If you're a fan of the underdog, it's hard not to develop a soft spot for phone-makers like Huawei and ZTE. Forget the claims of corporate racism and dodgy deals with Iran and they're both charming companies. They've spent years plugging away at products with other people's names on them, and now they're producing their own phones, which significantly undercut rivals from the big boys.
The ZTE Grand X is an Android phone with a dual-core processor, a large screen and a half-decent camera, and it costs just £189.99. Specs-wise it should wipe the floor with the competition. Let's find out if it does.
Looking oddly similar to a rival phone from Samsung, the Galaxy Ace 2, the ZTE Grand X has a bit of a "me too" design. It's out to look and feel like a typical mid-to-high end smartphone, rather than to make a fashion statement or be visually distinctive. It wants to fly under the radar, looking a bit like the other phones until you cast your eye over the price and exclaim, "bloomin' 'eck that's good value for money."
However, build quality compares reasonably well with that of better-known, more expensive alternatives. The front of the Grand X is covered by a sheet of glass, and its rear by a lightly rubberised soft touch plastic battery cover, with an embossed texture across the back to increase grip. No, it's not unibody and there's no metal to be seen here, but the phone has the solid feel we look for in top-end phones.
Start to challenge the phone a little more and some compromises become apparent. The glass front of the phone doesn't seem to be particularly well-reinforced, as a mid-firm prod causes minor screen distortion, and the front soft keys are a little inelegant, and lack backlighting. There's a tiny bit of creak to the right edge of the battery cover too.
Unless you're particularly accident prone, these are minor turn-offs. Quirks aside, you could slap an HTC logo on the phone and add a hundred pounds or more on to the price without raising too many eyebrows.
ZTE has kept on-body connectivity simple in the Grand X. There's a microUSB socket on the left edge, and a 3.5mm headphone jack up top. These are the only connections on offer - no dedicated video output, and the microSD slot lives underneath the plastic battery cover. The phone comes equipped with 4GB of storage memory, only half of which is accessible, making a memory card more-or-less mandatory.
Want to use the phone as a media player? You'll need to invest in a large microSD card, no doubt.
The ZTE Grand X's wireless connectivity is fairly complete. There's Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi n, fast HSPA mobile internet, and the usual support for Wi-Fi hotspot creation. NFC does not feature, which is a knock in this phone's future-proofing armour. NFC stands for Near-Field Communication, and is set to become a common wireless payments standard. It has not spread too far across the high street yet, but once the next iPhone shows it off, you can bet adoption will ramp-up quick-smart.
Although this is likely to have been an omission made for the sake of costs, there are precious few of them here. After all, the ZTE Grand X offers active noise cancellation for calls, dual cameras and pretty uncompromised specs. With a Tegra 2 dual-core 1GHz processor and 1GB of RAM, this phone isn't anywhere near as powerful as a top-end phone like the Samsung Galaxy S3, but it's no slowcoach either.
Several phones at a comparable price offer a dual-core processor. The Sony Xperia U and Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 both do. However, neither has the screen to match the ZTE Grand X.
4.3in across and with a resolution of 540 x 960, its specs are not those of an "affordable" phone. They're the specs of a top-end phone of last year. That may not sound mighty impressive, but we need to consider that the phone doesn't sell for anything like a top-end price.
The screen is a TFT LCD model, but its performance is comparable to that of an IPS display, boasting superb viewing angles and solid colour reproduction. The qHD resolution results in pixel density of 256dpi, enough for super-sharp small text but not quite enough to make individual pixels truly invisible - although you have to try pretty hard and get pretty close to see 'em.
Just the one limitation lingers - top brightness is not dazzling. It's enough for 95 per cent of eventualities, and there's an auto brightness setting to let the Grand X manage the backlight itself - but using it in bright sunlight will always be a bit tricky.
The capacitive touchscreen underneath supports five-point multi-touch - far from the most we've seen, but easily enough for any common usage. After all, how many fingers can you cram onto a smartphone screen? And no, that's not a challenge.