ZTE is one of several Chinese manufacturers breaking into the US market with affordable smartphones and their share of bells and whistles. At CES, we checked out its Blade V8 Pro, an affordable phablet rocking a dual rear camera with a couple of tricks up its sleeve.

First and foremost, let's establish the most notable feature of this phone: its price. Blade V8 Pro preorders for US$230 and is expected to start shipping before the end of January. It ships unlocked directly from ZTE and is compatible with non-CDMA networks (in the US, that means no Verizon or Sprint).

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There is no confirmation whether that price point will creep up after the preorder period, but either way, it still undercuts its main competitors. Even similar offerings like the Huawei Honor 6X and OnePlus 3T start at $250 and $439, respectively.

Design and build

At first glance, the Blade V8 Pro is a decent-looking phone, even if it doesn't have a metal unibody. Instead, the back is plastic with a slightly rubbery grip and a textured geometric pattern that looks about as high end as plastic can go (think Samsung Galaxy S5 from a few years ago). It's also slightly grippy, with a comfortable feel in the hand. Its thin metal frame and Gorilla Glass display add substantiality.

At 156 mm x 77 mm x 9.1 mm, the phone is on the small side for a phablet, which makes it easier to wield than its hulking cousins. The slightly rounded edges also contribute to a pleasant in-hand feel.

There's a fingerprint sensor in the home button below the display, which we prefer over the back placement common in Android phones. The display itself isn't stunning, but it's certainly no slouch. The 1080p resolution would probably seem ample to most, unless you were to compare it side by side with a high-end flagship.

The charging port is USB-C (no out-of-date microUSB here), there is a headphone jack located on top of the phone, and there are dual SIM card slots, one of which can also be used for microSD expansion.

Camera

The camera is the second headlining feature next to price. The 8 MP front camera takes sharp selfies (though we couldn't test it too extensively on the conference floor) and the dual 13 MP rear cameras have bokeh, monochrome and monocolor modes.

The functioning of the bokeh mode is similar to what we saw manipulating aperture on the Huawei Honor 8. Tap on your subject to focus on it, and then select an aperture size to correspond with the amount of bokeh (blur) you'd like to see around it.

We would not describe the results as DSLR quality, but they do make for some interesting shots that could be quite compelling with a bit of practice. We'd have to have a little more side-by-side time to put it to the test, but the end results seem similar to what you might see in Portrait mode on the iPhone 7 Plus.

The monochrome/monocolor modes let you shoot in black and white, or you can select one specific color to be included in your shots. The monochrome mode took rich grayscale photos, and there a couple of suboptions like "sketch" and "vignette" which adds some bokeh around your subject. The monocolor mode was less interesting to us – it seemed like an effect better left to a post-shot filter.

Even if you're holding out for a higher-end phone, the dual cameras on this mid-range offering are yet another indication that dual cameras are here to stay.

Performance and operating system

Of course, we couldn't tell you much about performance based on our limited hands-on time, but we can tell you that the Blade V8 Pro has a decidedly mid-ranged Snapdragon 625 chipset with 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of built-in storage.

The phone runs Android Marshmallow with no official confirmation about if or when it will receive the Nougat update. The OS is very close to stock Android, even with ZTE's custom skin.

Product page: ZTE Blade 8 Pro

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