Saturday, April 13, 2013
ZTE Grand X
The ZTE Grand X may not have the bold, pioneering design of Nokia’s premium models or HTC’s more recent offerings, but at the same time the design has been well thought out and it’s not a bad looking smartphone by any means.
It’s on the smaller side with its 4.3-inch display and although it’s pretty chunky at around 10mm thick, the curved corners work well and the proportions of the bezel around the screen are very narrow, making things look quite sharp.
At the bottom there are four capacitive controls for ‘settings’, ‘home’, ‘back’ and ‘search’, while at the top you’ve got the ZTE logo in silver, a light sensor port and a camera port.
The power button is positioned on the right of the top edge, which we found a bit of an awkward place for it compared to where we’re now more used to at the top of either side.
There’s also a 3.5mm audio jack on the left-hand of the top edge and along the left-side of the phone you’ll find the volume rocker at the top and a Micro USB port towards the bottom.
The front panel feels like fairly sturdy plastic – there’s no real flex to speak of, while the back panel is similarly robust with a rubber coating and a textured surface which gives very good grip, as well as making things visually interesting. The back panel is also contoured into a ‘lip’ at the bottom to help hold the device with one hand.
Aside from the texture and a small chrome ZTE logo in the centre the back panel is highly minimalist, although there’s also the sizeable camera port with LED flash in the top left corner.
As previously mentioned , the touchscreen measures 4.3-inches. It’s a standard capacitive multitouch LCD with a 960×540 pixel resolution, giving a pixel density of 256 pixels-per-inch (ppi).
Picture quality is quite good with a fairly crisp level of clarity – it’s above average for this price point.
Colour reproduction and contrast are also both positive points, though we did find the screen a little dull for our liking even on the brightest setting and you can forget about using this phone in direct sunlight.
Performance is fairly impressive thanks to an Nvidia Tegra 2 dual core processor clocked at 1GHz and paired with a ULP GeForce graphics processing unit (GPU).
It’s only got 512MB of RAM but you might be hard pressed to notice.
Admittedly a good deal of the smooth performance is going to be due to the efficiencies of Android Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) as much as anything else, but consistently there’s no hint of stuttering whether you’re multitasking, browsing or gaming.
Speaking of gaming, Nvidia’s hardware is ideally suited to it thanks to the company’s extensive experience with graphics kit and the Grand X punches harder than you’d think.
It’s quite capable of running graphically demanding games such as Dead Trigger with no performance lag, although the back panel will heat up something fierce and you can expect the battery to drain quite quickly.
For internal storage there’s not very much to work with as the phone only has 4GB but it does support Micro SD cards up to 32GB, which is always useful.
Connectivity is fairly extensive with a 3.5mm audio jack, Bluetooth, Micro USB, Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi Direct, Wi-Fi Hotspot, GPS and DLNA.
As the handset runs a stock build of Android 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich it’s a fast, good-looking and rewarding experience.
However, the implementation by ZTE doesn’t have the stability we’ve come to expect from the platform.
We had two notable issues which were irritating to deal with.
On one occasion a folder we’d put together for the main dock bar bugged in such a way that it simply activated the ‘top’ shortcut from the stack of apps inside when pressed.
The only solution was to delete the folder and start again. Fortunately we didn’t have a second occurrence of this in our entire time with the phone.
The second problem was much more concerning as it happened multiple times.
Quite simply, the touchscreen froze, meaning we couldn’t really do much and were forced to reboot the handset. Fortunately a reboot consistently worked as a solution to the problem.
The odd crash here and there is to be expected on any computing device but it’s incredibly annoying that this error happened repeatedly, suggesting that anyone who uses this handset will have to deal with hiccups on a regular basis.
Admittedly, this sort of thing could possibly be patched out and we’d be interested to see if a bump up to version 4.0.4 of ICS or even 4.1 Jelly Bean might improve things.
As we mentioned in our earlier hands-on with the Grand X, it uses a third party keyboard: the TouchPal Curve.
Curve allows you to input text quite accurately by swiping your finger continuously from one key to another in a single press, and if you enjoy using this system there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.
However, if you want to use conventional typing you’re best turning Curve off as we found it highly disruptive to normal text input – the two do not sit well alongside each other and you’re going to have to choose.
Aside from these issues, ICS on the Grand X is a breeze to use and very much preferable to either earlier versions of Android or the fussy overlays of other manufacturers.
The cameras on the Grand X are nothing particularly special, the phone features a 5-megapixel primary with LED flash. You’ve also got provision for video calling with a VGA front-facing secondary.
There’s really not a great deal to be said here, it’s a budget phone and in this category the camera is usually (quite justifiably) the first thing to suffer.
Pictures and video are on the blurry side as you might expect, but also tend to come out a little dark.
The handset has a removable 1650mAh Lithium-ion battery pack. We found it’ll last about five hours of moderate use and around two hours of intensive video playback.
For normal use you’re looking at a daily charge here, which in fairness is fairly standard these days.
If you think you’re going to need the phone to be alive for some kind of important call or emergency don’t go playing lots of games or watching YouTube on it because you almost certainly will get caught short.
In all this isn’t a bad little phone and we certainly enjoyed our time with it and its Android Ice Cream Sandwich charms. It’s not without it’s problems, however, which are mainly bugs in the operating system.
While we’d be pleased to hear of ZTE rolling out a few bugfixes to combat them there isn’t anything here which would stop us from continuing to use the handset quite happily.
Although the battery life wasn’t low enough to affect our enjoyment of the Grand X we can imagine this being a breaking point for some users.
If you’re looking for something that will keep going for days then this isn’t the phone for you.
If, however, you want an accessible, no-nonsense device running Android Ice Cream Sandwich and for less than £200 then this might be right up your street.
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