Sprint Vital.

The Sprint Vital offers a lot of bang for your buck, but it's not for everyone, especially given the carrier's handful of other budget-friendly options.

Things have changed quite a bit over the past year in terms of what $100 can buy you, and for those who can’t stomach dropping more than a Benjamin on a new smartphone, there’s never been a better time to upgrade. Budget-busting flagships are no longer the only devices worthy of writing a check for – Android has come a long way, and yesterday’s specs are becoming more and more evergreen.

The Vital, made by Chinese manufacturer ZTE yet sold under the Sprint moniker, isn’t cracking any glass ceilings – a game changer this is not. But it does mark a welcome new addition to the growing “high-end budget” market, which is great news for consumers. It faces some stiff competition on Sprint’s shelves, though, especially given the carrier’s recent promotions offering some of yesterday’s top-shelf phones for pennies on the dollar.  For Sprint customers looking to save some money on their next smartphone, the Vital is just one of many choices offering some serious bang for your buck.


The Good

The Sprint Vital is your best budget-friendly option if you're in the market for a 5-inch display; it's also the cheapest stock Android experience on Sprint's shelves. Performance is top notch, and the camera is pretty admirable too ...

The Bad

... unless you're using it in low light, in which case results are a mixed bag. The Vital is bulky in just about every sense of the word, and it's design is pretty uninspired. And despite its LTE capability, Sprint's high-speed network is laughably sparse.

Conclusion

The Sprint Vital is an excellent choice given its wallet-friendly $100 pricetag. Does that mean it's the best bang for your buck? Not exactly. There are a handful of great options on Sprint's shelves for those on a tight budget, but all told, the Sprint Vital is a phenomenal choice, especially for Android purists.

Inside this review

More info

 

Sprint Vital hardware

Sprint Vital.

The Sprint Vital is a well made device regardless of what its price tag might suggest: it feels sturdy and strong without weighing you down. It won’t win any world’s-thinnest titles, as it’s one of the bulkier devices on Sprint’s shelves at .39 inches thick and weighing in at 5.43 ounches. It's not uncomfortably large, but if you’re looking to save space in your pocket, look elsewhere.

Its size is due in large part to that massive 5-inch display – it’s bright, crisp, and vivid, thanks to its impressive 720p resolution. There’s no skimping here – this is about as high-end a display as you can get without jumping into flagship, 1080p territory. Unless you’ve become spoiled beyond repair by the likes of an S4 or HTC One, this display is going to go above and beyond your needs and expectations. It’s truly gorgeous.

Underneath the removable backside you’ll find a whopping  2,460 mAH battery, which managed to keep chugging well throughout a full 24 hours. During my time with the Vital I never once worried about my battery giving out, though keep in mind I was never able to surf on Sprint’s LTE, battery-sucking bands (more on that in a bit). Even if you are in an LTE zone, this battery shouldn’t be an issue.

It’s a good thing the battery is so large and capable, as it certainly has a lot of power to sustain: the Vital’s packing a Snapdragon S4 Plus processor clocked at 1.5 GHz with a gig of RAM. Again, nothing mind-blowing, but definitely plenty to keep things moving smoothly. This is a powerful device, make no mistake about it, and it should be able to handle just about anything you throw at it without a slowdown.

The Vital is capable of operating on Sprint’s hide-and-seek LTE network, which is plenty fast when you manage to find it. Here in New York I saw LTE on this device for a split second on a trip downtown – most of my time was spent above 60th street, where I never saw the Vital leave 3G territory. Sprint says that its LTE footprint is expanding, and if you’re in one of its markets all the power to you, but then again, this isn’t really news to the carrier’s long-time customers. 

Software

Sprint Vital.

 

Here’s where things get interesting. One of the best things about ZTE’s lower profile here in the states is that the manufacturer doesn’t yet have the resources to create a UI from scratch, ala TouchWiz or Sense – what we’re left with, then, is a nearly stock version of Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean. That’s especially exciting considering that it’s one of the few 5-inch devices packing a (nearly) vanilla Android experience, save for the much pricier Google edition of the Galaxy S4.

Where ZTE has wielded its influence is in a number of the stock applications, which have undergone a custom treatment – you’ll find that ZTE has taken a stab at the music, email, browser, and camera applications, though even there the company’s touch is a light one. It’s a sign that ZTE is indeed building up an arsenal for a custom UI of its own, but that still seems further down the road. 

The Sprint Vital cameras

Sprint Vital.

Here’s what ZTE and Sprint are hoping to catch your eye with. The Vital packs a whopping 13 megapixel rear camera, activated by one long press of the oh-so-handy dedicated shutter button. Fire it up and you’ll find a nearly stock Android camera, peppered with ZTE’s own flilters and shooting modes. While this isn’t the most well-equpped camera software on a smartphone, it gets the job done. Modes like sunset and party work surprisingly well to capture the mood, while the extensive list of filters have cribbed a page right out of Instagram’s book. You’ve got the tools here to take photos in just about any condition you’ll find yourself in.

As for photo quality, you’ll notice that those 13 megapixels do indeed go a long way in both stills and 1080p video. Images are detailed and clear, prime for enlarging and cropping, and videos are smooth and crisp. Hurdles start popping up in low light, though – unless you’re in prime lighting, the Vital’s camera will stutter and struggle to hang onto focus. Results are a mixed bag but certainly aren't the worst I've ever seen.

And remember, all of those megapixels add up to create large, dense, data-hungry photographs. If you're planning to share your shots via your data connection, keep in mind that you'll likely be chugging through your monthly allotment faster than usual.

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Who should buy the Sprint Vital?

Sprint Vital.

All in all, the Sprint Flash is a pretty respectable phone given it’s price tag and spec sheet. It’s exciting to see such a nice device available for less than $200, a sign of just how rapidly Android devices are evolving.

But the Flash isn’t for everyone, including those on a tight budget. Right now, Sprint customers can snag a Galaxy S III, which remains one of the best Android devices ever made, for the same price as the Flash. For those looking to buy into an ecosystem rather than just a device ,that’s a deal that’s nearly too good to pass up. And if $100 is still a bit too steep for your budget, you can grab a similarly-spec’d LG Optimus G for the oh-so-nice price of free.

So who exactly, then, is the Sprint Vital designed for? For starters, those looking for a budget-friendly 5-inch device will find no better. Without jumping up to the $200 price point, this is about as beautiful a display as you’ll find.

But those who should really closely consider the Vital are Android purists – though this isn’t 100% vanilla Jelly Bean, it’s pretty damn close, and a hell of a lot closer than anything from Samsung or LG will get you. The Galaxy S III might be more well-rounded device, but you’re definitely buying a “Samsung” phone more so than an “Android” one; similar can be said about the Optimus G and LG. There’s really no two ways about it: Sprint customers looking for pure Android will come closest with the Vital, regardless of how large or limited their budget may be.

Standing alone without comparison, the Vital is a great device no matter which way you slice it. For $100 you get a beautiful 5-inch display, a fast, nearly-vanilla Android experience, and a more-than-capable camera. That lower price point means you’ll have to sacrifice some things ,namely a sleek and slim design, but for most, that’s a small price to pay.  

 
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Sprint Vital mini review

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Wait Andrew, in the last section (Who should buy the Sprint Vital) all of a sudden you start referring to the phone as the Sprint Flash. Sometimes a little Find & Replace can be Vital when posting reviews for different devices. ;)

The S3 is $99 or less these days. With so many OEM and after market accessories, I'd choose an S3.

And to mention the sparse LTE network , that applies to all LTE phones on this network not just this phone. Or are you hinting that the radios on this device is worse?

Posted via Android Central App

My S3 is running stock and is still a better choice than the Vital. Checked it out 2 days ago when I paid my bill.

Posted via my themed "WHITE DRAGON" LiquidSmooth Sprint GSIII.

I find out hilarious that you're taking about data caps, when the only reason anyone would look at sprint sideways is their unlimited data.

Yeah, I noticed that, too. "...you'll likely me chugging through your monthly allotment faster than usual." One of the main reasons many consumers (myself included) choose Sprint is that we don't HAVE a monthly data cap. About the only thing that would worry me about uploading 13MP photos is the battery drain, but it sounds like there aren't any problems like that with this phone.

Posted from my HTC EVO 4G LTE via Android Central App

What's going on with all those mini low spec apple iPhone devices? Something so stupid all those mini devices.

Sony Xperia Z

Anndrew, time to update this review. It's on Sprint, so no one cares how much data you chug through uploading pics, there is no "monthly allotment".

Is it the Sprint Vital or Flash?

Posted via Android Central App

Yes, there's better phones available for $99 on contract, however the $349 off-contract price may make it appealing to some.