Direct sunlight is not a friend to the Vital's camera, as lighter colors (think: legs, feet and hands) tend to get washed out. Darker hues don't suffer quite as much, at least. The camera's dynamic range is too limited for our taste, as the sensor has a difficult time capturing both dark and bright areas in the same shot; since the sensor heavily favors one side of the light spectrum at a time, either the shade will be too dark or the bright areas will be completely overexposed. That said, the Vital's HDR capabilities made a huge impact in this area, expanding the dynamic range of daylight shots while adding a generous amount of color to pictures we took at dusk; we actually found ourselves defaulting to HDR on a regular basis.
If you're only dealing with an average amount of light, you'll find that the resulting shots are completely acceptable and in many cases they turn out incredibly well. Unfortunately, the Vital will not be your go-to device if you plan to take a lot of photos at night or in any other low-light situation; if you're trying to find the defining characteristics of a mid-range phone in the Vital, this is definitely one area you'll want to look at. Unfortunately, it captures extremely dark pictures despite an aperture of f/2.4, and if you're trying to take shots of moving objects -- say, children -- anytime around or after sunset, you'll be painfully frustrated, as you'll end up with plenty of blurry memories.
Video capture is set at a max resolution of 1080p with a frame rate of 30 fps and 20 Mbps bit rate. The majority of our movies turned out pretty nicely, with detail and smooth motion only taking a slight decline when compared to the GS4. We had no problem with capturing our voices -- along with our callers' -- even when we were in the midst of a moderate breeze.
Performance and battery life
The Vital takes advantage of a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus (MSM8960) chipset with a 1.5GHz dual-core Krait CPU and Adreno 225 GPU. It's the same setup found in 2012 flagships like the Motorola Droid RAZR HD, Samsung GS3 (US) and AT&T HTC One X; notable 2013 phones like the BlackBerry Z10 and Nokia Lumia 920/925; and a load of other mid-rangers still taking up space on shelves at retail stores. While the experience may not be as refined as many of today's quad-core (and octa-core) powerhouses, it's still acceptable for most people who don't need the best of the best. Take a look at the scores below to see how the Vital holds up against a couple of its peers.
Initially, we were a little disappointed to hear that ZTE and Sprint opted for an S4 Plus instead of the newer Snapdragon 400 (we imagine the older chipset was the result of corner-cutting efforts). In many benchmarks, however, its results when compared to the HTC First
-- a stock device (if you turn off Facebook Home) that operates with a 1.4GHz dual-core S400 -- are either too close to call or better when factoring in the difference in clock speed. When you take into account the fact that many current devices still use the same setup, this shouldn't be too much of an issue; and frankly, most consumers shopping for a mid-range handset aren't as likely to nitpick about such seemingly trivial things.
What those potential buyers will nitpick about, however, is battery life. The Vital isn't a disappointment in this area, but it doesn't excel either; we had no problem squeezing out 12 or 13 hours of moderate use, and we snagged over a day and a half with relatively low use (in other words, we occasionally took it out of our pockets to look at email, make calls and so on). In our standard video rundown test, the device lasted six hours and 37 minutes before bidding us a digital farewell. All in all, it's perfectly average -- precisely what we'd expect a mid-range smartphone to be.
Call quality was slightly on the tinny side when we were in areas with weaker reception, but we could hear others quite well otherwise. The noise-canceling mic worked great during our calls, and the speakerphone was more than sufficiently loud. We were also impressed by how quickly the Vital's GPS could track our location. Unfortunately, its performance on Sprint's LTE network left a lot to be desired: in areas with four to five bars of LTE reception, we were only getting an average of 7 Mbps downlink / 3 Mbps uplink. This was fair for most common tasks, but we were pretty disappointed in the results, since Sprint's next-gen network is still relatively new and should be capable of much faster speeds.
Pricing and competition
As we mentioned earlier, the Vital is a mid-range device priced at $100 with a two-year commitment. At the time of this writing, new customers are able to get that cost knocked down to nothing. But how does the Vital compare with other smartphones in the same price range? For an identical price, you could get an Optimus G
, LG's flagship from last fall, which offers a 4.7-inch display with 1,280 x 768 resolution, quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro and 13MP camera. You could also choose the Samsung Galaxy S III
, last year's Galaxy S flagship, or the iPhone 4S
, which is now nearly 2 years old. LG's darling trumps the rest of the pack spec-wise, and is still one of our recent favorites. While the Vital has a lot to offer, it faces tough competition against foes that are much more familiar with the US battlefield.
So where does this leave our assessment of the Vital? Overall, it's a pleasant device to use, though it has very few qualities that make it memorable. There's not much about the handset we truly loathe, but mainstream consumers are becoming much more picky about what they carry. On one hand, this particular phone is a great deal for new customers who can grab it for no cost other than the two-year contract. On the other hand, current subscribers who are stuck with forking out a hundred dollars for a perfectly average ZTE handset may feel otherwise. No matter which hand you consider, however, it's simply easier to justify the identically priced Optimus G -- whether you're opening your wallet on the day of purchase or not.