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Grand X: ZTE takes on the Nexus series with stock Android (hands-on)

Grand X: ZTE takes on the Nexus series with stock Android (hands-on)


A detailed look at ZTE's new flagship smartphone, the Grand X.

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Gallery Photo: ZTE Grand X hands-on pictures
Gallery Photo: ZTE Grand X hands-on pictures

ZTE has taken over London's 24 Club to announce the UK release of its flagship Grand X (originally known as the Mimosa X) smartphone. Although it stands firmly at the top of the ZTE pile, in the larger picture the Grand X is a midrange device. It's powered by a 1GHz Tegra 2 SoC paired with Nvidia's own Icera HSPA modem and 512MB of RAM, and has a 4.3-inch qHD (960 x 540 pixels) display. The display is a little dim under bright lights, but color reproduction is good and everything looks sharp enough. Viewing angles are also impressive: colors desaturate a little at extremely oblique angles, but not so much as to present any real issue.

It evokes memories of the Nexus S

Although the Grand X's 126 x 64.6 mm (4.96 x 2.54 inches) footprint is almost identical to the HTC One S, at 9.9mm (0.39 inches) thick it's far thicker than HTC's 7.8mm (0.31 inches) sliver of a handset. That said, the build quality feels solid, although not beyond reproach. Construction, aside from the glass display, is all-plastic, but doesn't feel cheap or chintzy. The device evokes memories of the Nexus S: the textured, removable back cover curves round to meet the sides, which in turn curve round to the display. It's very much in keeping with the S' "pebble" aesthetic.

On the software side of things, the Grand X is running an almost entirely stock version of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. The only difference we found was a preinstalled TouchPal keyboard (the stock Android keyboard was still present) and a handful of preinstalled Tegra-optimized games. There are very few visual differences between the user experience here and that offered by, say, the Galaxy Nexus. Performance from the year-old Tegra 2 processor was very impressive, especially for what ZTE tells us will be a "competitively priced" device.

Quadrant Vellamo GLB 2.1 Egypt (720p) GLB 2.1 Egypt (1080p) AnTuTu
ZTE Grand X 2,617 1,436 28fps 14fps 4,890
Galaxy Nexus 2,002 1,065 28fps 14fps 6,079
HTC One S 5,141 2,420 57fps 29fps 7,107
HTC One V 2,060 1,155 32fps 18fps 2,515
Sony Xperia P 2,215 1,035 20fps 10fps 5,273
Galaxy S II 3,022 1,129 53fps 26fps 6,142

As you can see, the Grand X holds its own and in some cases outperforms the current stock Android champion, the Galaxy Nexus. While it's not anywhere close to the more expensive HTC One S, One X, or Galaxy S III, the pure stock ROM on the Grand X makes it feel very responsive. Swiping through homescreens was smooth, although not quite buttery smooth, and app loading times were swift. The Grand X, as you'd expect from a Tegra device, looks to be a very competent gaming smartphone. We played a little with the Tegra-optimized version of Shadowgun and everything ran as it should.

The Grand X has the midrange staple 5-megapixel rear camera and VGA (0.3-megapixel) front-facing shooter. Despite the fact that the Tegra 2 has been proved capable of capturing 1080p video in past devices, the Grand X is limited to 720p capture. In our limited time with the phone we found the camera to be extremely lackluster, evoking less-fond memories of another Nexus-class device. The issue seems to be dynamic range: within each image you'll find elements ranging from under- to mind-blowingly over-exposed.

Video doesn't fare much better. Although it'll suffice for quick and easy clips, the quality is certainly nothing to write home about — perhaps it's for the best there's no 1080p option available. Assuming the quality issues are with software rather than hardware (and that's a big assumption), ZTE has around a month until launch to fix them. It's difficult to see a situation where they'd make any vast improvements before release.

Price will be all-important

The ZTE Grand X will be released next month in the UK through Phones4U and Virgin Media stores on "highly competitive monthly tariffs." Price will be all-important for this device: if ZTE can price its new flagship somewhere between the HTC One V and the Sony Xperia P, it may well have a winner on its hands. There's very little not to like about a device that wears stock Android so proudly. So far we've only heard pricing for the Grand X on Virgin Media. It's available for £189.99 (around $296 including taxes) prepaid, or free on a £19 per month contract for existing Virgin customers (the HTC One V is currently priced at £20.99 per month).

Like its Chinese competitor Huawei, ZTE has grand ambitions to take over the rest of the Western market, so we wouldn't be surprised to see the Grand X (or one of its many planned variants) make its way over to the US in some form soon.

Tom Warren contributed to this report.

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