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

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.

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:

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.

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.