Hands on: ZTE Blade V9 Vita

Could be the cheapest phone with 18:9 screen yet

What is a hands on review?
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Our Early Verdict

The Blade V9 Vita may be the cheapest way to upgrade to an all-screen phone thanks to its bezel-reduced 5.5-inch display. It's the lite version of the ZTE Blade V9 with a more compact size and budget specs to match, just in case you want today's tall screen look with yesterday's entry-level performance.

For

  • 18:9 screen on a budget
  • Dual-lens camera on back
  • Likely at an affordable price

Against

  • Limited performance
  • Not as stylish as the V9

The ZTE Blade V9 Vita is the best sign that the all-screen revolution that's hitting the smartphone world is no longer limited to top-tier or even high mid-range phones.

There's a good chance that this Android phone is the cheapest way to upgrade to an 18:9 screen with very little bezel, and it'll be even less expensive than the bigger ZTE Blade V9 – that phone is priced at €269 in Europe, which works out at about £235, $330, AU$420.

That makes the V9 Vita ideal for cheap phone shoppers who want something that looks trendy, yet don't care to press their handset's performance to the max.

It checks off a lot of other once-flagship-level boxes, too. It has a nice-sized 5.5-inch screen, a rear fingerprint sensor and runs the latest Android 8.1 Oreo software.

The non-final hardware we saw showed promise, enough to become a contender for our best cheap phones list eventually. But we'll need to know the price and test it out in full to make that determination.

Design and display

The ZTE Blade V9 Vita is the cheap and light alternative to the normal-sized V9 with dimensions of 146.8 x 68.7 x 7.6mm. You'll be able to operate it with one hand.

It doesn't have the slick Aurora glass look of its bigger sibling, though. We did like the fact that there will be a variety of colors, including Black, Pink, Blue, and Dark Blue.

The 5.45-inch screen (rounded up to 5.5-inch on some specs sheets) is the right size for a lot of people. You'll find the tall 18:9 aspect ratio and minimal bezel distract from the fairly noticeable HD resolution at just 720p.

We would have also liked to seen more the ability to wake the device by tap tapping or double tapping the the screen, but you can't expect everything at a low price.

The ZTE Blade V9 Vita does include a fingerprint sensor on the back and a 3.5mm headphone jack, features you don't even get in the high-end iPhone X.

Camera, specs and performance

The ZTE Blade V9 Vita has another perk from higher-end phones: a dual-lens camera. It has a 13MP rear camera with phase detection auto focus (PDAF) right next to another 2MP camera. The combination is supposed to produce better low-light photos.

The front-facing camera is 5MP, but interpolated to become an 8MP camera. That means it uses the CPU to fill in the pixels it doesn't see, a bit like upscaling. It's not as good as a camera that can take 8MP photos straightaway.

It's designed to do the basics with its Snapdragon 435 chipset. You won't be able to run the most intense 3D games without hiccups. But it does come with either 2GB or 3GB of RAM and either 16GB or 32GB of internal storage, region dependent. These specs have historically been enough to do everything average users need to do. Nothing more, nothing less.

The Vita has a 3,200mAh capacity battery that's sizable for a 5.5-inch 720p display. This is going to give you more than all-day battery life, and we look forward to testing it out in a full review. You will have to use a microUSB cable to charge. It's not ready for the USB-C future like other phones.

Early verdict

The ZTE Blade V9 Vita is a standout budget phone thanks to its trendy 18:9 display that's become popular thanks to higher-end all-screen phones.

It's not nearly as stylish as the larger ZTE Blade V9, but it does have a nice size to it, fair performance, and what should be excellent battery life based on the specs.

The Vita won't come to every country, but it's going to be a serious competitor where cheap phones are the norm and all-screen phones are still a novelty. This will have a big impact there.

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What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.