Although ZTE has a number of mid-range Android devices under its belt, the Chinese-based company's portfolio of premium handsets is severely lacking. Sure, it did debut its powerful Grand S II and Nubia 5S at CES earlier this year, but neither of them, like most top-tier ZTE phones, ever officially landed on a US carrier.
Until now, that is. The Grand S Pro is available on U.S. Cellular for $100 with a carrier agreement and $390 prepaid, and sports a quad-core processor, a 13-megapixel camera, and a 5-inch display.
But while these specs sound premium, they don't always deliver premium performances. If you're not in the carrier's LTE network, for example, data speeds can be slow and spotty. The camera has a difficult time focusing, and speaker volume is low. Plus, given the fact that U.S. Cellular has a few other compelling phones that are at the same on-contract price or cheaper, the Grand S Pro's flaws aren't worth the headaches.
Because of its black front side and white battery door, the Grand S Pro comes off looking a bit like the white Google Nexus 4 and 5. But whether that's unintentional or not, what is definite is that ZTE took conscious measures to give the device a more premium and sleek design. The handset has curved edges, smooth rounded corners, and a soft matte finish on the back that wards off fingerprints. Its physical control buttons bulge out ever so slightly from the surface, making them easy to feel for and comfortable to press.
The phone measures 5.6 inches wide, 2.8 inches tall, and 0.4 inches wide. Weighing 5.48 ounces, it is notably heavier and denser than other devices its size. This was especially noticeable when I held the S Pro in my hand for a few minutes during a call, or when I slipped it into my front jean pockets. Though it doesn't seem "bulky" or "hefty" to the eye, it will feel weighty in the hand.
On its left edge is a Micro-USB port and a volume rocker. Up top is a 3.5mm headphone jack and a sleep/power button. The back houses a 13-megapixel camera lens and flash, as well as a small slit for the audio speaker to the left. (All of which are encircled by a long, black glossy oval that vaguely reminds me of the robot Eve from "Wall-E.") Using a small indentation on the bottom edge, you can pry off the back plate to access the removable 2,300mAh battery, SIM card, and microSD card, which is expandable up to 32GB.
The handset's 5-inch display has a 720x1,280-pixel resolution and is made of Dragontail glass (the same used in the Sony Xperia Z2). It's understandably not as sharp or brilliant as other 1080p screens I've seen, and some large icons had fuzzy or aliasing edges. However, the display is still responsive and bright. Images and texts look smooth enough, and I especially liked how bright and pure whites appeared on the display. Swipe texting on the keyboard was also accurate and fast.
Above the display is a 2-megapixel shooter and in-ear speaker. Below are three hot keys (for back, home, and menu) that light up when in use. To launch Google Now and recent apps, press and hold the home and menu keys, respectively.
The phone runs a rather dated Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, and has the standard package of Google apps you'd expect: Chrome, Drive, Gmail, Plus, Hangouts, Photos, YouTube, and portals to the Play Store for Books, Games, Newsstand, Movies & TV, and Music.
You'll also get basic apps like native browser and email clients, a calendar, a calculator, a notepad, a clock with alarm and stopwatch functions, a news and weather app, video and music players, a sound recorder, and a voice dialer.
Four apps specifically from U.S. Cellular are loaded too: City ID, an app for getting ringtones and games, a security app, and a navigator app. ZTE threw in some extra goodies as well, such as Mi-POP, which displays the hot keys below the display onto the touchscreen itself, the battery conserver Mi-Power, and ZTE MHL for when you want to view the Grand S Pro's display on a bigger screen.
Other apps include an FM radio and a flashlight; popular apps such as Twitter, Facebook, Slacker Radio, and Evernote; a file sharing app; Gameloft's app; and game called the Littlest Pet Shop. The device also packs Dolby Digital Plus technology for an enhanced audio experience, Bluetooth 4.0, 2GB of RAM, and 8GB of internal memory.
Camera and video
Photo quality for the 13-megapixel camera was passable, but not at all impressive. Images looked blurry near the outer edges of the photo, outside the center focal point. For indoor shots, colors appeared muted, and you can see a notable amount of digital noise and artifacts. The camera also requires a few tries to finish focusing. There were a number of times when I tried to take a picture of an object up close, and the focus simply wouldn't sharpen until after I captured a number of blurry pictures. Bright colors taken outdoors also came out overexposed. Be sure to click on each picture to see them at their full resolution.