech packed inside of the Blade V8 Pro is a 3,140 mAh battery. That's a pretty decent capacity considering the 1080p nature of the display being used here, but with two camera sensors in tow, we've got to imagine that frequent use of the dual-camera features will cause the battery to drain a bit quickly. Qualcomm QuickCharge 2.0 is present here for when you need to top up, but since we only had a very limited time to use the V8 Pro during out hands-on time with it, this is another area that we won't be able to dive into with a lot of detail until it comes time for the full review.
If all of the above information sounded find to you but not necessarily all that exciting, maybe this will turn things around for you. Pre-orders for the ZTE Blade V8 Pro are live now, and you can purchase the handset for just $230 completely unlocked. That's a tremendous price to pay for such a capable handset, and it even undercuts the likes of the OnePlus 3T by nearly 50-percent. Some compromises have apparently been made in the design department, but if that's the biggest issue facing the phone, this could turn out to be one of the smartphones to beat in the under $300 price tier.