If you’re looking for a phone that is less than $500, that provides a near-flagship experience on both software and hardware fronts, there are quite a few solid options. The Pixel 4a 5G is the first device that comes to mind, but that’s priced at $499, while the OnePlus Nord N10 5G is the other, as it’s priced at just $299.
But there’s actually a device wedged right in between which could cause some ripples in the budget market. Earlier this year, ZTE announced the Blade X1 5G, bringing many of the bells and whistles you would like to see in a phone priced at less than $400.
ZTE Blade X1 5G Specs
- Display: 6.5-inch IPS LCD, 2340 x 1080 resolution
- Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G
- RAM: 6GB
- Storage: 128GB, expandable via microSD card
- Front Camera: 16MP
- Rear Cameras: 48MP primary, 8MP Ultrawide, 2MP Macro, 2MP Monochrome
- Battery: 4,000mAh, 18W Fast charging
- Software: Android 10
- Extras: Rear-mounted fingerprint scanner, 3.5mm headphone jack
Other than a mouthful of a name, the Blade X1 5G is equipped with the same Snapdragon 765G processor found in the Pixel 5 and the Pixel 4a 5G. This is coupled with 6GB of RAM, and 128GB of expandable storage. There’s also a quad-camera array on the back, along with a rear-mounted (and recessed) fingerprint scanner.
The display measures at 6.5-inches, and features a resolution of 2340 x 1080, but is missing out on a faster refresh rate. ZTE also included just a 4,000mAh battery capable of taking advantage of 18W fast charging speeds, which is a bit less than we would expect to see in 2021.
Taking the phone out of the box, you’ll come to realize rather quickly that you’re going to want to slap a case on this. The back is a fingerprint magnet which drives us absolutely crazy. But before you put a case on it, take a moment to appreciate the unique design when it comes to the frame.
The sides of the Blade X1 5G start wide at the back of the phone while coming inward at an angle until the frame meets the display. In our time with the X1 5G, this became one of the best “features”, as using the phone was extremely comfortable, even when performing finger gymnastics. The top and bottom feature more of a “valley” design, with an indentation going from side to side and recessing the headphone jack, USB-port, and speaker on the bottom. The same goes for the microSD / SIM card slot and top-mounted microphone.
Instead of throwing any unnecessary buttons onto the Blade X1 5G, the Power button and Volume rocker are located on the left side of the frame. This isn’t something that you should be super-excited about, but it’s just a relief to see that ZTE didn’t try to go above and beyond for this sub-$400 phone.
For one reason or another, ZTE opted to ship the Blade X1 5G with Android 10, with no signs of Android 11 to be seen. Perhaps even more egregious is the fact that our unit is also still including the October 1, 2020 Android security patch, although it’s been a good four months since that was released.
This is a common problem with many budget devices, as phone makers and carriers take months to push any type of meaningful updates. While Google is and has been attempting to make this easier, it’s still disappointing to see outdated software on a brand new device.
Frustrations out of the way, you won’t find much more than a near-Stock Android experience across the board. There are a few extra software features onboard, which include ‘Smart Updates’ to schedule software updates to occur at specific times of the day.
Changing around the home screen won’t require you to download something like Nova Launcher. There are a few different options at your disposal, including the ability to adjust the icon grid, switch up the page effects when scrolling, and opting into whether you want the Google Feed to appear on the left-most screen.
Some of the next “issues” that we had with the Blade X1 5G aren’t entirely the fault of ZTE directly. But instead are part of a problem that are growing across the Android market on the whole.
The ZTE Blade X1 5G checks all of the boxes for those looking for a great budget phone.
We recently published our review of the OnePlus Nord N10 5G, which is a fantastic phone in its own right. However, other than the price being a bit lower, the biggest difference is the fact that OnePlus included a 90Hz refresh rate. So going from the Nord N10 5G to the Blade X1 5G with its 60Hz refresh rate was a bit of a ‘shock’. Considering that we’ve seen companies put these displays with higher refresh rates in budget phones, it only hammers home the fact that more and more smartphone makers should be doing the same.
Taking a step back, the overall experience with the Blade X1 5G was pretty enjoyable. This is in large part thanks to the fact that ZTE didn’t try to add too much bloatware, providing an almost Stock Android interface. There are some things missing, like being able to swipe down on the fingerprint scanner to reveal the notification shade. But this is somewhat made up by the ability to instantly turn on and unlock your phone just by placing your finger on the scanner.
The only real “hiccup” that we came across was one that we couldn’t reproduce more than two different times over the course of our review. While perusing Reddit, we tried to switch over to another app, only to have the screen go completely dark. The Blade hadn’t turned itself off or anything, but we may have reached our limits on RAM and the phone just didn’t know exactly how to handle it.
Should you buy the ZTE Blade X1 5G?
The ZTE Blade X1 5G checks all of the boxes for those looking for a great budget phone. The phone is snappy, has a solid quad-camera system, and is extremely comfortable in the hand. Our biggest complaint comes down to the lack of software updates, which we are hoping to see the company improve upon in the very near future.
Ignoring the software update issues that we have, there is one other potential hiccup for those interested in the Blade X1 5G. Currently, the phone is only available from either Visible or Yahoo Mobile. Both of those MVNO’s take advantage of Verizon’s network coverage, so you shouldn’t run into too many problems connecting to LTE or 5G networks.
The phone also comes in at just $384 from either carrier, with both offering different incentives for signing up. Visible is offering a $150 Prepaid Mastercard Virtual Account, along with a free Amazon Fire TV Stick if you purchase the Blade X1 5G when you sign up for Visible’s service. Yahoo Mobile is upping the ante a bit, coming in with the same $384 price, but also providing a $300 Prepaid Mastercard Virtual Account when switching.
But the real question is whether you should buy the Blade X1 5G. If you’re looking to switch to Visible (or Yahoo Mobile) and definitely want 5G, then this is more than enough of a phone to handle anything you need. The phone is snappy, has a solid quad-camera system, and is extremely comfortable in the hand. Our biggest complaint comes down to the lack of software updates, which we are hoping to see the company improve upon in the very near future.
ZTE Blade X1 5G Rating: star_fullstar_fullstar_fullstar_fullstar_empty (4.0 / 5)
- 5G connectivity for under $400
- Rear-mounted fingerprint scanner
- Sleek and comfortable design
- Near-Stock Android software
- Outdated software at launch
- Only 60Hz refresh rate
- Only available from two carriers
The Bottom Line
The ZTE Blade X1 5G checks all of the boxes for those looking for a great budget phone. There’s 5G connectivity, a sleek and comfortable build, rear-mounted fingerprint scanner and a near-Stock Android software experience. You just won’t be able to get it from any carrier of your choosing, and the software needs an update.