ZTE continues to try and make moves into the western smartphone market with the mid-range, Tegra powered Grand X.
In recent months, we've seen the Chinese OEM's, ZTE and Huawei, release a series of devices aimed at breaking into the western smartphone market. Their latest effort sees a mid-range device, the Grand X, land on UK shores packing reasonable specs at a reasonable price. The differentiator between this and just any old mid-range Android smartphone -- vanilla Ice Cream Sandwich.
While not likely to excite the power users, the decision to go with stock ICS is a bold one. The market segment the device is aimed at isn't as likely to be excited for plain old Android in the same way a Nexus shopper would be. That said, sat side by side with the Jelly Bean toting Galaxy Nexus, there are very little visual differences. Priced around £100 less than the Galaxy Nexus too, could the Grand X introduce a new audience to the pleasures of vanilla Android? Click on past the break and we'll walk you through it.
Excellent price point. Stock ICS is unusual on a device in this category, but a welcome inclusion. Good performance from the Tegra 2 processor, oh, and did we mention it runs stock ICS?
Very plasticky. The battery cover feels cheap and nasty, and the screen doesn't offer a particularly great touch experience. Some annoying bugs appear in the UI sometimes after playing particularly heavy games.
Inside this review
At first glance, you would be forgiven for thinking that the ZTE Grand X was in fact a Samsung Nexus S. If it weren't for the OEM logo on the front, deciding which is which would be even harder. It isn't a carbon copy of course, but there is a definite resemblance present. The good news is, that we're not looking at a boring, black, rectangular slab. Instead, the Grand X enjoys a more rounded appearance, and aesthetically is quite pleasing to look upon. It isn't all good though, while it might be nice enough to look at, the Grand X is less than exciting to hold. It feels very, very cheap. It's a shame, but the plastics feel nasty. The rear cover is textured, but made of a pretty low quality plastic, and then we come to the screen. The screen doesn't fill any confidence whatsoever, with a pretty poor touch experience.
Visually though, the screen isn't all that bad for qHD. For the majority of folks picking up this phone, it will do just fine. The colors are nice and vibrant, and when held next to the similarly qHD resolution'd Motorola RAZR i, you realize that the fuzziness is definitely less noticeable on the ZTE device.
Another point worth noting -- yet we also accept it could be isolated to our review device -- is that the capacitive buttons on the front don't light up. As we get to the later stages of the year here in the UK, the nights are drawing in and darkness decends ever earlier. Try hitting the right capactive button first time, outside, waiting for a train, just after 8pm. Hopefully, this isn't a widespread problem. But, it is a problem, so it's worth reporting on.
Continuing the tour around the device, up top we have the power switch accompanied by the 3.5mm headphone jack. It also becomes apparent that the Grand X isn't the thinnest device out there. There is a definite hint of chunk about this one.
The volume rocker adorns the left side of the device, alongside the standard issue microUSB port. The right side is left completely bare.
Inside the Grand X, we find a dual-core, 1GHz Tegra 2 chip propelling everything along. This is complimented by 4GB of on-board storage expandable via microSD card, and 512MB of RAM. Ignoring the advertised gaming credentials of the phone, these are reasonable specs for a mid-range device. Nothing more, nothing less. But, some of todays newer gaming titles such as the brilliant Beach Buggy Blitz struggle on the Grand X. Really struggle. And, with only a Tegra 2 on board owners of the Grand X will be unable to take advantage of some of the newer Tegra titles going forward, with everything geared more towards the Tegra 3.
And it's this that disappoints the most about the Grand X. We were promised an advanced gaming phone leading up to the launch event. What we actually got was a decidedly mid-range device, that can play some pretty decent games. But, we're still talking mid-range nevertheless. We almost feel a little cheated.
Powering everything along is a 1650mAh removable battery. Not the biggest, but not the smallest either. We'll get to battery life later on, but it's kind of a mixed bag, as ever depending on what you actually spend the day doing with the phone.
The software on the ZTE Grand X is really easy to describe. Ice Cream Sandwich. That's it. No, really, that's it. It's a great touch, and has the potential to open up the wonders of vanilla Android to a whole new audience. Whilst we may appreciate the different OEM Android based operating systems we get from the likes of Samsung and HTC, it makes a refreshing change to see some vanilla. Touches like this could help ZTE work their way into the hearts of the Android faithful.
While customizations to the OS are absent, there are some pre-installed applications on the Grand X, some of which tie into the supposed gaming credentials. A demo of Riptide GP comes pre-loaded, as does the Tegra Zone application. Truth be told, as Riptide GP is such an awesome title anyway, it's the kind of 'bloatware' that we're less likely to complain about.
One on board application that puzzles somewhat is the Software Update Service. Considering the Grand X runs full bore vanilla flavored Ice Cream Sandwich, the removal of the update functions from the settings menu is, frankly, baffling. The overall functionality is there, but in settings you're only able to deal with update packages that have been copied over to the device's SD card. Everything else is dealt with through the Software Update Service. Seems a little strange.
The vanilla experience should also bode well for any future updates the Grand X may receive -- if it will ever receive any. The layout of the capacitive buttons suggests that the Grand X was originally designed to run Gingerbread, with ICS coming perhaps as an after thought. Should this be the case, the argument for a Jelly Bean update deteriorates a little, but you would imagine it a simple exercise all else considered.
The Grand X performs just as you would expect too with stock ICS. Despite not packing cutting edge specs, it runs plenty smooth enough. It struggles somewhat when leaving a resource hogging game, and there are some odd -- and totally random -- reboots and crashing issues. As ever with review units, we'll take it with a pinch of salt, but still something to bear in mind.
ZTE Grand X Battery Life
Battery life is somewhat subjective as we all know. The kindest thing to say about battery life on the Grand X is that it can pretty much make it through the day without hunting for a charger. Providing it isn't used too heavily. Extended gaming sessions see the battery disappear, but at least it is replaceable.
Performance on standby is pretty decent though. While left on tick over, battery drain is minimal and helps get through the day that little bit better.
The hope is always there that a review unit lands, you fire it up, and it has a really great camera. Sadly, the Grand X doesn't fit that bill. It isn't a horrible camera, not by any means, but it won't be winning any awards. In the right light, snaps from the 5MP rear camera are actually relatively crisp, vibrant and clear. As is so often, and sadly, the case, when the light fades so does the quality. But, for a mid-range phone, it's not a bad little point-and-shoot on the back.
When you switch the video mode, the same mid-range quality can be applied. It's passable, nothing particularly special to note. The colors are bright enough though in the right light, and for the average use case of such a thing, it will probably pass as adequate. The front facing camera is suitably poor quality though, as is so often the case.
ZTE Grand X hackability
With stock ICS on board, one would expect a decent array of possibilities in this department for the Grand X. Indeed, it can, and has been rooted which sets the ball rolling nicely. Some of ZTE's previous lower end devices in the UK, like the Orange San Francisco became almost cult hits, with the hacker community getting behind them partly due to their low price. The Grand X isn't particularly expensive, but is currently exclusive to one carrier which may hamper actually putting devices into the right hands.
ZTE Grand X availability
The ZTE Grand X is available in the UK now from Virgin Media. Priced from free on contract, or on pay-as-you-go for just £190, the Grand X does represent decent value for money. Especially considering that sweet, vanilla, Ice Cream Sandwich you get thrown into the bargain.
For Android nerds, like us, the inclusion of a vanilla build of Android 4.0 on the Grand X is a huge point in its favor. It's unusual, but should hopefully bode well for future updates too. Performance over all is decent without being outstanding, with the Tegra 2 processor propelling things along nicely. Sadly though, marketing this as a gaming device is a little ambitious. But, while software and performance are positive, the build quality of the device lets it down. It's horribly plasticky, and the rear in particular feels very cheap. Then again, at £190 the Grand X is a cheap phone. If you can live with some nasty plastics -- or invest in a case -- the Grand X becomes a pretty solid mid-range offering.
However, there is another way. The Intel powered Grand X IN. The IN runs the same stock ICS experience as the Tegra flavored model, and from our hands on with the device at IFA 2012, seems to have similar if not the same level of performance. The biggest difference here would be an expected increase in battery life. Battery life is going to be important to the average Joe Public consumer in the market for a decent, yet inexpensive smartphone. The Tegra powered Grand X simply doesn't offer enough in the way of gaming prowess to stand it head and shoulders above its forthcoming Intel powered twin.