Sprint Flash Review
Sprint’s Flash Android smartphone has a flashy 12.6-megapixel camera, but disappointing images and middling performance dim the overall picture.
- Sharp display
- Relatively unmodified version of Android
- Subpar performance
- Runs hot
- Disappointing 12.6-megapixel camera
With a name like the Flash, Sprint’s launch for this Android smartphone was anything but flashy. Even with a 12.6-megapixel camera, the $49.99 Sprint Flash managed to quietly slide into the carrier’s budget smartphone lineup. Unfortunately, the Flash isn’t a hidden gem. That 12.6-megapixel camera doesn’t quite live up to its rating, and subpar performance holds the phone back. It’s still a decent choice for users on a budget, but it’s less flash, more flicker.
Design, Call Quality, and Network
You’d expect the Sprint Flash to look, well, flashier. Made by ZTE, the phone measures 5.27 by 2.59 by 0.38 inches and weighs 5.2 ounces. It’s a little heftier than many new smartphones, but it feels pretty solid, and, for the most part, usable with just one hand. The design is somewhat uninspired, with a black textured soft-touch back panel, and a silver plastic band around the middle of the phone. The front is one big glass panel, with on-screen touch controls. There’s a shutter button for the camera on the right side of the phone, Volume buttons on the left, and a Power button on top.
The 4.5-inch LCD features 1280-by-720-pixel resolution. It’s not the brightest screen I’ve seen, but at 326 pixels per inch, it is very sharp. Images, text, and video all benefit from the high resolution. The on-screen keyboard is large enough for comfortable typing.
Like many Sprint phones, the Flash is ULE Platinum Certified, which is the highest level of environmental performance recognized by sustainable requirements established by ULE and Sprint. Sprint doesn’t make clear exactly what these requirements are, but suffice to say, this is probably more eco-friendly than your average smartphone.
The Flash supports Sprint’s relatively new 4G LTE network as well as its much slower 3G network. In our most recent Fastest Mobile Networks tests, 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 Flash, so all of our tests were conducted over 3G. Reception was pretty weak, and call quality just average. Voices sounded digitized in the phone’s earpiece, and got very fuzzy at maximum volume. Calls made with the phone sounded better, with less digitization and very good background noise cancellation. The speakerphone sounds okay, but isn’t loud enough to hear outside. The phone paired easily with my Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset and standard Android voice dialing worked fine. The 1780mAh battery lasted for 8 hours and 42 minutes of talk time, which is on the higher side of average. And the battery is removable, so you can carry a spare.
Android and Apps
The Flash is powered by a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus MSM8960. That’s the same fast processor you’ll find in top Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy S III, but you wouldn’t know it from the benchmark numbers, which are lackluster. The scores put the Flash more closely in line with the Samsung Galaxy Victory 4G LTE, which uses a slower 1.2GHz dual-core processor. And it’s not just a matter of benchmarks. The Flash feels slow, from home screen transitions to opening up apps. It also became quite hot to the touch when running our standard set of benchmark tests.
What makes these performance hiccups more puzzling is that the Flash is running a version of Android 4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich) that’s practically unmodified. Aside from the addition of Sprint ID, ZTE hasn’t made any notable changes to Google’s software. It would have been nice to see Android 4.1 or 4.2 (Jelly Bean). Both updates bring significant improvements in features and performance over ICS, but there’s still no excuse as to why the Flash runs slowly.
Aside from Sprint ID, there is mercifully little bloatware installed. For new users it may at first seem unclear just what you can do with this phone, since there aren’t many apps or widgets placed on any of the five home screens. But there are enough stock apps to get you started, and you should be able to run all of the 700,000+ apps and games in the Google Play Store without a problem.
The Twonky media sharing app is included for you to beam music, pictures, and video over to compatible devices, like an HDTV. And the Flash includes NFC support, which still hasn’t become a must-have feature, but at least it’s there if it does.
Camera, Multimedia, and Conclusions
The Flash has 6.04GB of free internal storage and an empty microSD card slot underneath the battery cover. You don’t need to remove the battery to access the slot, and my 32 and 64GB SanDisk cards worked fine.
For music, I was able to play AAC, MP3, OGG, WMA, and WAV audio files, but not FLAC. Sound quality was good over both wired 3.5mm headphones as well as Altec Lansing BackBeat Bluetooth headphones. For video, all of our test files played back at resolutions up to 1080p, but audio didn’t work with DivX files.
The 12.6-megapixel camera is Sprint’s major selling point for the Flash. But like the 13-megpixel LG Optimus G, it proves that there’s much more to taking a good photo than just megapixels. The camera snaps photos quickly, in an average of 0.4 seconds. And all those megapixels don’t go entirely to waste—the Flash does a pretty nice job of capturing fine detail. But photos taken inside looked washed out, and lighter colors were almost blown out entirely. There’s also an overall softness to the images, that almost looks like the autofocus didn’t quite kick in.
Photos taken outdoors look a bit better, with richer color detail, but again, light colors are still very much blown out. On the plus side you get tons of built-in editing and processing features. But if you’re buying this phone to replace your digital camera, don’t. The video camera records relatively smooth 1080p video, but sometimes suffered from a soft focus, and there’s a perfectly adequate 1-megapixel front-facing camera for video chat.
The Sprint Flash is a decent Android smartphone, but there’s not much comparison with higher-end phones, like the Samsung Galaxy S III and LG Optimus G, both of which offer more power, better features, and newer versions of Android than the Flash. But pitted against other budget phones, like the Samsung Galaxy Victory 4G LTE and the LG Viper 4G LTE, the Flash holds it own. Still, you’re better off with the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, which is free with a two-year contract, performs similarly, and guarantees you a newer version of Android.
By Alex Colon, PCMag
- Service Provider: Sprint
- Operating System: Android OS
- CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus MSM8960 Dual-Core
- Processor Speed: 1.5 GHz
- Form Factor: Candy Bar
- Physical Keyboard: No
- Screen Size: 4.5 inches
- Screen Details: 1280-by-720-pixel TFT LCD
- Camera: Yes
- Megapixels: 12.6 MP
- Camera Flash: Yes
- 802.11x: 802.11 b/g/n
- Bluetooth: Yes
- GPS: Yes
- Storage Capacity (as Tested): 6 GB
- microSD Slot: Yes
- Battery Life (As Tested)>: 8 hours 42 minutes