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Saturday, September 25, 2021

ZTE Blade 11 Prime review: wireless charging for under $200

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The ZTE Blade 11 Prime offers one standout feature in a field of largely similar sub-$200 phones: wireless charging.

In the smartphone trickle-down economy, wireless charging is basically guaranteed on any flagship-level phone, but it’s still hit-and-miss among midrange phones and all but absent from the budget class. You’re much more likely to find a really big battery on a sub-$200 phone than wireless charging.

Outside of that feature, the $192 Blade 11 Prime’s specs are much the same as competing models like the Galaxy A12 and Moto G Play. Like those models, it offers a 6.5-inch 720p LCD, though it includes a little more RAM (4GB compared to 3GB) and a little less battery capacity (4,000mAh compared to 5,000mAh).

Choosing a phone that’s priced under $500 means you need to pick your priorities carefully, and that’s even more true of a $200 phone. If wireless charging is your chosen priority, then I have good news: the ZTE Blade 11 Prime is the budget-priced phone for you. If it’s not a major priority and more of a nice-to-have item, then I’d suggest looking elsewhere. You won’t do a lot better on any individual feature, like a better screen or camera, but you can do a little better.

The Blade 11 Prime supports the Qi wireless charging standard at 5W.

ZTE Blade 11 Prime screen, battery, and performance

The Blade 11 Prime is on the bigger side with a 6.5-inch display. Its 720p resolution is stretched a little thin here, and you’ll notice certain images looking a little pixelated if you look closely. The screen gets nice and bright, but its auto-brightness setting kept bringing the level down a little too dim for my liking. I also noticed faint repeating vertical lines on dark parts of the screen indicative of a low-quality panel — not a huge distraction but visible.

It doesn’t have the biggest battery in its class, but the Blade 11’s battery performance is generally good anyway. I got about two days of light, mostly Wi-Fi use on a single charge. Spending a full day out and about on LTE would drain the battery faster, but most people could expect to get through at least a full day of heavy use before needing to charge up again.

The Blade 11 Prime’s marquee feature, wireless charging, works well if a little slowly; the phone supports Qi charging at 5W. Taking it from 50 percent to a full charge took almost exactly two hours, during which the phone got warm but not worryingly so. As long as you don’t expect incredible speeds, wireless charging is a convenient option on the Blade 11 Prime, particularly if you’re the type of person who charges your phone overnight.

We don’t expect dazzling processing speed from a $200 phone, but the ZTE Blade 11 Prime falls a little short even considering its price. It uses a MediaTek MT6762 Helio P22 chipset with a relatively healthy 4GB of RAM, but this combination struggles with even light tasks like scrolling through Instagram or Twitter.

Apps open quickly enough, but there was significant stuttering and hesitation just browsing my usual social media timelines or scrolling through the home screen app drawer. Some slowness is expected in this price bracket, but I didn’t see as much consistent stuttering using the Motorola Moto G Play recently.

The ZTE Blade 11 Prime ships with Android 11, which is nice — some of its slightly less recent competitors are still on 10 waiting for an update. ZTE says there’s no plan to offer any additional Android OS upgrades, only that it will offer security patches as needed. That’s not too surprising given the phone’s price point; the Blade 11 Prime just isn’t built for longevity past a couple of years of use. There’s also 64GB of built-in storage, which isn’t a lot. If you don’t download too many apps or store too many photos on your device, you’ll be able to get by, otherwise adding a microSD card for additional storage to your purchase is a good idea.

Camera hardware is modest: on the rear panel, you’ll find a 16-megapixel main and 8-megapixel ultrawide camera.

ZTE Blade 11 Prime camera

The rear camera system on the Blade 11 Prime includes a 16-megapixel main camera and an 8-megapixel ultrawide, plus a 2-megapixel depth sensor. It’s a basic setup, and it does fine in good lighting conditions. It’s a little more prone to clipping very bright spots in photos than other systems I’ve used recently, but it does a nice job overall with exposures of high-contrast scenes. In moderate indoor lighting, some detail-smoothing noise reduction is visible, and low-light photos look smeary even at the reduced image sizes used for social sharing.

As for the other cameras, they’re just fine. The ultrawide doesn’t handle high-contrast scenes as well as the main camera, with some noticeable noise appearing in shadows. There’s also a short delay after pressing the shutter button before you can take another photo that isn’t present when using the main camera. The selfie camera thankfully avoids over-smoothing faces, and photos look good as long as there’s plenty of available light.

If you aren’t already a wireless charging devotee, it would be best to look elsewhere in the budget phone class.

If your budget is strict and wireless charging is a must-have, then the ZTE Blade 11 Prime is the right phone for you. But if you can make do without wireless charging, I’d strongly encourage you to look elsewhere. Iffy performance with basic tasks will be more of an inconvenience in the long run than having to plug in your phone every night to charge it.

This year’s Motorola Moto G Power would be a worthwhile alternative if you can spend a little more; you’ll get a faster processor and better battery life, though you should definitely plan on buying a microSD card to supplement its meager 32GB of storage. The G Play is a good alternative, too, even with a processor that’s a bit slower than the G Power’s.

Photography by Allison Johnson / The Verge

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