ZTE Blade Spark Review

The ZTE Blade Spark lying on a table face down with its camera closest to the front

In the last 5 or 6 years, the long-term duopoly of Samsung and Apple has been challenged increasingly by smartphone makers from the far east. HTC, Huawei, Xiaomi and more have emerged to show that the best smartphones needn’t cost the prices the big 2 were trying to get away with. One of the leaders of this technical revolution was ZTE.

What ZTE did, rather than immediately try and challenge for the top end of the market, was to aim at the real bread and butter of the industry. Collectively, far more mid-range devices are sold every year than are high-end devices. It was this far more accessible market which ZTE set their sites on. They used very high quality components to create smartphones with all the specs of a flagship smartphone, but at a fraction of the price.

As a result, the ZTE brand gained traction quickly, leading to an excellent range of smartphones that were as affordable as they were impressive.

Introducing the ZTE Blade Spark

The ZTE Blade Spark taking an image of greenery

On paper, the ZTE Blade Spark doesn’t look like any kind of budget smartphone. It has a level of hardware, at least on paper, which looks able to outrun any of its rivals at this price point. A big screen, a bigger battery, and high pixel cameras front and back.

The Blade Spark also brings features which, up to this time had been limited to the big ticket smartphones. As we know from experience, though, packing a smartphone with hardware is no guarantee of quality. To see how the ZTE Blade Spark measures up, we handed it off to our team of testers to see what they think.

The ZTE Blade Spark is available for just $129, brand new and fully unlocked.

Scores For The ZTE Blade Spark

The back of the ZTE Blade Spark  showing its camera lens

Our reviews team gave the ZTE Blade Spark a total score of 4.3/5. This is taken from the categories below:

  • Design (4/5)
  • Build (4.3/5)
  • Display (4.1/5)
  • Cameras (4.6/5)
  • Hardware (4.6/5)
  • Software (4/5)

As it turns out, the list of high spec components didn’t disappoint. What ZTE claimed the Blade Spark is capable of, it pretty much was. The list of hardware in the device just seems to go o and on, and it all works really well together. Having a lot of hardware can put pressure on both the CPU and battery, but we saw almost no evidence of that.

Full Specs

The bottom of the ZTE Blade Spark while on a wooden table

Size

6.14 x 3.06 x 0.38 in
Weight

6.12 oz

Display Size

5.5”
Display Resolution

720 x 1280 px

Cameras

13MP / 5MP

Internal Storage

16GB
MicroSD Card Slot

Yes – up to 128GB

4G

Yes

Battery Life

17 hours talk time / 10 days standby

Price

$129

Design and Build

A side view of the ZTE Blade Spark while its lying on a wooden table outdoors

Let’s be brutally honest here. It’s kinda difficult to get enthusiastic about modern smartphone design. The ZTE Blade Spark looks perfectly okay, it’s just that it looks like almost any other smartphone. That’s not really a criticism, merely an observation. Actually, it’s probably not fair to just judge the ZTE by it’s (a bit plain) front cover. The criss-cross effect on the back case actually looks and feels pretty nice. It also helps to make the large case of the Blade Spark a lot easier to handle, even with average sized hands.

The Blade Spark is also a little thicker than most of its rivals. Side by side, this can make the Blade Spark look a little chunky, but it isn’t bad news for users. That extra thickness, and we’re talking only about 7 0r 8/100th of an inch, adds to the feeling of security in the hand. The Blade Spark is over 6″ tall, so that extra bit of something to hang on to is not in any way a bad thing.

Display

Someone using the ZTE Blade Spark to play a racing game

The Blade Spark has a 5.5″ screen. If you’re coming from something like an iPhone, it will look absolutely huge to you. With a 720 x 1280 px resolution, a 5.5″ display is probably the maximum size that can be effective, before quality starts to suffer. Big displays and low resolutions can result in a soft image, lacking any kind of sharpness. The Blade Spark does manage to stay the right side of the clarity line, with pictures looking good and bright, and movies look just great on the almost cinematic screen.

As an example of the great hardware ZTE have packed in, the display has both a proximity sensor and an ambient light sensor. The proximity sensor is what causes the display to go off if you’re on a call because it knows it’s against your ear. Or it can show the notification screen if you pass your hand over the sensor area. The ambient light sensor is even more useful. If you use a smartphone in a very dark room, without the sensor, it feels like the phone can be seen from the moon it’s so bright. The ambient sensor reduces or increase the brightness of the display according to the environment. Both sensors can be a big help in preserving battery life, as the display is the biggest drain on power by far.

Cameras
Taking a picture of a forest using the ZTE Blade Spark

At 13MP and 5MP, the cameras of the Blade Spark have a lot in the tank. The rear camera is really and truly excellent. It takes outstanding still pictures, and great quality Full HD video. You can record time lapse video, make video calls and even share videos directly from the app. Also, you can pause recording, to end up with a single file instead of several short clips.

You have several options for images such as HDR, panorama, timelapse and even multi-exposure to capture multiple scenes in a single image. Full manual control over exposure, focus and more is also an option.

The cameras of the Blade Spark, backed up by a great use of the camera app, are a great experience. We’d actually say it’s one of the most responsive and useful camera setups we’ve seen. This is regardless of the low price of the ZTE. The cameras here are just that good.

The front camera is also an excellent performer, with quality selfies being produced every time. Although there is no LED flash, there is the “white screen” method available. This produces a bright white display to provide light for selfies.

Hardware

A hand showing the ZTE Blade Spark  in front of an outdoor wall

The processor in the Blade Spark is a very useful quad core, 1.4Ghz CPU with dedicated graphics processor. This means the Blade Spark is zippy enough to cope with everything you ask it to do in normal everyday use.  Internal storage is a healthy 16GB, and you can add a further 128GB if you need to.

The battery is simply huge. Because of the extra space in the large case, ZTE have added a 3140 mAh battery. It should be plenty to keep you running all day and more.

On the back case is a fingerprint sensor. This can be used to unlock the phone quickly and easily. It might also be used in compatible apps, such as banking, for extra account security. We wouldn’t really have expected a fingerprint sensor on a smartphone at this price. Props to ZTE for adding it.

The USB connector is USB-C. It might mean you need to ditch all your old USB cables, but see that as a positive. USB-C connectors are not only much stronger than previous version, but also reversible. So, no more having that little guy who lives inside your phone flipping the port around when he sees the cable approaching.

Software

The apps in the ZTE Blade Spark

The ZTE ships with Android 7 Nougat. This is one of the best Android versions in recent years. It is stable and fast and adds a whole host of extra security measures. ZTE also don’t load apps onto the Blade Spark that you just don’t need. That fact alone would normally be enough to impress us and put the score up a notch or two.

Great hardware, perfectly capable software. It’s a winning combination.

Conclusion

We said, right at the top of this review, that ZTE give value for money. The Blade Spark shows that we were right. The sensors built into the display, a fingerprint sensor and great cameras are a fine example of how to put a smartphone together. Just as importantly, it’s an example of how to do it for an amazingly low price.

Rachel C.
Rachel C.
Rachel is the researcher and blog writer for the Mr Aberthon website. She grew up in Brooklyn, New York and eventually made her way to Connecticut in order to become a part of the Mr Aberthon Team. She is passionate about technology and electronics, and nothing gives her more pleasure than discovering insights into the latest gadgets to hit the electronics market.