Jeremy Laukkonen is automotive and tech writer for numerous major trade publications as well as the creator of a popular blog and video game startup. A fan of EVs since the early 2000s, he stays up-to-date on the myriad complex systems that power battery electric vehicles.
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Jeremy Laukkonen / Lifewire
Performs surprisingly well
Price is definitely right
Feels incredibly cheap
Sound quality isn’t great
Yahoo Mobile service is more miss than hit
The ZTE Blade A3Y is the first exclusive phone from Yahoo Mobile, and it’s a budget handset that’s a good match for the budget service. It looks and feels exactly like you’d expect from a phone at this price, but it performs surprisingly well.
ZTE provided us with a review unit for our writer to test, which they sent back after their thorough evaluation. Read on for their full take.
The ZTE Blade A3Y is a budget phone from Yahoo Mobile that slides right into the very bottom of the budget market. This is Yahoo Mobile’s first exclusive handset, but it’s basically the ZTE Blade A3 Prime that was released earlier this year. Specifications are pretty pedestrian, with a quad-core MediaTek processor, 2GB of RAM, and 32GB of internal storage, but it has some nice features for such an inexpensive device.
Yahoo Mobile provided me with a Blade A3Y and a Yahoo Mobile SIM, and I carried it alongside my regular phone for about a week. I tested call quality, performance, battery life, and even how well the Blade A3Y plays games to see how well a phone can really work at such a low price point.
The ZTE Blade A3Y is on the smaller side, with a squared-off display, big, chunky bezels, and a thickness that’s partially accounted for by the fact that it has a removable plastic back. Available in one color, grape jelly, the actual body of the phone itself is black while the removable back is a deep shade of purple.
The removable plastic back is the most interesting design choice here, as it’s a bit of a throwback to the days when cell phone batteries were user serviceable.
The front of the handset features a 5.45-inch display rendered in 1440x720, which technically makes it high definition. The controls are found on the right side in the form of a volume rocker and power button. The bottom edge holds a USB-C port that supports fast charging, while the top edge of the handset has a 3.5mm audio jack. It’s a bit odd to have wires coming out both ends, but this is a small device designed to hit a very tight budget price point so concessions are expected.
The back of the Blade A3Y is actually a removable plastic plate colored in a deep purple hue and etched with an attractive pattern of diagonal lines. A small camera array pokes through the removable back in the upper left corner, and in the middle toward the top the removable back has a hole to accommodate a small fingerprint sensor. The ZTE logo is emblazoned just beneath that.
The removable plastic back is the most interesting design choice here, as it’s a bit of a throwback to the days when cell phone batteries were user serviceable. The battery actually comes uninstalled, requiring you to pop it in while you’re inserting your SIM card. While the phone is only available in “grape jelly,” the otherwise identical ZTE Blade A3 Prime has a gray back, and it seems like it would be pretty trivial for Visible, Yahoo Mobile, or both to offer alternative backs with different colors or patterns in the future.
Taken as a whole, the ZTE Blade A3Y looks pretty good for a phone with such a low price point. The plastic back lends a cheap feeling when you actually hold the phone, but it’s pretty enough to look at from a distance if you’re a fan of purple.
Jeremy Laukonnen / Lifewire
The Blade A3Y has a 5.4-inch display that just barely qualifies as high definition. It doesn’t look that bad on a smaller display like this, but I did notice some eye discomfort after looking at the display for long periods of time.
The display is bright enough for most situations, but it was tough to see in bright sunlight. Colors are okay, if a bit cold. Weighed against the cost of the phone, none of these issues amount to much. Don’t expect the most beautiful display you’ve ever seen, and you won’t be disappointed.
Phones typically come with enough of a charge to get them turned on and set up, so I had a bit of initial confusion when the ZTE Blade A3Y wouldn’t turn on. Then I noticed that it didn’t have a visible SIM drawer. I checked the box for instructions and didn’t find any, but I did notice the battery sitting in the box beneath the main packaging on closer inspection.
The ZTE Blade A3Y doesn’t come with instructions on how to install the battery or SIM card for some reason, but it’s easy enough to figure out. One of the corners of the back cover has a bit of an indentation, providing enough purchase to pull it free from the main body of the phone. With the back removed, you can slot the battery in place, install your SIM, and also put in an SD card if you like.
With the battery installed, the setup process is mostly the same as any other Android phone. The only real wrinkle is that, being a Yahoo Mobile phone, you’ll probably be using it with the Yahoo Mobile service. That requires you to install the Yahoo Mobile app and either create an account or sign up for one to finish the setup process.
Between the rock bottom price tag and the cheap feel of the plastic back, I didn’t expect a whole lot out of the Blade A3Y in terms of performance. However, I was pleasantly surprised. The A3Y turned in some pretty decent benchmarks, right in line with significantly more expensive budget handsets I’ve tested, and also worked pretty well in normal daily use over the week I spent with it.
To start things off, I downloaded PCMark and ran the Work 2.0 benchmark. This is a productivity benchmark that tests how well a phone is at performing daily tasks like web browsing, word processing, and image editing. It gives an overall score in addition to a breakdown of scores for specific task categories.
The ZTE Blade A3Y scored an impressive 4,491 overall in the Work 2.0 benchmark. That number isn’t impressive in and of itself, as it’s pretty low compared to the numbers you can hit with higher end hardware, but it’s remarkably good for a phone of this price. By way of comparison, I tested an LG Stylo 6 around the same time as the ZTE Blade A3Y, and it only scored 3,867 in this benchmark.
For web browsing, the ZTE Blade A3Y scored 3,592. It scored a bit higher in the writing category, and even higher in the photo editing category with a respectable 8,392. These numbers are all pretty good for a phone in the low end of the budget category.
In normal use, I noticed enough lag and slowdown to be a bit of an annoyance. For example, I noticed some lag just pulling down the notification drawer or opening the app drawer. Apps ran well enough for the most part, and I was able to open a bunch of tabs in Chrome and stream YouTube videos without any issue, but I’d expect the phone to run more smoothly based on its benchmark scores.
The A3Y turned in some pretty decent benchmarks, right in line with significantly more expensive budget handsets I’ve tested
In addition to the productivity benchmark, I also ran a few gaming benchmarks from GFXBench. I started off with Car Chase, which is a 3D benchmark that makes use of advanced shaders and lighting. In this benchmark, the Blade A3Y only managed to output 3.8FPS. That’s also better than the Stylo 6, which only hit 2.8, but those are both pretty miserable results.
Next up, I ran the less demanding T-Rex benchmark. This is also a 3D benchmark, but it’s designed for less advanced hardware. In this benchmark, the Blade A3Y managed a significantly better 22FPS. That’s still low enough to be an issue if you were actually trying to play a game.
For a real world test, I downloaded the 3D racing game Asphalt 9 and ran through a few races. Asphalt 9 is a well optimized game, and it ran well enough on the Blade A3Y that it was actually playable. I did notice a lot of pop-in where objects would fail to render initially, and there was enough frame dropping to get annoying, but I was actually able to complete a few races without issue.
The bottom line here is that the ZTE Blade A3Y can run games and other apps to some degree if you really need it to, but it doesn’t really have the processor or RAM to provide a satisfying experience. Stick to phone calls and simple tasks like messaging, email, web browsing, and streaming video, and it won’t disappoint. Beyond that, you might need to invest in a more expensive phone.
Verizon seems to deprioritize Yahoo Mobile and Visible traffic to a significant degree, so you may see fantastic speeds or terrible speeds depending on factors like your location and the time of day.
This is the point in the review where I discuss the Yahoo Mobile service, which is a MVNO operated by Verizon. Like Verizon’s other MVNO, Visible, it uses Verizon’s cell towers, but Yahoo Mobile customers aren’t Verizon customers. If you’ve had good luck in your location with Verizon, that doesn’t mean you’ll see a similar level of service from Yahoo Mobile or Visible.
Yahoo Mobile provided me with an activated SIM for the purposes of testing the Blade A3Y. The phone wouldn’t work with the Google Fi or AT&T SIMS I usually use for testing, so all of my cellular calling and LTE data tests were performed using Yahoo Mobile.
That said, my results may depart wildly from your own experience depending on your location and the status of the Verizon network in your area. Verizon seems to deprioritize Yahoo Mobile and Visible traffic to a significant degree, so you may see fantastic speeds or terrible speeds depending on factors like your location and the time of day.
When connected to the Yahoo Mobile service, I measured download speeds between 2.8 and 5Mbps. Measured at the same time, in the same location, as the 5Mbps download, a Moto X4 on Verizon’s postpaid service hit a top download speed of 30Mbps. It’s hard to separate the performance of Yahoo Mobile from the performance of the Blade A3Y due to the fact that I was unable to get it working with anything but the Yahoo Mobile SIM, but the LTE speeds I saw from it were uniformly lackluster.
For Wi-Fi connectivity, I tested the Blade A3Y using a gigabit cable internet connection from Mediacom and an Eero mesh Wi-Fi system. The connection measured at just shy of 1Gbps at the router at the time of testing, and my Pixel 3 managed a top download speed of 320Mbps when checked alongside the Blade A3Y.
For the first measurement, I checked the Blade A3Y when in close proximity to the router. Under those ideal circumstances, it managed a top download speed of 162Mbps. That’s more than fast enough for Wi-Fi calling, video chat, streaming video, and just about anything else, but clearly slower than it could be.
Next up, I moved the Blade A3Y about 30 feet from the router and tested again. At that distance, the download speed dropped to 132Mbps. I then moved about 50 feet from the router and beacons, with walls and other obstructions in the way, and the download speed dropped just a bit to 125Mbps. Finally, I headed down to my garage, about 100 feet from the nearest router or beacon, and the phone held tight at 71Mbps.
Overall, the Wi-Fi connectivity of the Blade A3Y is pretty good. It leaves a lot on the table at short range, but the numbers at long range remain fast enough to stream video and just about anything else. Even though it didn’t put up the best numbers I’ve seen, it worked really well for a $50 phone.
For a budget phone with a single speaker, the Blade A3Y doesn’t sound that bad. It’s one of the quieter phones I’ve tested, but how often do you turn your media volume all the way up anyway? At about half volume, the music sounds decent enough, if a bit hollow and very heavy on the high end.
The speaker vents through slots in the removable plastic back that are really easy to cover with your fingers while holding the phone in landscape mode. Setting the phone down on anything, even a smooth surface, also muffles the sound significantly.
Call quality was decent, but I noticed a strange sort of reverberation that was just enough to be annoying. It almost sounds like the person you’re talking to is on speakerphone even when they aren’t. According to the people I called with the phone, I came through loud and clear without any strange modulation, and they could hear me even when in fairly noisy environments. While the reverb was annoying at first, I got used to it pretty fast.
The Blade A3Y has cameras, but they aren’t very good. The rear camera features an 8MP sensor, and I had a heck of time getting clear shots with it. Photos I took with the rear camera tended to be blurry with washed out colors even in decent light. Low light photos were even worse. Video, similarly, struggled in imperfect light. Any amount of backlight blew out the picture altogether, and well lit scenes looked flat.
The 5MP front camera is no better. It focuses just fine, but colors are cold and washed out, and it doesn’t handle less than ideal lighting well at all. It’s there if you need it for video calls or selfies, but the results aren’t likely to satisfy.
The Blade A3Y features a 2,660 mAh battery, which is on the low side. However, this battery is removable. That means you can easily pick up a replacement battery and keep it in reserve just in case the handset dies when you aren’t in a situation where you can charge it.
The reported talk time on the battery is 16 hours, which seems a bit generous. I was able to go about a day and a half using the Blade A3Y wherever I could in place of my normal phone, and I’d definitely have it on the charger every night if it actually was my normal phone.
To test its capacity further, I connected to Wi-Fi, turned the screen to full brightness, and set it to stream non-stop YouTube videos. In that state, the battery lasted six and a half hours. That’s less than most of the phones I’ve tested, but it isn’t bad for a phone that has such a low price tag and a removable battery.
The ZTE Blade A3Y ships with Android 10, and it’s pretty close to stock. I noticed a few differences in the way it works compared to stock, but nothing really worth calling out. The most visible difference between this phone and any other Android 10 device is that it comes with a bunch of pre-installed Yahoo apps: you get Yahoo Mail, Yahoo News, and others.
If you’re in the Yahoo ecosystem, then you’ll find the inclusion of Yahoo apps to be useful. Otherwise, they’re easy enough to ignore or get rid of. The regular old Android mail client is still there, along with the standard suite of Google apps, so the inclusion of Yahoo Mobile’s apps is more of a flavor thing than an imposition.
The ZTE Blade A3Y has an MSRP of just $49, and you can typically get it for about half that. When switching to Yahoo Mobile from another service, you may even be able to snag it for the princely sum of zero dollars.
With a price range between free and $49, the ZTE Blade A3Y is a fantastic deal. This is clearly a budget phone, there’s no getting around it, but it looks and performs great for a $49 handset. It out-benchmarks some $300 phones I’ve looked at, and it’s pretty easy to overlook shortcomings like the lackluster camera when a phone has this kind of price tag hitched to this level of performance.
With a price range between free and $49, the ZTE Blade A3Y is a fantastic deal.
The LG K51 is one of our favorite ultra-budget phones, with an unlocked MSRP of $200 and typically available for less than $150. It features a big 6.5-inch display with a teardrop camera, 4,000 mAh battery, and an eight-core MediaTek Helio P22 processor.
While the LG K51 beats the ZTE Blade A3Y in terms of specifications pretty much right across the board, there’s a huge gulf in price differential here. The LG K51 has an MSRP that’s four times that of the ZTE Blade A3Y. For that extra money you get a slightly bigger display, but the same low resolution. You also get an eight-core processor versus a quad-core, but the Blade A3Y actually benchmarks better despite that difference.
If you’re working on a tight budget, there’s no question: the ZTE Blade A3Y is a better deal.
Grab this one if you need a phone and don’t have a budget.
The ZTE Blade A3Y looks and feels pretty cheap, and the specifications aren’t anything to write home about, but this is pretty much the perfect smartphone if you need a phone now but don’t really have any room in the budget for one. It’s also great for anyone who just wants a basic phone for calling and on-the-go internet access, as it performs far better than expected based on the raw specifications.
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