Sprint Flash review: Camera aims high, but falls short

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MSRP: $449.99

The Good The Sprint Flash has 4G LTE and tons of photo-editing features, and runs a nearly skinless Android 4.0 UI.

The Bad The Flash's photo quality is poor, its design is bulky, its internal speeds are slow, and its call quality is mediocre.

The Bottom Line With the 12-megapixel Sprint Flash, ZTE attempts to break new ground in features, but the Flash is a poor choice both as a phone and as a camera.

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6.0 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 6
  • Performance 6

When I heard that Sprint's latest ZTE handset would have a 12-megapixel camera, I was interested but naturally skeptical.

Though megapixels get a lot of attention, you also have to consider a camera's sensors and image processor. This is why cameras with higher megapixels don't necessarily do better than lower-resolution shooters. Unfortunately, the Sprint Flash is no exception.

Despite the plethora of editing features, photo quality was poor. And even worse, I found the Flash's processor achingly slow and call quality was disappointing. The device is $130, but frankly, that's too high, since better (and sometimes, even cheaper) options are available in Sprint's lineup.

Though physically bigger, the Sprint Flash is most comparable to the Chinese manufacturer's other fairly high-end device, the ZTE Warp Sequent. And save for the chrome-colored edges, in shape it closely resembles the LG Nexus 4.

The handset measures 5.27 inches tall, 2.59 inches wide, and 0.38 inch thick, and weighs a hefty 0.33 pound. Though it's comfortable enough to hold in the hand, its top half is significantly heavier due to the camera's bulk, making it weigh unevenly. And if your jeans have small pockets, expect a snug fit.

Sprint Flash
The 12-megapixel camera makes the top half of the Flash bulky. Josh Miller/CNET

On the left are a Micro-USB port and two buttons for increasing and decreasing volume. Up top are a sleep/power button and a 3.5mm headphone jack. On the right is a shortcut key that launches the camera.

The dimpled back plate is coated in a matte black material that keeps fingerprints off and lends it extra friction against smooth surfaces. As previously mentioned, the top half is thicker than the rest of the phone since it houses the 12-megapixel camera and LED flash. At the bottom left are two small slits for the audio speaker and in the right bottom corner is an indentation you can use to pry the plate off. Inside, you can access the 1,780mAh battery.

The 4.5-inch HD display has a 1,280x720-pixel resolution. Because it's not, for example, a True HD IPS touch screen, it's not as bright or vivid as the screen on the LG Spectrum 2, which has the same resolution. However, text and icons are crisp. But for whatever reason, icons on the lock screen aren't as sharp, and I noticed aliasing around the edges. Videos like HQ YouTube clips looked good and the screen has a respectably wide viewing angle.

Above the display are a 1-megapixel front-facing camera and a speaker. Below is nothing but bezel -- instead, three hot keys for back, home, and recent apps appear on the touch screen itself. Though these do disappear when watching videos or games, overall, having onscreen hot keys makes the screen feel smaller.

Software features and OS
The Sprint Flash ships natively with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Aside from a handful of extra apps (which we'll touch on later), the device offers a nearly unsullied ICS experience that I'm fond of. Anyone who wants a vanilla Android OS will definitely appreciate the handset's lack of bloatware or overlaid UI, even though it's not as bare-bones as a Nexus.

The Flash comes with the usual slew of Google apps, including Chrome, Gmail, Plus, Latitude, Local, Maps with Navigation, Messenger, access to Play Books, Magazines, Movies and TV, Music, and Store, Search, Talk, and YouTube.

Basic apps are loaded as well, such as a clock with alarm functions, a native browser, e-mail, music and video players, a calendar, a battery and location-pinning app called Qualcomm Enhanced Location Service, a news and weather app, a timer, a sound recorder, and a voice dialer.

Sprint ID
On the right, you can see the icon for Sprint ID. Josh Miller/CNET

Sprint included two of its own apps. One is Sprint Zone, a help portal through which you can check your phone balance and fees.

The other is Sprint ID, which allows you to customize your phone with preselected apps, widgets, and other items depending on which ID profile you choose. For example, if you select the E! package, you'll get E! apps and widgets pertaining to the celebrity news channel. You can also choose a Business Pro package, which includes tools intended to assist with business travel plans, financial investments, and backing up data.

Note that deleting a Mobile ID package won't uninstall the apps that you downloaded -- you'll have to remove those apps manually. So far, there are 42 available packs available. Unlike on most Boost devices, Mobile ID isn't so integral to the UI, and you can remove the Mobile ID app from the home screen's dashboard if you so choose.

Camera and video
The 12-megapixel camera includes tons of features, more than I've ever seen on any ZTE handset. It has a flash, touch and autofocus, a zooming meter, geotagging, composition lines, a timer, and five burst-mode options. In addition, there are six shooting modes that include macro and panoramic shooting, 11 Instagram-like filters, three anti-band options, three picture qualities, 10 picture sizes (ranging from 640x480 pixels to 4,000x3,000 pixels), three shutter tones, six ISO choices, five white balances, four image settings that let you adjust the exposure, contrast, saturation, and sharpness of a photo, four face modes that detect smiles, blinks, or red-eye, and five shutter interval modes (such as taking 6 pictures in 20 seconds or 24 pictures in 2 minutes).

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