The ZTE Grand X has two cameras at its disposal. There’s a basic VGA user-facing one and a 5MP main sensor on the rear.
This lead sensor ticks many of the right boxes – it uses autofocus with optional touch focusing, has an LED flash to call upon and the camera housing doesn’t look like an afterthought. You can use the volume rocker as a physical camera button too, which is handy as it sits just where a shutter button should. Photo performance is a bit less noteworthy, though.
Autofocus speed is reasonably quick in decent light conditions, but the sensor has trouble resolving fine detail. Check it out the pictures below, where the brickwork of a faraway building has been partly turned into mush, and the fine “in focus” detailing of a leaf looks soft. Colours are a little glum-looking, and there’s significant purple fringing throughout. However, for casual snaps to post online, it’ll do the job just fine.
Additional features offered by the camera app are pretty limited. Aside from the bottom-rung basics of exposure compensation and a handful of scene modes, there’s face detection, x4 digital zoom and a panorama mode, but that’s it. There are none of the fun real-time video effects of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus – no advanced effects whatsoever actually – no HDR mode and no in-app photo touch-ups.
Video capture maxes out at 720p resolution and there’s no continuous autofocus or access to the LED flash light while filming. This is not the most versatile mobile camcorder around.
On the other side of the video fence, the fairly high-res, large screen of the ZTE Grand X should make it a pretty handy little portable media player. And it is, as long as you use the right codec and bit-rate.
Without using a third-party media player, the Grand X can handle standard definition DivX files just fine, and naturally the Android staples of H.264 and WMV will play. However, more challenging video will stutter to the extent that they’re unplayable or refuse to play at all. Most HD videos seem to be a little too much for the Tegra 2 processor to take.
Switching to the alternative MX Player app from Google Play didn’t help matters too much. There simply isn’t quite the power here to software decode HD videos that aren’t supported natively. If you’re willing to transcode videos manually, though, the Grand X will make a fine little pocket video player.
Want to play the Google way? You can rent films from the Google Play store, for £3.49 a pop. Or, if you’re a Netflix member you could always use the Netflix Android app. There’s generally always a way around problems with Android, but base line video skills are a little disappointing here.
The ZTE Grand X uses the standard Android Ice Cream Sandwich music player app. It’s simple, and not desperately attractive in parts, but it’s fairly quick. FLAC support is now natively supported by Android, so it’s already audiophile-friendly.
To try and give the phone some audio cred, ZTE has packed Dolby Mobile into the phone. This is a DSP (digital signal processing) app that’s basically just EQ with some minor effects work tied-in. It’s some of the better, more subtle EQ you’ll find in a mobile phone app, but it’s not magic. And we found it added a little treble harshness with some settings. One handy bit, though, is the movie mode, which pushes the central channel to the fore – good for keeping dialogue clear.
What’s more important in a potential music player is how clean and how loud the signal is. When audio is engaged, there’s a very slight hiss that’s audible with isolating IEM earphones (during silent moments), and maximum volume is only reasonable. We found that when around town, volume had to be ramped-up to near-max for a good listening level.
It almost goes without saying – you will definitely need to invest in a memory card if you want to use the Grand X as a serious music player.
From hi-fi to lo-fi, the ZTE’s internal speaker sits on the back of the phone, piping out through a pair of outlets in the battery cover. No, there aren’t two speaker drivers here, but there is a clever design reason to explain the dual outlets. It ensures that when you hold the phone in landscape – when gaming or watching a video, for example – you won’t muffle the sound completely with your hand.
Sound quality isn’t too bad either, with the small amount of warmth and bass that’s found in the best mobile phone speakers. It’s happy to push up to maximum volume without distorting and sounds fairly pleasant with music too. As an element that could easily have been neglected in favour of cost-cutting, we’re impressed the speaker performance is actually pretty good.
The ZTE Grand X has a 1650mAh battery. This is similar to the capacity used in most of HTC’s 4.3in phones, and the phone doesn’t put in a notable stamina showing. We just scraped a full day’s use out of the thing, not helped by a few brief gaming sessions where the phone got worryingly warm. Unless you’re going to turn off 3G mobile internet, this is absolutely a phone you’ll need to charge every day.
Much like the decent internal speaker, the ZTE Grand X surprises once more by offering a good call experience. Voices pipe out loud and clear, with robust output and decent clarity.
The phone also uses a pinhole microphone right next to the 3.5mm headphone jack to offer active noise cancellation – manipulating the signal before it reaches whoever you’re calling to mute the sound of passing traffic, wind and other such conversation-ruining annoyances.
The ZTE Grand X has that traditional ZTE flavour – in that if this phone had a Samsung badge on it, you can bet you’d be paying more. However, it is a significant step up from ZTE’s best-known handsets, the ZTE Skate (aka Orange Monte Carlo) and the ZTE Crescent (aka Orange San Francisco 2). A dual-core 1GHz gets rid of the slight lag that’s a dead giveaway of any phone’s budget origins.
Very little about the ZTE Grand X looks or feels cheap, and the decision to use a non-customised version of Android Ice Cream Sandwich demonstrates a refreshing lack of egotism on ZTE’s part.
At £190, the price of the phone is not quite jaw-dropping – part of us wishes it could stretch to £149.99. But that is in part because we’d love to see ZTE push the envelope even further. That said, if your budget stretches to £200 and you want an Android, this is about the best you can hope to get right now.
The ZTE Grand X sees the budget phone maker up its game once more. A dual-core processor and lean software wipes-out the lag of previous lower-cost ZTE Androids, while neat extras such as noise cancellation on calls and a decent internal speaker further wipe away anything approaching a budget vibe. It doesn’t have quite the design personality of the alternatives from HTC and Sony, but pound-per-pound you get more for your money here.
Score in detail
Screen Quality 8