Boost Force review

The Force is a fast performer and one of Boost's first smartphones to support 4G LTE, but other than that, it doesn't stand out much.
Photo of Boost Force

Along with Virgin Mobile, Boost is now also bringing you 4G LTE, courtesy of Sprint’s new network. Coverage is still extremely limited, but it’s a better bet to buy into a future technology, rather than a ’4G’ phone that runs on Sprint’s abandoned WiMAX network. The $199.99 Boost Force gets you 4G LTE support, along with plenty of power, but it lacks personality. It’s a good price for a decent smartphone—just don’t expect to be wowed.

Editors’ Note: The Boost Force is virtually identical to the Sprint Force, so we’re sharing a lot of material between these two reviews. That said, we’re testing each device separately, so read the review for your carrier of choice.

Design, Network, Plans, and Call Quality
Made by ZTE, everything about the Force’s design says low-cost smartphone. The plastic construction feels cheap, and the textured back panel does little to create visual interest. It also feels awkwardly thick. The phone measures 4.88 by 2.54 by 0.47 inches and weighs 5.4 ounces. But when I first wrapped my hand around it, I tried to slide it open to reveal a keyboard, because it feels like the kind of phone that would have a keyboard. I was wrong.

The 4-inch, 800-by-480-pixel LCD is standard at this price, but it’s still somewhat disappointing. At maximum brightness, the Force looks a little dim, and colors look faded, so media doesn’t pop as much here as it does on the HTC One SV. There are three touch buttons beneath the display, and typing on the onscreen keyboard feels fine. There’s a camera Shutter button on the right side of the phone, Volume buttons on the left, and a Power button on top, along with the headphone jack.

Boost Mobile uses Sprint’s network, and the Force is its first phone to feature 4G LTE support—if you can get it, that is. It’s only available in a limited number of cities right now, so chances are you’ll be stuck with significantly slower speeds until it comes to your town. In last year’s Fastest Mobile Networks tests we found Sprint’s 3G network to be the slowest of the nationwide networks. We got a chance to test Sprint’s 4G LTE network and found it to be a vast improvement.

That said, if you fall into the limited LTE coverage zone, Boost offers some incredible deals. Monthly plans cost $55 per month, and get you unlimited talk, texts, and data. There is a slight catch on that unlimited data: After 2.5GB of full-speed data usage per month, your speeds will be throttled significantly until the end of your billing cycle. But your monthly payment reduces by $5 after every six months you pay your bill on time, until you reach $40 per month. $40 per month for unlimited everything is about as cheap as you can get.

Sprint LTE is limited in New York City, where we tested the Force, so all of our tests were conducted over 3G. Reception is just average, but call quality is strong. Voices sound very good in the phone’s earpiece, and volume goes loud, though it can get a little harsh at the highest level. Calls made with the phone sound rich and clear, with good background noise cancellation. The speakerphone sounds fine, and gets quite loud, though I couldn’t hear it over construction noise outside on a city street. The phone paired easily with my Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset and standard Android voice dialing worked fine. The removable 1730mAh battery was good for a solid 8 hours and 18 minutes of talk time over 3G.

(Next page: Android, Apps, Multimedia, and Conclusions)

Android and Apps
The Force is powered by a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus MSM8960. It’s been around for a while now, but that actually makes it the most powerful phone on Boost. The Force turned in solid benchmark scores, aided in part by the speedy processor and lower screen resolution. Using the phone felt fast, too. You should be able to run all of the 700,000+ apps and games in the Google Play Store without a problem.

The Force is running Android 4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich). We’d prefer to see at least Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) at this point. There’s no word on an upgrade and it’s unlikely you’ll see one any time soon. At least ZTE hasn’t made any heavy modifications to the OS.

Only a few apps come preinstalled in addition to the standard Android suite, which includes the fast Chrome Web browser, excellent email support, Google Maps and Navigation, and YouTube. Mobile ID gives you the ability to install customized theme packs for your phone. And the Twonky media sharing app allows you to share music, pictures, and video over compatible devices, like an HDTV. The Force also has NFC support, in case that ever really takes off in the future.

Camera, Multimedia, and Conclusions
The Force has 2.30GB of free internal storage. There’s an empty microSD card slot underneath the battery cover, in which my 32 and 64GB SanDisk cards worked fine. Media support is pretty good. For music, I was able to play all of our test files except for FLAC. For video, all of our test files played back at resolutions up to 1080p, but audio didn’t work on DivX files. Sound quality for audio and video was a little muddy and bass-heavy over both wired 3.5mm headphones as well as Altec Lansing BackBeat Bluetooth headphones.

The 5-megapixel camera is a disappointment. Shutter speeds are slow, at 1.2 seconds to capture a photo. Photos taken by the Force suffer from lackluster detail, and a dull, grayish cast. The video camera records 720p videos at 30 frames per second, which suffer from the same color issues as the photos, and some of the videos we shot looked laggy, despite the good frame rate. There’s also a 1-megapixel front-facing camera for video chat.

The Boost Force is a good smartphone for a good price, but it isn’t anything special. Boost’s other 4G LTE phone, the HTC One SV, feels a lot more impressive. From the stylish, outstanding build quality, to the larger, brighter display, to a much better camera, it has much more of a high-end feel. The Force actually has a slightly faster processor, but you won’t notice it much in regular use. The Samsung Galaxy S II 4G, meanwhile, also gets you a nicer display and better camera than the Force, though it runs on WiMAX, not LTE. 

Specifications
Phone Capability / Network CDMA, LTE
Screen Resolution 800 x 480 pixels
NFC Yes
Dimensions 4.88 x 2.54 x 0.47 inches
802.11x/Band(s) 802.11 b/g/n
Video Camera Resolution 720p Rear
720p Front-Facing
Battery Life (As Tested) 8 hours 18 minutes
Available Integrated Storage 2.3 GB
Processor Speed 1.5 GHz
CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 MSM8960 Dual-Core
GPS Yes
Service Provider Boost
Total Integrated Storage 4 GB
High-Speed Data EVDO Rev A, LTE
Weight 5.39 oz
Screen Type TFT LCD
Operating System as Tested Android 4.0.4
Physical Keyboard No
Camera Resolution 5 MP Rear
1 MP Front-Facing
Screen Pixels Per Inch 233 ppi
Bands 850, 1900
microSD Slot Yes
Form Factor Candy Bar
Screen Size 4 inches
Bluetooth Version 4

Verdict
The Force is a fast performer and one of Boost's first smartphones to support 4G LTE, but other than that, it doesn't stand out much.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc