MEGATech Reviews: ZTE Grand X 2 Android Smartphone
The incremental improvements are coming through again with the ZTE Grand X 2, while still retaining the very wallet-friendly pricing scheme. This is "affordable premium."
Pros
  • Really affordable
  • Improved design and build
  • Lightly skinned Android 5.1
Cons
  • Disappointing camera
  • Low quality display
  • Can struggle with multitasking
6.5Overall Score

It was once the case, in the not too distant past, that buying any smartphone other that the top-tier flagship meant that you had to make all sorts of sacrifices. You’d end up with a device that looked cheap and performed poorly, unable to suitably handle what you needed out of it on a daily basis. But times have changed. While more affordable smartphones still don’t compete on the same level as $800 flagships, the gap between them is a heck of a lot smaller.

One company that has quietly worked its way into this more affordable niche is ZTE and its latest offering for Canadians is the ZTE Grand X 2, a budget-oriented smartphone that was announced earlier this month for Bell and Virgin. How far can you really go with a phone that’s free on contract? A lot further than you might expect, actually.

Third Time’s the Charm

MEGATech Reviews: ZTE Grand X 2 Android Smartphone

While ZTE isn’t quite the household name that Apple and Samsung might be, it’s also not at all new to the Canadian market anymore. The Chinese company entered the Canadian smartphone market with the ZTE Grand X last year, followed by the upgraded Grand X Plus shortly thereafter. The first Grand X looked and felt cheap, but it could handle your basics. The Plus improved on the design and performance.

And now, even though we’re technically the third time around, we’re taking a look at the ZTE Grand X 2. The incremental improvements are coming through again while still retaining the very wallet-friendly pricing scheme. You can’t and shouldn’t put this phone in the same league as a Galaxy S6 edge+, but it’s arguably enough for the majority of regular consumers. There’s a half-decent 1.2GHz 64-bit quad core processor in there, along with 2GB of RAM and full LTE support.

One area where this phone does fall short, however, is that the 5.0-inch LCD is still just 1280 x 720 pixels. We’ve grown far too accustomed to phones with 1080p displays and this just isn’t good enough anymore. The cameras are also decidedly mediocre with an 8MP unit on the back and a 2MP selfie shooter on the front. They do the job, but they’re hardly exceptional.

I’m So Fancy, You Already Know

MEGATech Reviews: ZTE Grand X 2 Android Smartphone

It’s to be expected that ZTE had to cut some corners in order to achieve this price point. Maybe the average consumer can tolerate a 720p display for their Facebook habit. Maybe a camera that’s “good enough” really is just “good enough.” Where the ZTE Grand X 2 really improves upon its predecessors is in its overall feel. It feels better built than what its price point may lead you to believe.

Make no mistake — it’s still a whole lot of plastic — but that slippery smooth backs that plagued the first two devices have been swapped out for a slightly textured back.

MEGATech Reviews: ZTE Grand X 2 Android Smartphone

This provides just a touch more grip and it gives you the sense that the phone is of (slightly) higher quality. The silver banding around the edges mimics the look of a metal frame, even if it’s not actually metal. And yes, unlike some recent flagships, you can still remove the back on this to get to your battery and microSD slot.

The Grand X 2 Day-to-Day Experience

MEGATech Reviews: ZTE Grand X 2 Android Smartphone

Even though both the ZTE Grand X 2 and my daily driver (Nexus 5) both have five-inch displays (the Nexus 5 is technically 4.95″, but that’s close enough), the Grand X 2 is slightly taller and a smidge wider. The former is to accommodate the set of soft keys located beneath the display, a feature that some people appreciate and other people would rather do without. I’m of the latter camp, especially given how Android is designed these days.

To make matters a little stranger, the “home” button is obvious enough as a blue circle in the center, but the two other soft keys are represented simply as a couple of dots. The left one is “back” and the right one is for multi-tasking, but they’re not marked as such. I also find the choice of marking these in blue to be a little kitschy. Chalk that up to stylistic license, I suppose.

As far as regular daily performance is concerned, the ZTE Grand X 2 was able to handle the basic tasks without too much trouble. I could check my email, surf the web and watch videos without any struggles. When trying to run more intense games, especially if I still had background processes from other apps and games, the Grand X 2 would start to suffer. If you’re vigilant about ending your background processes and fully closing your apps, you shouldn’t run into too much trouble.

How’s the Camera?

MEGATech Reviews: ZTE Grand X 2 Android Smartphone

Cameras on smartphones have improved dramatically in recent years to the point where owning a regular point-and-shoot seems largely unnecessary. However, this really only applies when you have at least a mid-range smartphone or better. It’s true of other budget phones, like the Moto G, and it could be even truer here with the ZTE Grand X 2 as well.

Yes, while you do get to play with some fun effects and you have access to a full manual mode for greater control, the resulting quality still leaves something to be desired. Details are smudgy and the software struggles to find the proper white balance in more difficult situations. If you start dealing with mixed lighting or significant backlighting, the picture suffers considerably.

Take a look at the 1080p sample video on YouTube, as well as the full-resolution sample photos on Flickr. Outdoor pictures were underexposed, while several indoor pictures featured strange glare and significant grain.

Benchmarks: AnTuTu, 3DMark, PCMark

MEGATech Reviews: ZTE Grand X 2 Android Smartphone

Performance on these “affordable premium” ZTE smartphones has improved on an incremental level with each successive generation. The first Grand X scored in the 15,000 range in AnTuTu, while the Grand X Plus was in the 18,000 range. With the Grand X 2, you get scores more in the 21,000 range. That sounds great until you compare it to the 60,000 range achieved by the Galaxy S6. Kind of puts things in perspective.

MEGATech Reviews: ZTE Grand X 2 Android Smartphone

A similar story is uncovered with the 3DMark and PCMark benchmarks. The ZTE Grand X 2 earned 4434 points in Ice Storm Unlimited and 2687 in Ice Storm Extreme, putting up a score of 3467 in the Work performance benchmark in PCMark. The layman’s interpretation here is that this phone is probably good enough for basic use, but not much beyond that.

MEGATechie Affordable Premium or MEGATechie Artificial Poser?

MEGATech Reviews: ZTE Grand X 2 Android Smartphone

You really do need to go into this with the right set of expectations. If you think that you’re going to get a free phone that’s of the same caliber as its far more expensive counterparts, you’re going to be disappointed. If you’re looking for a device that’ll handle most of your regular day-to-day, then the ZTE Grand X 2 could fit the bill. Especially if your bill is on the smaller, more frugal end of the market.

The build quality and overall feel of the ZTE Grand X 2 is a substantial improvement over the first two smartphones and the incremental improvements in performance are certainly appreciated too. Sadly, this phone still falls short in a few key categories. The camera needs a lot of work, the multi-tasking performance needs to be improved, and the display is definitely not as good as what you may find elsewhere, albeit for more money. The screen just doesn’t get that bright, the colors are muted, and the lower resolution is noticeable.

But when you consider the price, this is what you get with an “affordable premium” kind of approach. The Grand X 2 is available from Bell Mobility or Virgin Mobile in Canada for $149.99 on no term or for $0 on a two-year basic voice contract.


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