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

Don't get us wrong, with 4G LTE and an affordable $49.99 price tag, the Force is a decent enough handset -- but it doesn't have the chops to compete with Sprint's other midlevel phones.

Lynn_La2.jpg
Lynn La
Lynn_La2.jpg
Lynn La Senior Editor / Reviews - Phones

Lynn La covers mobile reviews and news. She previously wrote for The Sacramento Bee, Macworld and The Global Post.

4 min read

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.

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6.0

Sprint Force

The Good

The <b>Sprint Force</b> 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.

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.

Design
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 Sprint Force is strong with this one (pictures)

See all photos

Features
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.

Sprint Force (outdoor)
In this outdoor photo, you can see the white hues have been blown out. Lynn La/CNET
Sprint Force (indoor)
This indoor picture shows a noticeable amount of digital noise and washed-out colors. Lynn La/CNET
Sprint Force (SSI)
For our standard studio shot, you can see a subtle yellow hue overlay the corners and objects that are out of focus. Josh Miller/CNET

In addition, the camera is slow. Feedback lagged between my moving of the camera and what I saw in the viewfinder, and it took several seconds to take a photo after I clicked the shutter. It also took a few more seconds for the camera to be ready to take another picture. Video quality was decent -- audio picked up well and objects, for the main part, remained in focus. However, because the handset's slow, it took a while for the camera to adjust for lighting, and so lighting was inconsistent during recordings.

Performance
I tested the phone in our San Francisco offices, and call quality was good for the in-ear speaker. I didn't hear any extraneous buzzing or sounds, and none of my calls dropped. Voices did sound a bit fuzzy, but it wasn't overly distracting. Also, when neither party were talking, I didn't hear any low or subtle static. Likewise, I was told my voice sounded adequate. I was clear and easy to under to understand.

I did, however, run into trouble with the audio speaker. There were times when I activated it and the call simply muted. In addition, audio cut in and out and sounded patchy, and the maximum volume was low. Oddly, I didn't have this problem when playing music or video, Other than sounding extremely tinny or harsh on high volume, audio from media remained continuous.

Sprint Force call quality sample

Listen now:

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Data speeds were fast and consistent and overall, clocking in faster than those of Sprint's 4G LTE Kyoccera Torque. Loading the CNET mobile site took an average of 7 seconds, while loading our full site took 16 seconds. The New York Times' full site clocked in at 13 seconds, and its mobile site took 5 seconds to load. Altogether, ESPN took a shorter time to load, with its mobile site taking 6 seconds on average, and its full site loading in 10 seconds. Ookla's Speedtest app showed an average of 2.33Mbps down and 3.48Mbps up. It took an average of 2 minutes and 23 seconds to download the 32.41MB game Temple Run 2.

Sprint Force Performance testing
Average 4G LTE download speed 2.23Mpbs
Average 4G LTE upload speed 3.48Mbps
App download (Temple Run 2) 32.41MB in 2 minutes and 23 seconds
CNET mobile site load 7 seconds
CNET desktop site load 16 seconds
Restart time 45 seconds
Camera boot time 2.38 seconds

The handset is powered by a 1.5GHz dual-core processor. Though the device can be slow with the camera, overall it had adequate processing power. Simple tasks such as scrolling, browsing through the app drawer, and launching apps went smoothly. The graphic-intense game Riptide GP, also didn't stutter or quit unexpectedly. However, frame-rate was mediocre, as some pixelation in the graphics were noticeable. On average, it took the device 45 seconds to restart and 2.36 seconds to launch the camera.

During our battery drain test, the phone lasted 14.85 hours for talk-time. Anecdotally, it has a good battery life, surviving a whole weekend on standby with a third of its reserves still available. It has a reported talk-time of nine hours. According to FCC radiation standards, the device has a digital SAR rating of 1.37W/kg.

Conclusion
While the Sprint Force is an adequate device that can perform all the basic tasks like Web browsing and texting with minimal trouble, the carrier offers a number of better handsets with the same $50 price tag.

The LG Mach, for instance, has a sleeker look and a zippier dual-core processor. But if you're not feeling its physical keyboard, then the LG Viper 4G LTE is your best bet. As you might guess, it too has that fast data connection. Since the time of my original review, it can update to Android 4.0, and its 5-megapixel camera has better photo and video quality than the Force.

35637467-5972.jpg
6.0

Sprint Force

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 6Performance 6
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