ZTE Blade A3 Prime

Times are tough and budgets are tight. You might be wondering whether to keep an aging phone for another year or replace it with something relatively inexpensive. Decent smartphones priced under $100 are rare, but Visible’s ZTE Blade A3 Prime ($99) is one of the better ones in that bracket. It handles basic tasks with relative ease and has solid connectivity with surprisingly good call quality. You’ll notice a bit of lag when you’re using it, and battery life could definitely be better, but it’s a fine option for the price. However, if you’re willing to spend just a little more and shop around for discounts, you can probably find much better phones for $130 to $180.


Design: Blast From the Past

Remember “candy bar” budget phones from a few years back? The Blade A3 Prime feels just like one. It’s a rectangle with a plastic back and a relatively small display. It measures 5.8 by 2.8 by 0.4 inches (HWD) and weighs 5.7 ounces, making it nicely balanced and easy to hold in one hand.

Cropped image of ZTE Blade A3 Prime

The ZTE Blade A3 Prime has a chunky top bezel for its camera.

On the front of the Blade A3 Prime you’ll find a 5.45-inch LCD with thick bezels. That’s a little smaller than the 6.2-inch display you’ll find on the slightly more expensive Motorola Moto e ($149.99). The screen has a resolution of 1,440 by 720 pixels for a density of 291ppi. Despite its low resolution, the display is pretty crisp. Color accuracy skews cool; in direct sunlight, seeing the display becomes a challenge.

The top is home to a headphone jack. The USB-C charging port is on the bottom. The left side is bare; a volume rocker and textured power button are on the right. The buttons are easy to identify and reach, though there is a bit of lag in response when pressing the buttons.

The back is a textured gray plastic shell that can be removed to swap out the battery—a rarity in today’s phones—and insert SIM and microSD cards. There’s a small camera stack in the upper left-hand corner and a grille for the speaker on the bottom right side. A fingerprint sensor sits top center; it’s easy to reach with small hands and unlocks the phone quickly.

With the exception of the Motorola Moto e’s strengthened glass display and water-resistant body, durability for just about any entry-level phone is a pain point. The Blade A3 Prime is no exception. If you drop it on its back, the back might fly off and let the battery pop out, which isn’t a big deal. But the display appears to be made out of traditional glass. Drop it face down and you’ll likely be shopping for a new phone. The phone also has no water protection whatsoever and its removable back makes it very easy for water to seep in from a spill. If you plan to use this phone daily, you’ll want to get a sturdy case.


Clear Calls, Adequate Connectivity

The Blade A3 Prime is a Visible exclusive and has limited LTE band support. The phone supports LTE bands 2/4/5/12/13, which effectively locks it to Visible and Verizon’s networks. Band 66, a superset of band 4 that Verizon uses to improve coverage in highly populated areas, is noticeably absent.

Side view of ZTE Blade A3 Prime on a stack of books

The Blade A3 Prime is thin enough to slide into a pocket with ease.

We tested the Blade A3 Prime on Visible’s network in downtown Chicago and recorded poor speeds. Average download speeds came in at 15.8Mbps, and uploads averaged 6.3Mbps. Those speeds are fine for streaming and just about everything else but fail to compare to speeds we’ve recorded on other phones on the same network. We are pretty confident the reduced speeds are due to the phone’s aging modem more than the network.

Call quality is excellent. We made several calls on the phone and the connection was perfect each time. Peak earpiece volume comes in at 78dB, which should be loud enough to hear the other party in most situations.

Dual-band Wi-Fi is onboard, as is Bluetooth 4.2. There’s no NFC, which should come as no surprise for an entry-level phone.

The bottom-firing speaker has a maximum volume of 92dB. Audio quality is acceptable, though timbre is aggressive, with overly bright mids and not a hint of bass to be found. Overall, the speaker is fine for video calls or scrolling through your TikTok feed, but you’ll want to take advantage of the headphone jack or a decent pair of Bluetooth headphones for Spotify or Netflix binges.


Entry-Level Cameras

The Blade A3 Prime sports a very basic camera setup and performs as well as you’d expect for an entry-level phone. It has an 8MP rear-facing camera with an f/2.0 aperture and a 5MP front-facing camera with an f/2.4 aperture.

In good light, the front camera does an adequate job. Our test shots appeared a little flat and there was noticeable loss of fine detail.

Cropped image showing ZTE Blade A3 Prime's camera sensor

The 8MP rear camera takes a decent photo in good light.

Low-light performance, on the other hand, is an absolute mess. Nearly all our test shots were flat, muddy, and filled with edge noise.

The 5MP camera on the front of the phone is fine for a quick selfie in good light. Most of our test shots lacked depth of field, but color accuracy was spot on. In low light, however, our selfies were completely blurred, with noise throughout the image.

Though we’re not impressed by the cameras on the Blade A3 Prime, we think they’re acceptable for the price. Smartphone manufacturers often cut corners with hardware in order to keep prices low, and camera sensors tend to be one of the first concessions made.

If image quality is important to you, your cheapest bet is the Moto G Power ($249)—though it’s more than double the price of the Blade A3 Prime, unless you find a discount deal. The Google Pixel 4a takes flagship-worthy shots but also has a $349 price tag.


Fine for Basic Tasks, But Gaming Is a No-Go

A MediaTek Helio A22 chipset and 2GB of RAM provide moderate power for the Blade A3 Prime. It has 32GB of storage, of which a little over 19GB is available out of the box. You can add up to an additional 2TB of storage with a microSD card.

The Helio A22 is an entry level smartphone chipset that can most closely be compared with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 429 processor. Both are 12nm process semiconductors, and both have 4 CPU cores. The Helio A22 is technically a little faster than its Qualcomm competition, running at 2GHz per core versus 1.95GHz. The Helio A22’s 1,600Mz RAM is also an improvement over the 933MHz RAM supported on the Snapdragon 429 but, to be perfectly honest, you’re not going to see much difference in performance between the two chipsets.

It’s hard to compare the Blade A3 Prime to other similarly spec’d smartphones simply because there aren’t a lot of phones sold in the US with the Helio A22 or Snapdragon 429 chipsets. For the most part, these processors are shipped on budget phones sold in China and in emerging markets like Africa and India.

See How We Test Phones

For the price, performance is adequate. The Blade A3 Prime does well with basic tasks like web browsing and checking emails, but stutters when given more difficult tasks. There’s a noticeable lag when opening apps or searching for apps, but it’s not unbearable.

Back of ZTE Blade A3 Prime

The plastic back on the ZTE Blade A3 Prime feels sturdy and solid.

The Blade A3 Prime is not a phone for gamers—end of story. Basic games such as Candy Crush work fine, but anything that requires more resources is a no go. We attempted to load Asphalt 9: Legends and the app continuously crashed.

The 2,660mAh capacity battery is underwhelming. While using the phone, we noticed the battery drained quickly; over an eight-hour idle period, the battery depleted by nearly 20%. In our battery drain test, which streams HD video over Wi-Fi, the Blade A3 Prime eked out just 6 hours and 3 minutes before dying. That’s a far cry from the Motorola Moto e’s battery life of 10 hours and 2 minutes. If you’re planning to use this phone for a full day, you’ll want to pick up a spare battery or power bank.

The phone comes with a 10W charger and a USB-A–to–USB-C charging cable. Wireless charging is missing—which isn’t unexpected for a phone at this price—and there’s no fast charging option either. It takes about two and a half hours to recharge the phone from empty to full.


Stock Android 10, Missing Security Patches

The stock version of Android 10 that ships with the Blade A3 Prime is blissfully free of bloatware, usually a given on budget phones. Visible is one of the few carriers that doesn’t add preloaded software on any of its phones.

Side view of ZTE A3 Prime showing power button and volume rocker

The textured power button is easy to identify without looking at the phone.

Neither ZTE nor Visible has announced plans for software updates, and we don’t believe the phone will get an Android 11 update. It also looks like the phone will not get frequent security patches, since the last update on our phone was from April 2020.


Good for Ultra-Tight Budgets

Front of ZTE Blade A3 Prime

The ZTE Blade A3 Prime’s display is crisp but color skew cool.

If you’re on a tight budget, the ZTE A3 Prime is a decent choice. For $99, you get a phone that handles simple tasks well, offers good call quality, and gets a reliable, albeit slow, network connection. That said, mediocre battery life and infrequent Android security patch updates are significant concessions to make in the name of saving money.

The Motorola Moto e, though slightly more expensive, addresses both of these pain points and is a better value for your money. If you’re looking for a relatively inexpensive phone that will last several years, the Google Pixel 4a is your best bet.

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