ZTE's previous Blade phone, the S6 was an entry-level $350 phone with a plastic build and an HD display. Now the Shenzen-based company is back with a more ambitious attempt as it tries to break into the premium mid-range market with the new Blade S7, a 5-inch smartphone with an aluminum and glass design, a Full HD display, dual 13-megapixel cameras, a fingerprint scanner and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 processor with 3GB RAM.
The ZTE Blade S7 is available in Singapore in either Gold or Black for S$499, however our review unit is a rather eye-catching Lemon Green color that is only available in Thailand and China.
|ZTE Blade S7|
ZTE's last Blade smartphone, the S6, borrowed heavily from Apple's iPhone 6 design. This time around, ZTE seems to have drawn inspiration from the iPhone 4 and 5, with a more blocky design, complete with chamfered bezels. Unlike the all-plastic S6, ZTE has upgraded to a full aluminum chassis on the S7 and has also fitted both the front and rear with 2.5D Gorilla Glass.
The phone is fairly slim at 7.2mm, and measures 142 x 67mm, making it quite similar size-wise to an iPhone 6s. Despite this, it manages to pack in a larger 5-inch display. Remarkably, the phone is also slightly lighter than an iPhone 6s, weighing in at just 131g, which also makes it 17g lighter than the Blade S6.
The right-side of the phone houses dual nano-SIM card slots, with the second slot also doubling up as a microSD slot, which supports cards up to 64GB in capacity. Internally, you get 32GB of built-in storage. The power button and volume rocker can also be found on the right side.
On the bottom of the phone there's a micro-USB port, flanked on either side by two small speaker grilles. The headphone jack can be found on the top of the phone.
Below the screen there's a rectangular home button that doubles up as a fingerprint scanner. There are also two soft keys for back and menu that only light up when pressed on either side of the Home button. The fingerprint scanner is easy to set up and fast and accurate in usage. An interesting feature that makes use of the fingerprint scanner is Simple Touch, which lets you unlock your phone and simultaneously launch different applications depending on which finger you scan. If fingerprint scanning is too mainstream for you, the S7 also boasts a really cool retina unlock feature called Sky Eye which lets you use the front-facing camera to unlock your phone.
Flip the phone over and you'll notice a slight camera bump. It isn't too noticeable, but the metal ring surrounding the camera lens isn't completely flush with the back of the device. Next to the camera module there's an LED flash and a laser autofocus sensor. There's some text back here that reads "Designed by ZTE in Munich. Assembled in China." Obviously, this is 'inspired' by Apple's usage of similar text in the exact same position on its iPhones, but the mention of Munich refers to ZTE's German-based design center, which is actually one of seven design centers it has around the world.
The Blade S7 has a 5-inch 1,920 x 1,080 pixels resolution (441 ppi) IPS LCD display. The S7 display makes use of in-cell technology, which is the same technology Apple uses on its displays to create a zero gap between the display and the glass, resulting in a more vibrant display with better response. In addition, ZTE uses a low-temperature polysilicon screen, to increase contrast ratio, and make blacks look deeper. It isn't quite as good as an AMOLED display, but its definitely one of the better LCD displays we've seen.
Audio on the S7 comes from a single speaker located on the bottom edge. Sound quality is acceptable but a bit thin and lacking in bass. As the speaker is on the bottom edge, you also have to put up with one-sided audio when watching content in landscape orientation.
The S7 runs on Android 5.1.1 Lollipop with ZTE's MiFavor 3.0 OS on top. As with most Chinese brand OSes, it highly resembles iOS, with the removal of the app drawer.
Other than the missing app drawer and some iOS looking icons, ZTE hasn't changed too much about Android, but has included some of its own features, most prominently its Smart Sense gesture control. This feature lets you launch apps with a variety of gesture-based commands. For example, to quickly turn on the torchlight, just shake the phone vigorously and it will turn on. Shake it again to turn it off - useful for when you're hunting for your keys in the dark. Some of the gestures are a bit complicated, and can take a while to learn. For example, to activate the mirror application (really just the front-facing camera) you have to: hold down the volume up button, bring the phone up to your face, and release the button.
New to Smart Sense is Black screen gesture, which lets you launch apps by drawing a pattern on the screen, something we've seen before with the Gesture Board on Oppo's ColorOS. Black Screen gesture isn't as customizable as Gesture Board, as you only get four pre-set patterns you can draw: C, M, W, and O, but you can set those patterns to launch any app.
As mentioned above, you can also launch specific apps by assigning a fingerprint to them using the Simple Touch feature, which can be found in the fingerprint settings menu. Unlocking your phone with that finger will launch that app. You can store up to five fingerprints on the phone, but you'll probably want to save your thumbprint for a regular homescreen unlock, so that gives you four fingers to assign.