Sprint Force review: Though cheap, it can't outperform the competition

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MSRP: $199.99

The Good The Sprint Force has 4G LTE, is competitively priced, and has NFC.

The Bad The Force's photo and speaker audio quality are poor, and the touch screen is difficult to view in sunlight.

The Bottom Line With its already spotty camera and call quality, the Sprint Force can't outpace the number of other Sprint handsets that are just as inexpensive.

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6.0 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 6
  • Performance 6

Manufactured by ZTE, the Sprint Force is a mid- to entry-level device that comes with a very affordable $49.99 sticker price, after users sign a two-year contract. A prepaid, contract-free version is also available from Boost, under the name Boost Force for $199.99.

But even with that price and the phone's positive features (4G LTE, NFC, and a nearly unsullied version of Android 4.0 to name a few), the handset is plagued by the poor performances of both its camera and audio speaker. This renders it an unsavory choice for Sprint users, especially since the carrier offers many other reliable handsets at that same sweet $50 mark.

The Sprint Force doesn't break any design barriers, but it has a compact and sturdy construction that is comfortable to hold. It measures 4.88 inches tall, 2.54 inches wide, and 0.47 inch thick. At 5.4 ounces, however, it is a tad heavy, but I could still talk comfortably with it pinned between my shoulder and cheek.

On the left side are a Micro-USB port for charging and a volume rocker. On the top are a 3.5mm headphone jack and sleep/power button. Low on the right edge sits a shortcut camera key.

Sprint Force
The handset has a 4-inch touch screen that's extremely reflective and has a narrow viewing angle in sunlight. Josh Miller/CNET

The back houses a 5-megapixel camera with its flash right above it. Below are two slits for the audio speaker. The back plate is made out of a matte, soft-touch plastic that's textured with small dotted indents, which helped with my grip. Using an indentation at the bottom, you can pop the plate off to access the 1,730mAh battery and microSD card slot.

The 4-inch WVGA display has a 800x480-pixel resolution. Though the touch screen is responsive, it's very reflective, making it difficult to view outdoors in sunlight. Text and menu icons were crisp, but you can still see some patchiness in high-res images, especially with color gradients.

Above the display is a 1-megapixel camera and below are three hot keys for back, home, and menu.

The device runs a nearly skinless version of Android 4.0.4, and has the staple Google components such as Chrome, Gmail, Plus, Local, Maps with Navigation, Messenger, portals to Play Books, Magazines, Movies & TV, Music, and Store, Search, Talk, and YouTube.

Basic task-managing apps are uploaded, such as a native browser, an e-mail client, a music player, a video player, a calendar, an alarm, a news-and-weather app, a sound recorder, a timer, and a voice dialer.

Sprint Force
A closer look at the device's 5-megapixel camera and texturized back plate. Josh Miller/CNET

Sprint also included two of its own apps. One is Sprint Zone, a help portal that lets you check your phone balance and fees. Another is Sprint ID, which allows you to customize your phone with preselected apps, widgets, and other items depending on which ID profile you choose. So far, there are 40 packs available. You'll also get a MediaShare app from Twonky Mobile, and a battery and location-pinning app called Qualcomm Enhanced Location Service.

Additional features include 4GB of ROM, 1GB of RAM, Bluetooth 4.0, and NFC.

Camera and video
The 5-megapixel camera has flash; digital zoom; four shooting modes including macro and panorama; 16 Instagram-esque filters; a timer; time lapse; face, blink, and red-eye detection; modules to adjust the exposure, contrast, saturation, and sharpness; five white balances; five ISO levels; geotagging, compositional lines, three shutter tones, five photo sizes (from 640x480 to 2,592x1,944 pixels), three picture qualities, and three anti-band levels.

The front-facing camera has all the same features except you can take photos in only two sizes (640x480 and 1,280x720 pixels), and you don't get the flash, the different shooting modes and filters, the timer, time lapse, the various facial detections, and the modules to adjust exposure and such.

Video features for both cameras include a digital zoom, geotagging, five white balances, time lapse, and four video qualities (from MMS to 720p). Only the rear camera has continuous flash.

Photo quality was poor. In outdoor environments with ample lighting, whites were blown out, and colors looked muted. Dark hues were hard to differentiate, and the focus wasn't very sharp. Dimmer indoor photos fared worse, with a high amount of digital noise and blurriness. Colors also looked washed out.

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