Sprint Vital review:

Though ZTE's best, not quite good enough

The front-facing camera features the same zoom, antiband, picture quality, composition lines, tones, geotagging, ISO, and white-balance options, with two picture sizes (640x480 pixels to 1,280x720 pixels). Recording includes four video sizes (MMS to 720p), and the same time-lapse, white-balance, geotagging, and zoom choices.

Sprint Vital - outdoor
In this outdoor photo, the fruit pieces are in sharp, in focus, and frankly delicious. Lynn La/CNET
Sprint Vital - outdoor zoom
Though the flower petals are well-defined, the colors are a little over saturated. Lynn La/CNET
Sprint Vital - indoor
Despite activating macro zoom, the camera still couldn't focus on this succulent. Lynn La/CNET
Sprint Vital - SSI
In our standard studio shot, an unpleasant blue flash appears on the background. Josh Miller/CNET

Photo quality was great, and compared to the Flash, the Vital showed a marked improvement in color rendering. In general, colors were accurate and didn't blow out, images were sharp and in focus, and the camera's speed was good. However, the camera does have some trouble focusing on objects close to it, even when macro zoom is activated. Furthermore, the flash overcasts a noticeable blue hue. Other than that, however, the camera has respectable photo quality.

For the most part, video recording was decent as well. Both moving and still objects were in focus, and colors were true to life. During recording, I did find that the camera had some difficulty with touch focus. Namely, it's better at keeping things in the foreground in focus than objects in the background. All in all though, the camera is fast, and I didn't notice much lag during video or after clicking the shutter.

I tested the Sprint Vital in our offices in San Francisco. Though calls didn't drop and my conversations didn't cut in and out, audio clarity could have been better. Voices sounded muffled and static-y, and maximum volume could stand to be a bit louder. I was also told that I sounded tinny during phone calls. Speaker quality was adequate, but not particularly impressive. Though I could hear everything that was being said, voices came off hollow and thin.

Calls made on the Virgin Mobile Supreme yielded similar results. I could hear the other line perfectly fine, but every time my friend spoke, her words sounded rough. Again, aximum volume could have been a little louder, and I was told that I too sounded muffled and scratchy. However, while I was told this static was notable, it wasn't overly distracting. Speaker quality also sounded sharp, but overall, conversations were easy to understand.

Sprint Vital (Sprint) call quality sample

Listen now:

Virgin Mobile Supreme call quality sample

Listen now:

Because I couldn't consistently get 4G speeds from Sprint in San Francisco (and in turn Virgin Mobile too, since it runs on Sprint's network) I defaulted to 3G. On average, the device loaded CNET's mobile site in 20 seconds and our desktop site in 30 seconds. The New York Times mobile site took about 12 seconds, while its desktop version took 42. ESPN's mobile site took 19 seconds, and its full site loaded in 22 seconds. Ookla's Speedtest app showed me an average of 0.25Mbps down and 0.71Mbps up. It also took 22 minutes and 30 seconds to download the 31.93MB game Temple Run 2.

Sprint Vital/Virgin Mobile Supreme Performance
Average 3G download speed 0.25Mbps/0.43Mbps
Average 3G upload speed 0.71Mbps/0.91Mbps
App download (Temple Run 2) 22 mins., 30 sec./10 minutes
CNET mobile site load 20 sec./13 sec.
CNET desktop site load 30 sec./23 sec.
Power-off and restart time 38 seconds/--
Camera boot time 2.45 seconds/--

Data speeds on Virgin Mobile were notably faster. On average, it took the Supreme 13 and 23 seconds to load CNET's mobile and desktop site, respectively. The New York Times mobile site took 8 seconds to load and its full site took 28. ESPN mobile loaded in 12 seconds and its full site loaded in 17. It took 10 minutes for Temple Run 2 to download and install, and Ookla's speed test app showed an average of 0.43MBps down and 0.91Mbps up.

The handset is powered by a 1.5GHz dual-core processor. Though it carried out simple tasks smoothly enough, such as browsing through the app drawer, unlocking the home screen, and quitting apps, there were a few instances when I noticed the phone lagged just a bit. For instance, the camera took just a few hairs longer than I'd like to launch after I pressed the shortcut key. (On a related note, when I launched the camera by tapping the icon, it took an average of 2.45 seconds to open.) On the whole however, the Vital operated consistently and reliably. When I played the graphics-intense game Riptide GP, the app didn't stutter or quit, and images played smoothly with adequately high frame-rates. It took about 38 seconds for the phone to restart altogether.

The device is powered by a 2,500mAh battery, which has a reported talk-time of 15 hours. During our battery drain test, the phone lasted exactly 8 hours for video play back. Anecdotally the phone has a good battery life. With medium usage, including surfing the Web, making a handful of short phone calls, and taking photos, it would definitely last through the work day without charging. According to FCC radiation standards, the Vital has a digital SAR rating of 1.38W/kg and the Supreme has a rating of 1.38W/kg.

The Sprint Vital (or Virgin Mobile Supreme) has plenty of things going for it, and as far as ZTE is concerned, it is the best U.S. handset they've put out so far. I am particularly impressed with its responsive 5-inch screen and the marked improvements with the camera quality. And at $249.99 prepaid, it's a good deal for Virgin Mobile customers. Especially when considering that last season's Samsung Galaxy S3 is still $100 more than the Supreme, this ZTE device is a decent value.

However, if you're a Sprint user, for $50 more, you can also get the Samsung GS4, which is the most powerful Android phone available. If you don't feel like spending more, the carrier also offers the HTC One for the same $99.99 price. It's a fantastic flagship device that's not only gorgeous, it also boasts a fast quad-core processor and a 1080p screen. True, it's screen is a bit smaller and you can't remove the battery, but when compared to the Vital, it's the better phone by far.

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