ZTE has been around for ages, making handsets that are badged by network operators and sold as their own. Heard of the Orange San Francisco? That’s the phone which set the budget Android handset world on fire, proving it was possible to make a very serviceable Android phone for under £100. It was made by ZTE. And ZTE has made a host of other Orange branded phones too, such as the San Francisco II, Monte Carlo, Atlanta, Miami, Rio and Rio II. It’s also worked with T-Mobile, for example on the Vairy Touch II, and with Vodafone.
But ZTE also designs for itself, and has worked plenty with Android and a bit with Windows Phone too (remember the Tania?) The Grand X is something different though. It is ZTE’s attempt to go up a notch or two, and it sports a 4.3in screen, Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and a dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor. It can be in your pocket for £199.99 on PAYG from Virgin Media. That makes the ZTE Grand X at first glance something of a high-end handset for a mid-range price.
Clearly for that money the Grand X isn’t going to rival my current favourite top-ender the Samsung Galaxy S III whose £480 price tag indicates it is in a different league. But is the Grand X good enough to pass? Have the compromises been made in the right places to make this phone attractive?
Well, the first obvious place the ZTE Grand X falls down in comparison to much more expensive rivals is in its hardware design. Let’s face it, the handset looks and feels like a mid-ranger. Plastic chassis, thin and quite flimsy textured backplate, and a shell that flexed a bit under my fingers if I applied some pressure. The look is a bit dull too with the handset being almost entirely black with a few silver touches for buttons, camera frame and branding.
The ZTE Grand X is slightly thick, too, at 9.9mm. It is perhaps unfair to compare the Galaxy S III’s 8.6mm, but hey, I’ve just done it. More important than the actual difference in dimensions, the Grand X simply feels a little clunky in the hand. At least it is light at 110g, making it one of the lightest handsets on the market, where comparable phones are 130g to 140g.
It is worth noting that the processor is Nvidia’s slightly old 1GHz dual-core Tegra 2, but it does whizz along and the gaming experience was fine. It could perhaps have benefited from 1GB of RAM to assist it rather than the somewhat measly 512MB, but this is a handset on a budget, remember, and I didn’t really notice the processor suffering. If your needs tend towards more sedate stuff than playing Riptide then you’ll be fine. The modem is worth a second glance too. Of course you have HSDPA here, but supporting download speeds to 21Mbps, currently the fastest 3G speed you’ll find.
The 4.3in screen is nice and large and has a reasonably generous – for a budget phone – 960 x 540 resolution. I was quite happy browsing web pages and even doing a bit of eBook reading, but video, while able to take advantage of the big screen size, was a bit washed out on the LCD when compared to AMOLED or Super AMOLED displays.
The camera is quite disappointing and ZTE has clearly made some cuts here to meet its price. Shooting at five megapixels and with a small LED flash, it produces photos that tend towards the lower end of the quality threshold. And there’s noticeable shutter lag too, so that shooting photos of a moving subject can be tricky. Video recording tops out at 720p, which is a shade lower than the 1080p I’d have liked to see. There’s a front camera too, a 0.3-megapixel (640 x 480 VGA) shooter.
ZTE has opted to use a third-party keyboard – the TouchPal Curve. Now you can switch out of this and back to the Android standard keyboard if you wish, but it is the TouchPal Curve that you get to use right out of the box.
This keyboard offers a Swype-like system, which you might like, and also diminishes the viewing area by slapping on a row of shortcuts above the main keyboard including one shortcut for speech-to-text input. It’s nice to have all these options, but ZTE could have highlighted the fact that you can still switch to the standard keyboard.
ZTE may have shot itself in the foot in the battery department with the 1,650mAh cell being a little underpowered considering the work it has to do. I found it was OK for a day’s worth of light to moderate use, not needing a boost from the mains until late afternoon or early evening depending on how hectic a day I’d had. But when I got hooked on Riptide I was all out of juice after a couple of hours. And the moral of that story is don’t take this phone on a long journey and expect it to keep you entertained. One slight additional worry was that my review sample seemed to run ever so slightly warm even when idling.
You could also argue that memory is thin on the ground. ZTE says there is 4GB on board, but checking mine out of the box there was 1.64GB free. A microSD card will be required almost immediately. The slot is accessible under the backplate and not the battery as well, which is at least a good thing.
The ZTE Grand X is unashamedly trying to punch above its price point, and I have to admire that. If you need a good camera and stunning battery life for processor sapping gaming, then look away. On the other hand, if you like the idea of a vanilla Ice Cream Sandwich and a large screen for a reasonable price then this handset might just float your boat.
Manufacturer and model
ZTE Grand X
GSM 900/1800 HSDPA 900/2100
1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 (AP20)
4.3in, 960 x 540 pixels
127 x 64.6 x 9.9 mm