With the ever increasing dominance of Samsung and Apple in the UK smartphone market, it could be seen as an extremely difficult climate for a relatively unknown entity to break into. Chinese manufacturer ZTE, however, has decided to do just that with its new Grand X device. The company is actually the fourth largest handset vendor in the world, so the propensity for mass market penetration is undoubtedly there.
The Grand X is an Android device which aims to combine high-end features such as a dual-core processor and HD video recording, with a budget price tag. But with this market sector already populated with capable handsets such as the HTC One Vand Samsung Galaxy W, can the Chinese newcomer really make the grade? We got hold of a Grand X to find out.
- NVIDIA Tegra 2 dual-core 1GHz processor
- 4.3-inch qHD display
- 512MB of RAM
- 4GB internal storage (expandable via microSD)
- 5 megapixel autofocus camera
- 720p HD video recording
- 0.3 megapixel front-facing camera
- 110g weight
- 9.9mm thickness
- Android Ice Cream Sandwich OS
- Tegra Zone Games hub
- DLNA enabled
- Dolby Mobile sound enhancement
- FM Radio
- Facetones functionality
Design and Build
The design of the Grand X gives a clear aesthetic nod to the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, with its gently rounded corners and dark grey metal-effect bezel coming across as both attractive and reassuringly familiar. The phone has a definite premium feel in the hand thanks to its textured rear battery cover and contoured screen surround.
At 9.9mm thick it would be hard to describe the Grand X as svelte, however, the 110g weight does temper the handsets relative thickness meaning that it comes across as substantial without being bulky.
Although on paper the 4.3-inch display’s qHD resolution might come across as underwhelming, in practice it offers both excellent clarity and colour intensity. While there is nothing to trouble flagship handset displays such as the HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S III, the screen performs beyond the expectations that its limited resolution initially suggests.
Under the Hood
Featuring a 1GHz dual-core NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor and 512MB of RAM, the Grand X has the engine of a solid mid-range device which is competent without being particularly inspiring. That said, in our tests handset navigation and operation was smooth and lag-free across all aspects of the software.
On board storage comes in at 4GB, although thankfully, this is expandable via the microSD slot to a much more useful 32GB.
Packed into the device is an impressive 1600mAh battery, which offers around 30 hours of power under general use. As expected, this is greatly reduced when gaming or watching movies, but even then the power source still performed admirably during our tests with anything more than a daily charge rarely required.
Operating System and User Interface
The operating system of choice for the Grand X is a virtually untouched version Android Ice Cream Sandwich. Without any extraneous manufacturer UI getting in the way, the interface is refreshingly straightforward and as such, the handset offers a clean yet highly customisable user experience.
Fans of heavily stylised UIs will probably be left wanting with the Grand X due to the lack of visual garnish spattered liberally throughout the menus and options screens, but we found the unadorned version of ICS to be usable and a timely reminder of how good Android can be in its purest form.
Although ZTE has seen fit to leave Android pretty much unsullied, the company has added a few key software components to the handset. The Evernote Android app comes preloaded on the phone, offering both new and pre-registered users one touch access to reminders, photos and voice memos.
Also included is the TouchPal Keyboard app that allows users to customise and adjust keyboard input options including bespoke skins and layout adjustments. Although it’s unlikely that this kind of app would be often used, it is useful to have sitting in the menu should text input methods need to be fine-tuned.
Camera and Video
The Grand X’s on-board 5 megapixel autofocus camera offers impressive image results across a range of conditions with faithful colour reproduction and excellent levels of sharpness. The interface is once again stock Android and therefore minimalist but usable. Photo options are adequate but not plentiful, however, this does not dilute from the camera’s abilities overall and the Grand X’s image capturing capabilities are a real strong point of the device.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the handset’s 0.3 megapixel front-facing camera, with the unit only managing grainy results with poor colour reproduction. The camera will be just about usable for video calling but beyond this its capabilities really are extremely limited.
High quality video capture is achievable via the front-facing lens featuring 720p HD recording capabilities. While the results are of a high standard we would like to have seen sharper results, especially in low light. However, for the casual user at least, the unit will be more than competent in the majority of situations.
Connectivity and Multimedia
With NVIDIA touting the Tegra 2 processor as the “mobile superchip optimised for entertainment”, multimedia capabilities were always going to be at the heart of the Grand X’s appeal, and it really does not disappoint. Gaming is at the core of the entertainment experience, with the chipset and that excellent screen combining to make for an immersive, smooth gaming experience. So confident is ZTE of the handset’s gaming prowess that it has included a demo of the processor-intensive Riptide with device.
Access to the Tegra Zone gaming portal is also included with the Grand X, making it easy to get hold of titles specially optimised for the NVIDIA powerhouse.
An innovation particularly worthy of note is the inclusion of a new audio technology knows as Dolby Mobile sound enhancement. And what a revelation it is. Activating the software transforms the sound capabilities of the device, particularly when watching movie content. Admittedly, good quality speakers or headphones are required to really appreciate the enhancements it brings, but it really is as impressive as any audio software we have come across elsewhere.
An ideal partner for the Dolby Mobile software is the DLNA capabilities of the Grand X, meaning content can be wirelessly streamed to other enabled devices (including home stereos and TVs) and the same audio quality enjoyed. Although this is a welcome addition to the handsets armoury, we found the Fullshare app which accompanies it slightly muddled in its execution.
Messaging and social networking is pretty much as expected from a modern Android device, with menus minimalist in design and the usual suspects such as Facebook and Twitter preloaded onto the device. ZTE has preinstalled its Facetones software, which pulls Facebook images and updates to the screen whenever that contact calls you, on the Grand X, and although novel, this functionality struck us as little more than a gimmick.
Performance and Verdict
Overall, the Grand X is a solid handset which excels in some areas but stumbles in others. Features such as video recording and the front-facing camera are somewhat lacking, however, this is tempered by the phone’s excellent gaming capabilities and the astounding Dolby Mobile sound enhancements.
As a newcomer to the UK smartphone market ZTE will undoubtedly win over some fans with the Grand X. Whilst by no means faultless, the handset does offer an impressive specification at what is expected to be an extremely competitive price. In a marketplace already bursting with capable devices, the ZTE Grand X might just stake its claim as a newcomer with real substance.