- Relatively stock Android
- Occasional stability issues
£200 can get you a spectacular 16GB Google Nexus 7 by Asus. £200 can also get you a pint sized yet potent Sony Xperia U or Intel’s first foray into smartphones, the Orange San Diego. £200 is clearly a sweetspot in the mobile world, and the club has a new member, the ZTE Grand X, complete with qHD display, Nvidia Tegra 2 processor and virtually stock Ice Cream Sandwich out of the box. Sounds too good to be true right?
ZTE Grand X: Design
Given the specs, the ZTE Grand X is a relatively inexpensive phone. Unfortunately, its design doesn’t go to great lengths to betray that fact. While it looks fine with rounded corners, a simple, black fascia and agreeable 9.9mm girth, touch it and the game’s up. The back of the Grand X has a hollow textured plastic feel that is far from premium and the screen has a significantly grippier tactility than we see in more premium hardware.
Four capacitive buttons sit below the 4.3-inch qHD display and there’s a VGA front-facing camera. Irritatingy, the capacitive buttons on the front don’t light up, making the phone difficult to use in the dark. The left side houses the volume rocker and micro USB port, while the top is where you’ll find the 3.5mm jack and power button. On the back there’s a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera. Out of our aforementioned list of £200 devices therefore, the ZTE Grand X feels the least premium.
ZTE Grand X: Screen
The screen picks things up nicely though. Once you get past the slightly grippy texture and finger print loving sheen, the sheer picture quality is fantastic. LCD, qHD and 4.3-inches ensure you’re getting an experience comparable to that of the HTC Sensation, with a little less wash out. Viewing angles are strong, it’s responsive and colour reproduction is good. Outdoor viewing is where it falls down, though this only becomes an issue in bright sunlight.
ZTE Grand X: User Interface
Save for the four capacitive buttons in place of the Android 4.0’s on screen buttons, the ZTE Grand X reproduces a relatively stock Ice Cream Sandwich experience. You get five homescreens, widgets and apps galore and no custom skinning to speak of, as found in HTC Sense or Samsung TouchWiz.
Google’s Play Store offers hundreds of thousands of applications, some pre-installed by ZTE. These include Fulls Share DLNA service, Dolby Moblile control panel as well as Tegra Zone for games and X-Office document viewer. These aren’t intrusive ensuring the stock experience feels great.
The default keyboard is TouchPal, however ZTE refrain from uninstalling the stock ICS keyboard thankfully, so you have choices out of the box. While TouchPal isn’t bad, we prefer the bigger stock keyboard with its key spacing accommodating larger, clumsier thumbs.
ZTE Grand X: Camera and Multimedia
The 5-megapixel camera on the ZTE Grand X is loaded with auto-focus and rocks a stock ICS user interface. Having said that, if you’re expecting similar performance to that of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus with its like-for-like specs, you’ll be disappointed. Picture quality aside, the capture speed on the ZTE Grand X makes the camera totally redundant in fast-capture situations with a full second between pressing the shutter release and your picture being taken.
Moving onto image quality and it fares little better. Outdoors in great lighting you can get decent shots, though even then, there’s visible noise. The Grand X also produces some pretty evident vignetting indoors and doesn’t offer good dynamic range. The flash barely helps things along, so if the extent of your picture taking is Instagram and Facebook uploading you should be fine, but for any more serious shooters, the Grand X won’t hit the spot.
720p Video unfortunately fares poorly too. With no continuous auto-focus and poor dynamic range, the picture looks muddy and soft when capturing anything closer than a metre. Outdoor landscape video naturally does fair better.
Gaming is really where the ZTE Grand X stands out in a good way. Tegra Zone games like Dead Trigger play back fantastically well and look great. Not all games are compatible with the Grand X, such as N.O.V.A.3 and Deadspace, so it’s worth checking compatibility of your favourite (on-screen) button basher before you buy.
The stock music player is a lazy Android 2.3 throwback. With no Google Play Music, it’s sorely lacking in flare, however sound quality is great. A simple Google Play Music APK download or alternative player from the market should do wonders to improve the experience. Video looks great on the Grand X thanks to the screen. HD MP4 content plays back out of the box and the processing power means third party players handle other codecs pretty well given the price-point.
ZTE Grand X: Connectivity and Storage
The ZTE Grand X gets you online using the on board 3G and Wi-Fi. Bluetooth and a GPS are also present, so you can take full advantage of wireless stereo headphones and apps like Google Maps.
The default Android Web Kit browser is loaded on the Grand X supporting Flash, however if you want a web browsing experience more cohesive with your desktop, look at installing Chrome. Both these browsers look great on the qHD display and offer a smooth browsing experience.
With 2GB of on board memory as well as a micro SD card slot for up to an additional 32GB, the Grand X shows off a decent amount of potential storage capacity making it perfect for those giant Tegra 2 games flooding the Play store.
ZTE Grand X: Performance and Battery
Thanks to the Tegra 2 processor, this £200 handset feels fast. 3D games look good and the qHD screen shows everything off. Stability was a bit of an issue at times during our testing, which we were surprised about given how stock the version of Android on the Grand X is. The 1650 mAh battery lasts for a full day provided you’re not gaming like a beast or browsing 24/7.
ZTE Grand X Review: Conclusion
The ZTE Grand X hits big, but misses big too. In its favour, there’s a 1GHz dual-core Tegra 2 processor which handles games better than other phones in the price bracket, showcased by the great qHD display. It also packs a relatively stock version of Ice Cream Sandwich. But, and there are a few buts – its build feels hollow. We encountered some quite jarring stability issues and the camera is pretty terrible for a 5-megapixel auto-focus snapper. Get it for great gaming, superb audio quality and processing power, but if you just want a good all-round smartphone, your £200 may be better spent on a Sony Xperia U.