When you think of budget phones, images of flimsy handsets with tiny screens and bloatware-laden software probably come to mind. But there are plenty of good options out there if you don’t want to spend quadruple digits on one of the latest flagships. In fact, you don’t even have to spend $100. The ZTE Blade A7 Prime for Visible offers solid performance and a nearly stock version of Android 9.0 in an attractive design for just $99. Sure, its camera and display leave something to be desired, but it’s hard to argue with the overall value here.
Design, Display, and Durability
For the price, the Blade A7 Prime looks downright handsome, with a back panel made of textured plastic. It measures 6.2 by 2.9 by 0.3 inches (HWD) and comes in at 5.8 ounces.
A 6.1-inch IPS display with a 19.5:9 aspect ratio dominates the front of the phone. Overall screen-to-body ratio is good thanks to a teardrop notch for the front-facing camera and small side bezels. While the chin is relatively chunky, it’s not distracting and lacks prominent branding found on phones like the Moto G7 Power.
Resolution comes in at 1,560 by 720, for 276 pixels per inch. We were surprised, therefore, to find the screen to look significantly less sharp than the Moto G7 Power’s, which has a similar pixel density. It’s fine for moderate texting and the occasional internet search, but reading anything for a long period of time isn’t ideal. What the display lacks in clarity, however, it makes up for in brightness and color accuracy.
As mentioned, the back panel is made of textured plastic that adds some grip and protects against smudges and fingerprints. A camera module is located in the top left corner, while a fingerprint sensor sits in the top center; it’s easy to reach, even with small hands, and responds quickly. A small speaker grille makes its home in the bottom left corner.
On the top of the A7 Prime you’ll find a headphone jack, while the bottom is home to a USB-C charging port. A hybrid SIM/microSD slot sits on the left side of the phone, while a bright red, textured power button and volume rocker are on the right. Both are easy to reach and provide a satisfying click when pressed.
While the back panel will likely weather accidental drops and dings, the display is unlikely to fare as well. Since ZTE doesn’t disclose the type of glass used for the screen, we can’t predict how will it will stand up to any damage. The phone also lacks an IP rating, so any contact with water will likely end badly. For peace of mind, be sure to invest in a protective case.
Network, Call, and Audio Quality
Exclusive to Verizon MVNO Visible, the ZTE Blade A7 Prime supports LTE bands 2/4/5/13. It’s carrier-locked, so you can’t use it elsewhere. Network quality is good. We tested the phone in downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn and consistently had speeds averaging 41Mbps down and 48Mbps up.
Call quality is solid. Our test calls were crystal clear and background noise cancellation worked well. Peak earpiece and speakerphone volume comes in at 85dB, making it possible to hear calls outside on a busy street.
For a phone with a single rear-facing speaker, audio quality on the A7 Prime is surprisingly crisp. Speaker volume maxes out at 90dB when streaming media and doesn’t sound particularly tinny or hollow, even at top volume. We also found no difference in audio quality when holding the phone versus resting it on a table.
The A7 Prime has Bluetooth 4.2 for audio and wearable connectivity, as well as the aforementioned headphone jack. Wi-Fi is supported on the 2.4GHz band, but not 5GHz. There’s no NFC for mobile payments, but that’s not surprising for the price.
Hardware and Software
The phone is powered by a MediaTek Helio A22 processor and 3GB of RAM. There’s 32GB of storage onboard, and the microSD slot supports up to 2TB of external storage.
On PCMark 2.0, a series of benchmark tests that simulate typical use scenarios, the phone scored 4,935. That’s well behind the Moto G7 Power (6,107) and the Nokia 7.1 (6,224), but those phones cost twice as much. The Blade A7 Prime is fine for basic tasks like internet browsing or sending emails. There’s a slight lag when opening apps and unlocking the phone. Multitasking with more than six apps will also slow things down, and it goes without saying the phone isn’t built to handle processor-intensive games like PUBG: Mobile.
We were pleasantly surprised by the 3,200mAh battery, which lasted for 8 hours and 11 minutes of streaming video over Wi-Fi at full brightness. Once again, it doesn’t hold a candle to the Moto G7 Power (14 hours, 29 minutes), but it’s a hundred dollar less. With more conservative use, the phone should have no problem making it through the day, and it supports fast charging if you pick up a third-party adapter.
As mentioned, the A7 Prime ships with Android 9.0. Happily, it’s a nearly stock version without any bloatware. That said, it’s unlikely that an update to Android 10 is in the cards.
The Blade A7 Prime sports a single 16MP rear-facing camera with an f/2.0 aperture, and a 5MP front-facing camera with an f/2.2 aperture.
In bright light, the rear camera performs decently. There’s a little background blur, but depth of field and color accuracy are on point. The front-facing camera, on the other hand, struggles. Nearly all of our test shots had halos and blurring in the foreground and background.
Neither camera performs well in low light. Both have slow shutter speeds and require a steady hand to get a shot that isn’t completely blurry. The rear-facing camera performs slightly better in this regard, but still showed some background blur and minor noise around the edges of photos. If you want to take selfies in dark places like bars or restaurants, meanwhile, your least expensive option is going to be the Nokia 7.1.
The ZTE Blade A7 Prime isn’t perfect; the display and cameras can both stand to be a lot sharper. For the price, however, it offers good battery life, competent performance, and a clean software build. While you can find these features elsewhere, you’ll have a hard time finding them for just $99, making the A7 Prime a solid buy for Visible users.