Sturdy but reasonably light in the hand, the ZTE Grand X is well built but its rounded black chassis is anonymous in design. The Android Ice Cream Sandwich OS is streamlined and intuitive to navigate
Though Ice Cream Sandwich is simple to use, the vast amount of customisation possible isn't highlighted very well as ZTE has chosen not to tweak the OS with an interface along the lines of HTC's Sense
The dual-core Nvidia chip supports Tegra Zone, the downloads portal for high-octane gaming, while the 960x540-pixel display is great for HD movies and web browsing
The camera is quite disappointing, only producing clear, colour-true snaps in bright daylight. General performance is fast and smooth, though the virtual keyboard and its auto-correct occasionally throws up some random non-words
At barely 12 hours with Wi-Fi, HSDPA, background notifications plus GPS and the odd spot of video, you'll need to keep a charger with you to keep the Grand X going
We’ve come a long way since the words ‘budget’ and ‘smartphone’ would strike fear in the hearts of anyone hearing them together. The Grand X is ZTE’s flagship Android and it manages to have a dual-core 1GHz chip, cost less than £200 and work like buttery smooth clockwork. What’s more, it runs on Android Ice Cream Sandwich, a feat that higher-end handsets from many other manufacturers haven’t managed yet. Is this the greatest (low-cost) way to get a taste of Ice Cream Sandwich yet?
Picking up the phone, the thing that stands out most is how it doesn’t really stand out at all. This is your standard black slate phone, with rounded corners, plastic build and a 4.3-inch touch-screen. The textured back cover has an interesting raspy feel, while the front glass is unfortunately a magnet for fingerprints. It feels sturdy but not too heavy in the hand.
The five-megapixel lens juts out a tad on the back, while a front-facing 0.3-megapixel camera makes video calling possible (but not particularly glorious). Under the hood, a Nvidia Tegra 2 dual-core chip clocks in at 1GHz, alongside 512MB of RAM and 4GB storage space expandable by microSD slot.
Round the front, four touch-sensitive buttons lead to Home, Back, Menu and a universal search in any screen. This is the classic Android Ice Cream Sandwich setup and ZTE hasn’t customised the OS with any interface whatsoever, unlike HTC’s Android phones, where the HTC Sense skin leads you through account setup and includes all kinds of friendly widgets to get going right out of the box. On the Grand X, the ‘pure Google’ experience sometimes includes mystifying menus – for example, connecting the phone to a computer brings up options like ‘MTP’ and ‘PTP’ modes, which simply refer to synching versus drag-and-drop. But Ice Cream Sandwich has streamlined the many features Android has to offer, and things like social networking, email and the contacts book are well integrated.
The contacts book in particular is really slick, its squared, minimalist interface housing all a friend’s info and automatically integrating details from new apps such as Skype and WhatsApp. Making phone calls or sending messages is efficient, though the virtual keyboard is spotty in its performance. Auto-correct is generally accurate, but spell check often missed the mark, suggesting random non-words if we mistyped a single letter. There’s a TouchPal option, a Swype imitator that lets you write by swiping your finger from letter to letter – this is a more accurate option than standard tap-tap-tap.
The touch-screen is responsive, but it’s a little slower than higher-end phones (which admittedly cost about twice the price). There are occasional lags when there are two active processes at once, though it’s only noticeable when you directly compare the Grand X to say, the more expensive HTC One S or Samsung Galaxy S Advance, both dual-core phones.
In direct sunlight, visibility really suffers. Even with brightness turned way up, the non-changeable black background in many of the basic menus doesn’t display text very well.
Movies look sharp and bright on the qHD display, which is optimised for high definition film, and the preloaded video player supports a few different file formats including Xvid, a common codec used in online video. The on-board speakers are decent as well, with Dolby Mobile Sound providing clear audio with none of the tinny clatter you get with some lower-cost phones, though of course plugging in the bundled earphones gives you better sound.
The built-in 4GB of storage would take only a few HD movies but that’s expandable in the microSD slot up to 32GB. You can get cards that size for about £15, which still keeps the Grand X’s price in the very reasonable range.
The five-megapixel camera is unfortunately a disappointment, only able to take clear, true photos in daylight. Indoors, clarity took a slight hit, and colours are a little faded with yellows tending to be overrepresented. The shutter takes about a second to act, so you’ll have to hold your hand (and subject!) very still after the ‘click’ to avoid blur. As a result, action shots often don’t turn out. In lowlight, the flash casts an unnatural exposure, but without it, photos are really dim.
On paper, it’s capable of 720p HD video, but a low recording frame rate of 15fps means that when watching our handiwork on a computer monitor, visuals were soft with blurred edges and panning shots were a bit stuttery. Audio is a bit echoey but background noise is kept to a minimum.
One of the cornerstones of a good media phone is its battery life, and we were surprised to find that the 1650mAh battery barely lasted 12 hours. HSDPA in particular drained it quickly.
If a camera isn’t a must-have, the Grand X is phenomenal value for £200. It’s one of the few phones at that price that can support the super smart features of Android Ice Cream Sandwich, with decent hardware keeping general performance smooth. There’s a lot to recommend about the Grand X, but when it fails in camera and battery life, it really fails.