Review: ZTE Force for Sprint
The Force includes the native Google Play Store and associated apps for consuming media. The store lets Force owners purchase music, television shows, books, and magazines, as well as movies and movie rentals. Each type of content has its own app for playback, and they are all pre-installed on the Force. The Force also includes the stock Android MP3 player, video player, and YouTube apps.
There are no Sprint media apps pre-installed, but plenty are available for download from the Sprint Zone, such as Stitcher Radio, Sprint TV and Movies, Sprint Music Plus, NBA Game Time, NASCAR Sprint Cup and others.
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The Force also includes an app called SmartShare. This app makes use of DLNA to ease the pain of wirelessly connecting with and sharing content to HDTVs and other DLNA-compatible equipment. I found the app intuitive to use and managed to pair the Force to my TV set via my home Wi-Fi network with no trouble.
Despite the presence of a physical camera button, the Force must first be unlocked before the camera can be used. Thankfully there is a camera shortcut on the lock screen that takes you directly to it. Alternately, if you're using the phone already, a long press of the camera button will launch it. The camera app opens fairly quick.
The camera software is rather basic and somewhat annoying. The viewfinder takes up about 80% of the screen, and there are gray stips along either side for accessing the controls and functions.
Four settings controls are visible (front-facing camera, shooting mode, effects, and full settings). What I don't like is how these buttons work. When you press the effects button, for example, the camera app does not pop open a window or drop-down menu with the alternate selections. No, instead, the strip itself scrolls away and shows four effects options at a time. You need to scroll up and down — all in this tiny little strip — to see the options. The same is true when you want to adjust the shooting mode and full settings. It requires a lot of scrolling and flicking and isn't organized in a way that is convenient to use.
That said, there are four different shooting modes (normal, panorama, macro, night); 17 different filters (think Instagram); and controls for resolution, picture quality, and so on. The camera is quick to do everything, which is perhaps its saving grace.
The Force's 5-megapixel shooter does a pretty good job. About my only complaint is inconsistent focus. About half the shots I took were razor sharp, while the other half were a bit soft. Exposure and white balance were excellent, though. For a $49 phone, the Force's camera delivers the goods.
The Force can capture video at a max resolution of 720p HD. In general, video results look pretty good. I notice the same type of problems with the video camera that I did with the still camera: exposure and color were accurate, but focus was sometimes off.
The Force uses the stock Android 4.0 gallery app. I find it easy to share pictures via this app, but the separate albums can be a bit annoying to sort through. The gallery lets you rotate and crop images, as well as adjust color, reduce red-eye, and apply a handful of different filters.
Sprint has been proactive in reducing bloatware on its Android phones. As mentioned earlier, the only two Sprint-branded apps are Sprint iD and Sprint Zone. Of course, both of these let you do nothing but download other Sprint-branded apps and services. The Force has about 1.9GB of space on board for apps and other content, but it accepts memory cards, too.
The Force's Bluetooth radio worked very well. I had no trouble pairing it with other Bluetooth devices. Most importantly, call quality was excellent through both headsets and my car's hands-free system. Music worked well, too, via Bluetooth headphones.
The Force has the age-old standard Android browser installed in addition to the newer Chrome browser. I found both browsers to be good at loading web sites and rendering content, but browsing via Sprint's 3G network is painfully slow. (Browsing will surely be speedier in areas where Sprint's LTE network is available, but we were unable to test the Force under LTE.)
The Force has a white digital clock that is visible from the lock screen. It cannot be customized or changed. It is difficult to read outdoors, and is best paired with a dark background image.
Google Maps is the only mapping software pre-installed on the Force. If that's all you ever use, you'll be fine. It is a capable piece of software for discovering local points of interest and routing directions to them. As far as the GPS radio is concerned, it is accurate, but not all that quick. It often took more than 30 seconds to find me, and it was never more accurate than about 50 feet to my actual position.
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