So, Apple has its fanboys in a dizzy with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Samsung fans might like the originality of the Galaxy Note Edge. But what about ZTE? The Chinese company isn't particularly well known in our neck of woods, but they're ready to get knee-deep in maple syrup and poutine with the launch of the ZTE Grand X. While they have released a few other products here, the Grand X is their first smartphone to be sold through a major carrier in Canada.
The Entry Level Trade-Off
Formally announced earlier this summer, the ZTE Grand X is available exclusively through Bell Mobility (and Virgin Mobile) for the Canadian market. It is important to note that this is a different phone than the Grand X you may find in other markets, even though they have exactly the same name. Confusing, I know.
Not unlike Huawei, ZTE is looking to get into the Canadian market from the more budget-oriented end of the scale. This is represented by the $0 on contract or $149.95 no-term price for this smartphone. It's not meant to be compete with flagships and it is priced accordingly. Instead, you could say its closest competition would be devices like the Moto G or the ALCATEL ONETOUCH Idol Mini. Despite the little price tag, the Grand X brings quite a bit to the digital table... though, it also has its share of shortcomings.
Going down the spec sheet, you'll find both ups and downs. It has a bigger 5-inch display, but it's only 720p. It has a 1.2GHz quad core processor,
but from what I can tell, it's just a MediaTek chip a Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8212 to be precise. You'll also find Android Jelly Bean 4.3 under the hood, rather than the latest version of the OS, and wireless connectivity tops out with HSPA 21Mbps with no 4G LTE in sight. There's no WiFi-ac (802.11b/g/n) and the camera is a mere five megapixels.
What this all means is that it is perfectly capable as an entry-level Android smartphone, but you really can't expect the world from it. Perhaps the biggest hurdle that many users will face will be the minuscule amount of usable internal storage: just 1.3GB (4GB total). Even in my short review period, I ran out of space for apps and games! There is a microSD slot for expansion, thankfully.
The Forgettable Design
You really don't get an immediate "wow" factor from this device, aside from its remarkably low price point. The design is also a little on the odd side. I like how the front carries no branding whatsoever, not unlike a Nexus device, but the white sides and back make it look like it's already wrapped up in a hard shell case when it's not. My brother-in-law thought so and he was astounded when I told him that was the regular back.
The wrapping nature of the sides also makes for a strange lip between the black and white portions of the phone. This allows for more of an "edgeless" feel when swiping across the screen, I suppose, but it both looks and feels odd. If they swapped out the black plastic around the camera with the same pearl white as the rest of the back, it might make for a cleaner and more cohesive appearance too.
The Surprisingly Good Experience
ZTE didn't do much to skin the OS, so you are getting an almost vanilla Android experience. They did tinker with the lock screen in that you hold the virtual lock button to unlock. If you swipe out from the circle, you get quick access to up to six apps (that you can define). Browsing was fine, the camera was okay and for the most part, gaming held up. It did hang in Candy Crush Soda Saga when there was a bit too much happening on the screen though.
Battery life held up to beyond a full day's use without issue too.
The Disappointing Benchmarks
Unsurprisingly, the benchmarks were not kind to the ZTE Grand X. The score of 15706 in AnTuTu Benchmark is among the lowest we've ever seen, getting destroyed by much older phones like the Galaxy Note 2 and HTC One (M7).
Performance in the 3DMark Ice Storm benchmark was equally disappointing, getting just 3937. That puts it well below even the similarly budget-oriented Sony Xperia M2. By comparison, the M2 got 17551 and 5781 in AnTuTu and 3DMark, respectively. A powerhouse this most certainly is not.
MEGATechie Grand X-traordinary or MEGATechie Grand X-periment
If you're looking for a class-leading device outfitted with more bells and whistles than you can shake a dramatic gopher at, then you really should be looking elsewhere. No one is going to choose the ZTE Grand X over something like the Galaxy S5 or the iPhone 6. There's just no comparison.
On the other hand, if you are graduating from feature phones to smartphones for the first time or you want a no-nonsense kind of device for the lowest price possible, there is a lot to like about the ZTE Grand X. It's not going to blow you away, but it's perfectly adequate for your mundane daily tasks. Just don't install more than a handful of apps on here or expect to win any fashion awards.
Welcome to Canada, ZTE.