If you have stumbled in to a high street phone store recently, you may have noticed that there are a couple of handsets on show with unusual names. ZTE is just one of those names. A Chinese electronics manufacturer, ZTE released a number of handsets worldwide last year with the hope of following in the success of other Asian tech firms with Android powered smartphones. One of the most talked about smartphones released last year by ZTE was the Grand X, an inexpensive touch-screen Android handset which boasts stock Android Ice Cream Sandwich and a dual-core processor.
Very much a low-end handset, the ZTE Grand X wants to appeal to those who are shopping for their very first smartphone or for those who need a secondary no thrills mobile. The question is, is it worth it?
Design, build, feel
The ZTE Grand X is a cute little thing. It measures 127 x 65 x 9.9 mm and weighs 110g yet despite being bulkier than some of its competitors in the waist department, it feels like a really nice product in the hand and is a very pocketable smartphone. The whole handset is made from plastics which have proven to be of a good quality over the past 7 days of testing, and the front of the handset is dominated by a 4.3-inch display.
With rounded corners, the handset is lovely to hold in daily use, and the back of the phone also plays a part in this. The removable back plate has two textures to it: a dimply, rugged surface on the back of the phone and a rubbery, matte texture on the back sides. This makes for a smartphone which is extremely grippy, and also a lot more premium feeling than it actually is.
The only thing which breaks up the black lines on the ZTE Grand X is the phones outer bezel, which curiously is a different shade to the rest of the phone. It is more of a really dark metallic gray than black, and it actually does the handset justice, making it appear like it is made from some form of metal in the right light.
The top of the Grand X plays host to a 3.5mm headphone jack and power button, whilst on the left hand side of the phone you will find volume keys and a microUSB port. The bottom and right of the handset are clean with no ports to speak of. On the front of the handset, the Grand X features Menu, Home, Back, and Search capacitive buttons.
The ZTE Grand X features a rather generous Sharp-made qHD 4.3-inch, 540 x 960 pixel display with 256 ppi. It is of the TFT variety (i.e. cheap as chips to source) and it shows, with the Grand X’s display being easily the worst I have used on a smartphone in the past 2 years.
I don’t want to sound too harsh on a handset retailing for in places under £170 SIM-free, but if you are looking for a smartphone which will not drive you crazy, you are best to avoid the Grand X based on my time with the display.
So what’s wrong with it? Well, I found the display to be at times unresponsive, slow and just plain bad generally. The glass covering feels cheap and not as smooth to use as a Galaxy Ace smartphone, and the black levels the display produces are very gray indeed. Scrolling through home screens proves to be okay 90% of the time, however it is when you want to open an app that things start to go downhill. Occasionally, I found myself finger bashing the display just to register some input.
Overall then I am not a fan of Grand X’s display. Potential buyers of this handset should be aware that it can lag and sometimes be totally unresponsive.
When it was initially released the ZTE Grand X came with stock Android Ice Cream Sandwich out of the box. Since then, it has been upgradeable to Android Jelly Bean. I cannot vouch for the Ice Cream handset, as my ZTE Grand X came with Jelly Bean installed and downloaded, but as expected Android Jelly Bean is buttery smooth and plenty responsive enough on the Grand X.
Android Jelly Bean is much faster than Ice Cream Sandwich and also much smoother with thanks to Project Butter. With Android, you will have access to over 700,000 apps on the Google Play Store.
Speed and power
I got along fine with the ZTE Grand X during my time reviewing it, with a lot of that because it runs stock Android. With no hefty or ugly skins to power, the internals of the Grand X do a good job of providing snappy web browsing and solid casual gaming.
Inside the handset is an Nvidia Tegra 2 processor (dual-core, 1.0GHz) alongside 512MB of RAM. This set up may seem old in 2013, but it is a perfectly serviceable combination which makes web browsing and general use a breeze. It may not be up to the speed of today’s smartphones, but the Grand X is a handset not aimed at power junkies.
In Quadrant Standard, the Grand X returned a respectable score of 2,610. For comparisons sake, my Tegra 3 powered One X with Jelly Bean returns a score of 6,821. Whilst this may look like the ZTE is a slow handset, it simply isn’t and throughout daily use you will be fine. Unless you really push your processor, only then will you wish you had a few more cores and a newer set up.
The ZTE Grand X features a 5 megapixel (2592х1944 pixels) camera with autofocus and LED flash with support for 1080p video shooting. It is a perfectly acceptable camera, and surprisingly never struggles to focus on a subject. The only thing worth noting is that the flash is not very bright, and so low-light shooting should be avoided.
I found the battery life of the ZTE Grand X to simply be ‘okay’. It isn’t amazing by any stretch of the imagination, nor is it plain bad. The handset will get you through a full working day and if charged over night it will get you through another working day. If you forget to charge your phone overnight, though, the Grand X will say good night to you at around lunch time. This of course will depend on what activity you perform on your smartphones, but even for general users, it is best to keep the Grand X near a power source.
As a redeeming feature, the removable black plate of the smartphone once taken off reveals a replaceable 1,650 mAh battery. This way, you can carry two batteries, theoretically doubling your battery life.
Being a phone
As expected the ZTE Grand X does a good job of simply ‘being a phone’. Call quality is good whether making or receiving, and I can confirm that all antennas and chips were working on my Grand X. Text messaging, GPS amongst other things worked admirably well on the Grand X.
The ZTE Grand X is an ageing smartphone which is nearing the end of its life. Despite this, it is nice to hold and a good looking smartphone to boot. The major drawback to this handset is its display, which even though on paper is good, isn’t in real life.
In terms of plus points, I give ZTE respect for launching the Grand X with stock Ice Cream Sandwich and then upgrading it to stock Android Jelly Bean. This was a great move on their part to keep the handset as fast and snappy as possible given the relatively old internals the smartphone has. Also, the fact that this handset has a user replaceable battery only serves to confirm that ZTE are looking after their dear consumers.
Would I recommend buying the Grand X in 2013? No, probably not. The display on the thing really is that frustrating, and the Tegra 2 processor is in no way future proof. Also, you can pick up second hand (and new in cases) Nexus branded handsets for around the same price as this thing on eBay, and as we all know they get updates to the OS as soon as available directly from Google. If I had money to spend, I’d be going for a Nexus.
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