What makes a good smartphone? It is something we discussed at length during our latest episode of the africast in specific respects to the mid-range phone space in SA. What about entry-level phones, however? This is what I’ve been pondering for the past two weeks while I’ve been reviewing the ZTE Blade A3 2020.
This begged another question – is the sub-R1k price tag enough to forgive the flaws of the ZTE Blade A3 2020?
We look at all of this below, so if you’re intrigued as to whether a R900 phone can do the job given how important these devices have become in our everyday lives, please read on.
Let’s start as I often do with phone reviews on the design. On this front the Blade A3 2020 does not deliver anything particularly noteworthy. In fact, despite 2020 being in its moniker, this device feels like something made three or four years ago.
If you wanted an indication of its entry-level credentials, it features a removable back cover to access the pair of SIM slots and SD card slot on the rear. Added to this is a microUSB port to handle the charging, which too feels like a blast from a past.
But then it dawns on me, perhaps I’m being a phone snob. Reviewing premium phones that cost upwards of R18 000 have made me out of touch with reality.
As such, for R900, the ZTE Blade A3 2020 takes care of the basics. It’s certainly not an objet d’art, but for the purposes of utility, it delivers as expected.
Up front is a 5.45″ HD+ display that too is designed to get the job done. There are no waterfall edges, slim bezels, dewdrop notches or pin holed screens, and that is perfectly fine as the phone costs less than R1 000.
Is it well sized, yes, and that’s ultimately the most important part.
Sure, the screen is lacking a bit of brightness, which needs to be turned up to the maximum setting in order to see things clearly, but that is a compromise you should be willing to make given that that you could buy 17 of these for the price of an iPhone 12 mini.
In a more expensive phone, compromises would not normally be tolerated, but on a device like the ZTE Blade A3 2020, which is designed for those making the switch from feature phone to smartphone without a massive increase in cost, compromise is acceptable.
The same goes for performance. Running Android 9 Pie (Go Edition), the Blade A3 2020 is powered by a quad-core Unisoc SC9832E processor that clocks in at a modest 1.4GHz. Paired with 1GB of RAM, this is far from a processing powerhouse, but in hand, the experience was more than satisfactory.
Given that a number of the Google-based apps are Go Edition in nature or optimised for less powerful handsets, apps loading relatively quickly and smoothly.
The only telltale sign of sluggishness was navigating the settings, with searches and different features taking a second longer to load than we’d ideally like. For reference, in our benchmark testing the phone got a 101 and 197 on GeekBench’s single-core and multi-core tests. That is to be expected given that the quad-core chipset found internally was first brought to market in 2018.
Again this another trade off you’ll happily make given the cost of this phone.
One area the ZTE Blade A3 2020 did disappoint was the camera experience.
On the rear is an 8MP lens which yields middling images. This as the shutter lets too much light in and ultimately makes compositions more blurry. There is an HDR mode that improves colour saturation, but that’s about it, as we were very surprised to find no way of adjusting the focal point of the camera.
The front facing is not much better at 5MP, so if you are planning on snapping a lot of pics, it is best to temper your expectations.
Speaking of images, the Blade A3 2020 has 16GB onboard storage, which can get used up fairly quickly depending on how much digital content you plan to create or consume, so purchasing an SD card to expand said storage will be something to consider.
An element that did stand out for us though, is battery life. The Blade A3 2020 may only have a 2 600mAh unit onboard, but it sips power when not in use, which means you can easily stretch things a day and a half before a visit to a plug point is needed.
As we have stated throughout this review, the Blade A3 2020 is a device of compromise. It boils down to what you are willing to sacrifice in order to fit in with your budget. If camera performance is something you can place on the back burner in order to get solid performance and good battery life for example, then at R900 the Blade A3 2020 feels worth it.
Our only concern is just how quickly you’ll need to upgrade and what kind of after sales support ZTE can offer given the brand has only recently re-entered into the country.