ZTE Blade V8 Pro review

An excellent budget smartphone has tough competition

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Our Verdict

The ZTE Blade V8 Pro is an excellent smartphone for the price. It’s bargain bin price gets you good battery life, decent dual-rear cameras and a near-stock Android experience. If you’re okay with having an older version of Android, the Blade V8 Pro is an excellent budget smartphone.

The flagship ZTE Axon 7 may get all the press and praise but the company’s budget phones shouldn’t be overlooked. ZTE proved just how much phone you can get for $129 with the ZMax Pro and now for $100 more, you can get the excellent ZTE Blade V8 Pro.

The ZTE Blade V8 proves just how much phone you can get for $229, just like the ZMax Pro did at the $129 level. So while ZTE Axon 7 may get all the press and praise, the company’s budget phones shouldn’t be overlooked.

Motorola’s excellent budget phones like the Moto G5 Plus and the Moto G4 also top our lists of best cheap smartphone in the US, giving ZTE a bit of stiff competition. It’s increasingly difficult to find a bad smartphone thanks to budget handsets like the Blade V8 Pro pushing the boundaries, which is good news for consumers.

While you won’t get the latest tech or fastest performance to stand up to the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus, budget phones like the ZTE Blade V8 Pro give you so much for so little money that it’s hard to fault them for well thought out compromises. But this also poses a problem for smartphone makers, as it's becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate their respective phones.

Can the ZTE Blade V8 Pro standout from the budget smartphone crowd? Let’s find out.

ZTE Blade V8 Pro price and release date

  • Costs $229 and is US-exclusive
  • Compatible with AT&T, T-Mobile and all GSM carriers
  • But won’t work on CDMA: Sprint, Verizon and US Cellular

The ZTE Blade V8 Pro is a straightforward phone because you can only get it in one configuration. The phone is a US exclusive and it comes unlocked so it’ll work with networks like AT&T,T-Mobile and others, but won’t work with CDMA carriers like Sprint, Verizon or US Cellular.

The phone costs $229 and features a 5.5-inch full HD display which is powered by a Snapdragon 625. This is the same processor that powers the Motorola Moto G5 Plus, the Blade V8 Pro’s main rival.

ZTE has no plans to launch the Blade V8 Pro outside of the US. 

Design

  • Features a metal frame and rubberized back
  • Rounded back and screen edges feel good in the hand
  • Dual rear cameras and fingerprint sensor built in

The design of the ZTE Blade V8 Pro is understated to the point where it’s almost generic. That’s not a bad thing though, especially if you want a phone that doesn’t draw too much attention. The Blade’s body consists of an aluminum frame with chamfered edges with a rubberized black back with a diamond pattern.

The ZTE Blade V8 Pro measures 156 x 77 x 9.1mm (6.14 x 3.03 x 0.36in), which makes it a relatively compact phone with such a big screen. It’s not the thinnest phone in the world, but it feels good in the hand thanks to its rubber back and slight curves. It’s also not the lightest phone weighing in at 185g (6.53oz). For comparison, the Moto G5 Plus weighs 155g (5.47oz).

On the rear of the Blade you’ll find the dual 13MP cameras with dual-LED flash. These two cameras allow you to adjust your focus and aperture before or after you shoot, adding a bit of flexibility to your shots.

On the front of the device is the earpiece, 8MP selfie camera, capacitive buttons and a physical home/fingerprint reader button. The display is a 5.5-inch Full HD 1080p IPS LCD that features approximately 400 pixels per inch.

On the bottom of the phone are the mic, a down-firing speaker that’s easy to accidentally cover up and USB-C charging port. Thankfully, ZTE included a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top of the phone, so no dongles are needed to use wired headphones. 

The phone’s power and volume keys are located all on the right side, making it a bit confusing to use blindly, as there’s no textured home button. However, muscle memory will kick in after using the phone for a few days.

Screen

  • Full HD resolution IPS LCD display looks good, but slightly dim outdoors
  • 5.5-inch with 400 pixels per inch means you can’t see individual pixels
  • Gorilla Glass 3 protects the display

The ZTE Blade V8 Pro’s display isn’t going to win any awards but it’s perfectly adequate for a mid-range phone. At 5.5-inches, it’s a big display that doesn’t feel too big thanks to the phone’s slim bezels.

ZTE chose to use a IPS LCD display, which gets the job done, but isn’t as nice as the AMOLED displays used by more expensive phones. The one advantage to AMOLED displays are that they get brighter for outdoor use and are better equipped to handle always displays that show the time and notifications when the screen is off. That’s something the Blade can’t do. 

Full HD resolution is more than adequate for its 5.5-inch display with a pixel density of around 400 pixels per inch. The naked eye will not be able to see individual pixels so text and video look crisp. The traditional aspect ratio also means you won’t have unsightly black bars when watching video. Since ZTE chose to use capacitive buttons instead of on-screen buttons, screen real estate is dedicated for your content.

While the Blade V8 Pro’s display is perfectly fine, it is slightly dimmer than we would have liked for outdoor use. Even with the brightness all the way up, the IPS LCD display just can’t match the brightness of better AMOLED panels. 

Specs and performance

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 is good for single-tasking
  • 3GB of RAM is good enough for multitasking but processor isn’t
  • 32GB of onboard storage with microSD expansion up to 256GB
  • Dual-SIM great for travelers

The ZTE Blade V8 Pro is a mid-range phone and its specs reflect that. The phone sports a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 chip, which is noticeably slower than the flagship 821 found in more expensive phones like the Google Pixel and OnePlus 3T, but is par for the course for mid-range phones.

The 3GB of RAM is good for keeping apps in memory, but don’t expect to be able to properly use dual-window multitasking The processor is a bottleneck and this phone runs the rather dated Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow version of Google’s operating system. 

In real world use, the Blade V8 Pro performed well for everyday tasks like web browsing, messaging and watching video. The phone does stutter from time to time when moving quickly throughout the interface, but it’s not a deal breaker.
Benchmarks show no surprised from a mid-range phone like this. The Geekbench 4 benchmark gave the Blade V8 Pro a single-core score of 835 and a multi-core score of 3,004.

However, the Blade’s main rival, the Moto G5 Plus, put out an impressive multi-core score of 3,824. While both phones feature the same processor, the Moto G5 Plus’ extra GB of RAM may have boosted its score higher. It should also be noted that the G5 Plus runs Android 7.0 Nougat versus the Blade’s Android 6.0 Marshmallow, which may have helped the G5 score better thanks to optimizations in the operating system.

Interface and reliability

  • Outdated Android 6.0 Marshmallow is stable
  • Very few included apps and no carrier bloatware
  • ZTE Android skin is inoffensive and adds some nice features

Fans of pure stock Android will be disappointed that ZTE’s choice to skin the operating system. However, ZTE’s skin is light and adds some neat features that stock Android doesn’t have. While not as unblemished as Motorola’s take on Android, ZTE’s skin is inoffensive and most users will enjoy some of the added features. 

ZTE added gesture controls for the Blade V8 Pro, which are quite handy. You can use a three-finger pinch to take a screenshot, activate the flashlight from the lockscreen with a shake, flip the phone to mute and much more. However we would have liked to see a camera shortcut gesture to make snapping shots quicker.

There’s a ton of customization that ZTE added to make the Blade feel the way you want. You can reverse the back and multitasking buttons, rotate lock screen wallpapers every time you turn on the display and can theme the entire operating system.

ZTE did a great job of keeping Android feeling like stock while adding its own unique features. While some Android skins have us running to install a different launcher like Nova Launcher, ZTE’s stock software did a good enough job mimicking stock Android that we didn’t feel the need to use another launcher app. 

Music, movies and games

  • Noticeable quality and frame rate drops compared to flagship phones
  • Down-firing speaker sounds tinny and are easy to block
  • The phone includes normal 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Full HD resolution and good looking screen is good for video

If you want the best multimedia experience ZTE offers, you’ll have to look at the ZTE Axon 7 as the Blade V8 Pro is just okay. That’s not surprising as the phone costs half the price of ZTE’s flagship Axon. 

With music, ZTE did a good job of making the Blade sound as good as it does thanks to Dolby’s digital sound processing (DSP). Users can pick from a number of preset equalizers and enhancements or can go full manual with custom EQs. Dolby’s DSP helps to make music sound more lively and immersive right out of the box. 

The down-firing speaker of the Blade V8 Pro is just mediocre. It’s easy to cover up while watching video or playing games, which is annoying, and sounds anemic. You’ll want to use headphones for listening to music or watching video. 

Gaming is acceptable for a budget phone but expect to see some frame drops and lower quality textures. For example, Super Mario Run had to downgrade textures to run but the game played smoothly and without stutters.

More demanding games like CSR2 made the Blade drop frames when moving throughout the menus. Texture quality was also noticeably worse than when compared to playing on more powerful phones. 

While the ZTE Blade V8 Pro comes with 32GB of built-in storage, you can expand it via microSD for update 256GB of added storage. Alternatively, you can choose to add second nano SIM card. 

Battery life

  • 3,140mAh battery lasts all day
  • Excellent standby battery life
  • Outdated Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0

While the ZTE Blade V8 Pro doesn’t come with Android 7.0 Nougat’s battery life optimizations, we were still impressed by the longevity of the phone in day to day use. We observed all-day performance from the 3,140mAh battery under normal use, though we had to top off if we had extended gaming or video watching sessions.

Standby time is very good with the phone losing just 3% of its charge over night. ZTE did a great job of optimizing battery life with Android 6.0’s Doze feature.

Since the ZTE Blade V8 Pro comes with USB-C, charging is quick even without using the phone’s Quick Charge 2.0 feature. ZTE was kind enough to include a Quick Charge 2.0 capable charger in the box so you don’t have to buy your own. 

Camera

  • Dual-rear 13MP cameras with phase detection autofocus, dual-LED flash
  • Good looking photos but lacks dynamic range and low light performance
  • Fun camera modes like multi exposure, time-lapse and slow-mo

Like many flagship phones, the ZTE Blade V8 Pro features dual-rear cameras for capturing more data to do fancy things like adjust aperture in post or to capture more vivid monochrome images. Each camera is a 13MP affair and there’s a dual-LED flash when needed.

Photos are a bit soft but look good overall. Compared to better cameras on flagship phones, you’ll notice the lack of dynamic range and the camera’s struggles in low light. Images look a bit soft overall, especially in low light and there’s some noticeable barrel distortion when shooting wide. You’ll notice that the far edges of photos will look a little stretched and squashed. 

What the Blade V8 Pro’s camera lack in performance it makes up for in the sheer amount of features in the camera software. The dual-lens camera allows you to adjust bokeh before or after you take a shot, isolate a specific color and take some great monochrome images. 

Image 1 of 8

Photo shows good colors and detail but lacks dynamic range. Objects in shadows are hard to see and there’s noticeable barrel distortion as the cars look squashed.

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There’s a good amount of detail at the center of the image with some softness around the edges of the frame. Note the camera struggling with highlight details of the white flowers. 

Image 3 of 8

Photo shows good details but again highlights the struggle with dynamic range. Subjects in shadows or bright light are washed out and difficult to see. 

Image 4 of 8

The Blade does a serviceable job of taking food photos with just a slight amount of softness. The image is also darker than we would like.

Image 5 of 8

The Blade struggles in low light, getting confused and missing the focus point on Arnold. Overall, low light images are soft and noisy. 

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The dual-camera allows you to adjust bokeh after you’ve taken a shot but the software gets confused. Notice the blurred antenna on the Android figurine.

Image 7 of 8

Monochrome images look very good using the dual-camera mode. There’s opportunity to make the otherwise mediocre camera look artsy. 

Image 8 of 8

Selfies look fine but the front facing camera lacks dynamic range. The photo is dark and highlights are blown out more so than with the rear cameras.

There’s also a LIVE photo mode that lets you create a short animated GIF, similar to Apple’s Live Photos. Other photo modes include full manual shooting, panorama, multi exposure, time-lapse, slow motion and sports.

The ZTE Blade V8 Pro is capable of capturing 4K video at 30 frames per second (fps) but 1080p at 30fps is the default mode. Video looks soft and struggles with dynamic range like with photos. The ZTE Blade V8 Pro also continually hunts for focus which is quite noticeable and jarring.

Overall, the camera of the ZTE Blade V8 Pro won’t impress, but you wouldn’t expect it to for a phone in this price range. In bright lighting, the camera does an admirable job of being sharp and capturing accurate colors but struggles in every other lighting situation. 

Verdict

The ZTE Blade V8 Pro is proof that cheap phones don’t have to suck. It’s increasingly difficult to find a bad phone, even for mid-range phones that cost a quarter of what a flagship phone does. ZTE has a history of making great budget phones and the Blade is no exception.

At its core, the Blade V8 Pro offers a lot for the money. It doesn’t wow when compared to flagship but if all you want is a phone to do the basics, you’ll be happy with the Blade. ZTE did a great job balancing price, performance and features. It’s nice to see NFC included in a mid-range phone for easy speaker pairing and mobile payments, something a lot of mid-range phones skimp on. 

After using the ZTE Blade V8 Pro for a month, we were impressed at just how little we missed from a flagship phone. Sure, you don’t get the multitasking performance of more powerful smartphones but for a majority of tasks, the Blade V8 Pro is perfectly adequate.

The biggest knocks we have against the Blade are is mediocre camera and outdated Android 6.0.1 software. It’s unlikely ZTE will dedicate many resources for its mid and low range smartphones so don’t expect the V8 Pro to get the latest software in a timely fashion. To its credit, ZTE has committed to releasing security updates to keep its phones secure.

Who is this for?

If you don’t have $800 to spend on a flagship phone or even $400 for a budget flagship like the ZTE Axon 7 or OnePlus 3T, the ZTE Blade V8 Pro is a great choice. It ticks so many of the right boxes that you’ll be surprised how little it compromises to get to its $230 price point.

The ZTE Blade V8 Pro is for the buyer who just wants a phone that works and is good enough to do the basics like web browsing, watching video and listening to music. For basic tasks, it’s hard to do better than the Blade V8 Pro for the money. 

Should I buy it?

The ZTE Blade V8 is a great value at its $230 starting point. Its main rival, the Moto G5 Plus starts at $230 and can be had for slightly less money from Amazon if you opt into lockscreen ads. You're not saving much money so we recommend getting the ad-free versions. 

The Motorola bested the Blade V8 Pro in benchmarks but that could be due to the extra GB of RAM and updated Android 7.0 Nougat software. However, the G5 Plus doesn’t have NFC for mobile payments like the Blade V8 Pro.

It’s a tight race between the Blade V8 Pro and the Moto G5 Plus. Both phones offer so much for the money that you’ll be happy with either phone. Pick the Blade V8 Pro if you want to use Android Pay and live in the US (it’s a US exclusive). Pick the Moto G5 Plus if you want to get the latest Android updates faster and live outside the US.