Sprint Force review

The Sprint Force is a comfortably sized smartphone with a friendly price tag, but there's nothing to distinguish it from the pack.
Photo of Sprint Force

Not every new smartphone is meant to be a blockbuster. Most are content to breeze along happily on the road more traveled, which is exactly where you’ll find the Sprint Force. For $49.99, this phone offers a decent amount of power and will probably leave first-time smartphone buyers happy enough. But for just a little more, you can get a phone with a sharper display and better camera, not to mention a whole lot more personality.

Design, Call Quality, and Network
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 (HWD) 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 LCD features just 800-by-480-pixel resolution. That’s standard on low-end phones, but even the Sprint Flash, which costs the same amount, comes with a 4.5-inch, 1280-by-720 display. At maximum brightness, the Force looks a little dim. Between that and the lower resolution, media doesn’t pop as much here as it does on other phones. There are three touch buttons beneath the display, and typing on the on-screen 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.

The Force supports Sprint’s brand new 4G LTE network as well as its much slower 3G network. In our most recent tests for the Fastest Mobile Networks we found Sprint’s 3G network to be the slowest nationwide. We got a chance to test Sprint’s 4G LTE network in New York City and found it to be a vast improvement. Unfortunately, LTE availability is still very limited, so chances are you’ll be trudging along with 3G until it comes to your town.

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 8 hours and 12 minutes of talk time, which is pretty average.

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’s the same fast chipset you’ll find in top Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy S III. 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. Sprint 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 2.29GB 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 video at 30 frames per second, which suffers from the same color issues as the photos, and some of the videos we shot looked laggy, despite the good frame rate. We weren’t too impressed by the 12.6-megapixel camera on the Sprint Flash, but you’re still getting more competent images and video for the same price that you are here. The Force also has a 1-megapixel front-facing camera for video chat.

The Sprint Force is fine, but does little to distinguish itself from the competition. If you’re deciding between this and the Sprint Flash, both phones have their merits. The Flash gets you a larger, sharper display and a better camera, while the Force offers faster, smoother performance and a more comfortable size. But neither measures up next to higher-end devices, like the HTC EVO 4G LTE, the LG Optimus G, or the Samsung Galaxy S III. Each of these phones comes with more features, nicer displays, and faster performance. They also have something the Force lacks entirely: character.

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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 12 minutes
Available Integrated Storage 2.29 GB
Processor Speed 1.5 GHz
CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus MSM8960 Dual-Core
GPS Yes
Service Provider Sprint
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
Colors Available Black
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 Sprint Force is a comfortably sized smartphone with a friendly price tag, but there's nothing to distinguish it from the pack.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc