A quad-core smartphone with a 5in screen and 2000mAh battery sounds like an amazing deal at £89, but is all as it seems? Find out in our ZTE Blade L2 budget smartphone review. Also see: 37 best smartphones 2014.
The Blade L2 is the latest super-budget smartphone from Chinese phone maker ZTE. At £89 its closest rival is the same-price Motorola Moto E, a 4.3in qHD-screen Android KitKat phone with a dual-core processor. This phone's faster than Motorola's cheapest handset, but speed isn't everything in the highly competitive smartphone market. Also see: 14 best budget smartphones 2014.
ZTE Blade L2: Build and design
Neither, of course, are looks. Although they do help. Whereas Motorola's Moto E is incredibly well built, just a slightly chunkier version of its best-selling pebble-design Moto G, the Blade L2 gave us grief even before we turned it on.
The rear cover is removable, allowing you to access the SIM and MicroSDXC slots. We say removable - it's almost like it had been superglued on. Once you've prised off the cover once it's much easier to remove, but this isn't necessarily a good thing. With the 2000mAh battery inside a non-removable model there's really no need to get under the cover, yet you're left with a phone whose chassis now creaks under pressure.
It's not all bad. The all-white ZTE doesn't suffer the usual tell-tale budget belly, measuring just 8.95mm by 142.5mm and 72.2mm. It's not too heavy either, at just 130g. And despite the now-creaky chassis, the Blade L2 is fairly sturdy, with nothing rattling inside.
It's plastic, sure, and with a silver plastic trim that is rather obviously painted plastic rather than chrome bling. But this is a ridiculously cheap smartphone, which feels good in the hand - despite its large 5in screen - and its ports and buttons lie about the chassis exactly as you'd expect. The speaker might have been better-positioned, of course, not only on the rear but falling directly under the palm of your hand.
The miniscule gap between the screen glass and chassis is unfortunate in an all-white chassis such as this, since some fluff had already found it's way inside on our review model. You'll have to fight hard to keep this one clean.
ZTE Blade L2: Hardware and performance
Turning our attention to what's on the inside things start to look up for the ZTE Blade L2. But this is a very cheap smartphone, so bear in mind that everything that goes up must also come down.
A quad-core processor and 1GB of RAM at £89 is very good, even if this MediaTek chip is clocked at only 1.3GHz. We found it faster than the Moto E's 1.2GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 and 1GB of RAM combo. Significantly faster, in fact: in GeekBench 3's multi-core test the ZTE recorded a score almost twice as high as that of the Moto E, with 1,191 points versus its 608. We also recorded 356 points in the single-core test for the Blade L2.
The Blade also beat the Moto E in SunSpider, with 1316ms against its 1877ms, and in real-world usage we noticed very little lag when moving between home screens, navigating menus and completing everyday tasks.
The Moto E's 400MHz Adreno 302 graphics took the upper hand over ZTE's 416MHz ARM Mali-400 in GFXBench, however. In the T-Rex graphics test we recorded just 9fps for the ZTE, but 11fps for the Motorola. Even ZTE's staggeringly cheap Kis 3scored 12fps here. And whereas the Moto E was able to complete the Manhattan test, albeit at only 5fps, the ZTE didn't even try.
That's not to say graphics are unusable on the Blade L2. Although we found frames a little sluggish, we were able to stream video from the preinstalled YouTube app and play casual games such as Temple Run 2 and Jetpack Joyride without issue. Also see: What's the fastest smartphone 2014.
The ZTE's 5in screen is also welcome, if only for its size: viewing angles are poor, and the display is dull at all but its maximum brightness setting. With a 480x854 resolution and 196ppi pixel density, the Blade also falls short of the Moto E's qHD (540x960) 256ppi display in terms of clarity. In fact, the Blade L2's screen even falls short of that of the Kis 3, which has a 233ppi density.
Amazingly at this price you also get support for MicroSDXC removable storage, which goes some way to help us forgive the paltry 4GB inside.
The ZTE gives away its bargain-basement pricing on the connectivity front. Not only does it lack such luxuries as NFC, 4G and the very latest 802.11ac Wi-Fi, but it features old Bluetooth 3.0.
The 2000mAh battery should get you through a full working day, but with the screen brightness ramped up don't expect any more.
ZTE Blade L2: Cameras
The Blade L2 is equipped with a 5Mp rear camera with an LED flash. A device that can take photos whenever the moment happens is a very useful thing to have in your pocket, but this ZTE is not going to replace your dedicated camera. We found it very slow to focus, and as you can see from our test shots a lot of detail is lost and colours are washed out. This is particularly noticeable in the image of the trees, with some blurred beyond recognition. Images are very soft, but generally acceptable in daylight. Various preset camera modes are available, including a burst mode and panorama, and you can select the colour mode before you compose your shot.
The ZTE Blade L2 also records video, at 720p and 30fps.
On the front is a 0.3Mp webcam. We're struggling to find something nice to say about this camera, both jerky and completely unable to cope in low light. It will do the job for Skype, but this is no phone for taking selfies.
ZTE Blade L2: Software
With more than half (56.5 percent) the Android phones in use today running Android Jelly Bean, the ZTE Blade L2 is in good company. But a device that ships brand-new running Jelly Bean at a time when KitKat is about to be superseded with Android Lis not a particularly good sign. We very much doubt this phone's operating system will ever be updated, which means you'll miss out on new features such as the Material Design and better battery performance. After all, this isn't even the latest version of Jelly Bean (4.3), this is 4.2.2. The Motorola Moto E, which ships with KitKat, certainly beats it in this regard. As does ZTE's own Kis 3, also running KitKat - what's going on here? Also see: How to update your Android smartphone or tablet.
ZTE has done very little tweaking of the standard Android OS. To access the phone from the lock screen you have to press and hold the lock icon rather than swiping across the screen. Also unfamiliar to regular Android users will be the need to long-press the menu button to bring up the recent apps, and long-press the Home button to get to Google Now. There's also the TouchPal keyboard, which is its answer to Swype, plus a few basic apps such as Torch, Notepad and ToDo.
Buying Advice The Blade L2 has a lot to offer at just £89, with a quad-core processor, a large screen and support for microSDXC. But while it may be faster than the Motorola Moto E, in many respects the ZTE is the inferior phone - and not just in terms of its build quality. This super-budget smartphone even gets shown up by the significantly cheaper ZTE Kis 3.