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ZTE joins the 5-inch, 1080p smartphone party with the ultra-thin Grand S (hands-on)

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It seems like every cellphone manufacturer agreed on the same set of specs for their flagship devices in the early part of 2013. ZTE's new Grand S is highlighted by a 5-inch, 1080p display, which sounds a lot like a Droid DNA or a Vizio 5-inch smartphone. Its spec sheet mirrors some other high-end phones, too: a 1.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 processor, a 13-megapixel camera, LTE, and 2GB of RAM. All that comes in a ludicrously thin 6.9mm package that's even slimmer than the Droid RAZR.

The phone has a unibody polycarbonate design that feels a little lighter than you would expect given its spec sheet, but lightness isn't necessarily a bad thing — just look at the iPhone 5. The software is a fairly heavily-skinned variant of Android 4.1, including an extra software back button along the screen's left edge. It can be dragged anywhere onscreen, and pressing and holding expands it into a full set of four buttons. It's a little bizarre, but the ZTE reps tell us that it's designed to compensate for the phone's big screen, making things more accessible for people with smaller hands. Otherwise, the phone seems to be well-designed, and its thin waistline helps to make sure the phone doesn't feel unwieldy.

Don't get your hopes up too quickly, though — you probably can't buy the Grand S even if you want to. The handset's scheduled for release in the first quarter of this year, but only in China, and we've heard nothing about plans to bring the device anywhere else. Count this as another intriguing phone that the American wireless industry prevents us from trying.

ZTE says the Grand S completes the Grand lineup of smartphones, which also includes the Grand Era and the Grand X. It's the flagship model by some margin, and is one of the best-looking and most impressive phones we've seen from ZTE, period. Now if only it would be available in the US.

Jeff Blagdon contributed photos and impressions to this story.