Cricket's entry-level Grand X costs just $100 prepaid. Here's why it still isn't worth your money.
Sporting a 5-inch display, a 5-megapixel camera and a dual-core processor, the ZTE Grand X is a perfect example of a middle-of-the-road phone that is reliable and affordable.
But while the device's $100 off-contract price tag (after you send a mail-in rebate) on Cricket Wireless is mighty attractive, you'll have to be willing to make certain sacrifices. For one thing, the handset's dual-core processor is slow, and because it runs Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, it already feels dated the moment you take the device out of the box.
In addition, the Grand X isn't the only competitively priced smartphone on the market. The carrier itself has plenty of more alternatives like the HTC Desire 510 and the Motorola Moto G (2013) , which offer a smoother and faster user experience for the same low cost.
With looks that echo US Cellular's ZTE Grand S Pro , the Grand X sports curved edges, smooth rounded corners, and a matte battery door that adds a subtle premium touch. The device's 0.37-inch profile is slim, but don't expect it to fit too comfortably in your jeans pockets since, overall, the phone is quite large: 5.7 inches tall and 2.87 inches wide, to be exact. It's also a bit heavy at 6.06 ounces. Given my small grip, I couldn't easily maneuver the smartphone comfortably with one hand. That's not a deal breaker per se, but people with petite paws should be mindful of this fact.
On its left edge is a Micro-USB port and a volume rocker. Up top is a 3.5mm headphone jack, and to the right is a sleep/power button. Both the volume and power keys bulge out ever so slightly from the surface, making them easy to feel for and comfortable to press. The back houses a 5-megapixel camera lens and flash, which are set off in a wide, glossy black oval finish. A small audio grille rests on the bottom-right corner. 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 qHD display has a low 960x540-pixel resolution. Although text and graphics are easy to read and see, images can look pixelated and there's obvious aliasing on the edges of letters. The screen can also be unresponsive to the touch, and on occasion, it required several taps or swipes of my finger to register an action. Due to its narrow viewing angle, the screen can appear washed out when you tilt it, and it becomes difficult to view the display.
Above the touchscreen is a low-res 1-megapixel shooter and an 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, long-press the Home and Menu keys, respectively.
With Android 5.0 Lollipop already released from Google, it's disappointing to see the Grand X running the dated Android 4.3 Jelly Bean OS. But it does have your standard package of Google apps you'd come to expect, like Chrome, Drive, Gmail, Search, Plus, Hangouts, Maps, Photos, YouTube and portals to the Play Store for Books, Games, Newsstand, Movies & TV and Music.
Basic task managing apps that are baked-in include 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.
Cricket threw in some of its preloaded apps too. There's a mobile hotspot client, visual voicemail, and My Cricket, which lets users manage their phone and data services. TouchPal X activates an optional keyboard and text-inserting function, KingSoft Offices is a mobile office suite, and Mi-EasyAccess allows you change the app shortcuts on your lockscreen.
The Grand X does include Bluetooth 4.0, thankfully, though its internal memory is stymied at 4GB, and there's just 1GB RAM. That isn't unusual for low-cost phones, but it does mean you'll probably want to look into buying external memory.
Camera quality for the 5-megapixel camera was passable, but only just. The camera itself is slow, and you'll need to wait a few moments to press the shutter again after you take a photo. It also takes an average of 4.35 seconds to launch the camera app -- one of the longest times I've measured during my testing -- so if you want to pull out your Grand X to take a quick pic, you'll need to wait. In general, photos look sharp, and images are clear. However, colors appear muted, and dark hues are even harder to discern from one another. Light sources can also be overblown, and the device's flash leaves a harsh blue tint. For more on photo quality, be sure to click on each picture below to see them at their full resolution.
Video quality is just so-so, about the same as the camera. At 720p, neither stills nor clips look razor-sharp compared to high-definition recording, though they were still clear enough to appreciate. Audio picked up well, although when it came to video shot indoors, I could hear a subtle but constant low-pitch drone sound throughout my recording. Lastly, there were times when footage would "pulsate" as the camera took time to readjust its focus. This wasn't overly annoying, but it can be distracting at times.
The rear camera has many editing options, including 4X digital zoom, nine Instagram-esque filters, and five shooting modes. There are four image sizes, ranging from 1,280x720 to 2,592x1,944 pixels. Also included are a flash, gridlines, and face detection. In addition, there's a timer, meters to adjust a picture's exposure and brightness, four white-balance settings; three ISO levels; geotagging; and two antibanding options. The camera can also shoot video with the same filters layered on top, has four resolutions (from VGA to 720p), shoot time lapse recordings, pause and take pictures while recording, and mute audio.
With no timer, no filters, no meters and no white balance, the front-facing has only a handful of the features seen in the rear shooter. It can take photos in three sizes (from 640x480 to 1,280x720 pixels) and has the same four recording size options.
I tested the Grand X at our San Francisco offices using Cricket Wireless' network. Call quality was solid. My calling partner sounded clear, and the connection was consistently strong. I didn't hear any extraneous noise or static, audio didn't clip in and out, and my calls didn't drop. And while my partner's voice sounded a tad muffled, it wasn't to a degree that bothered me. Volume range was also adequately high. As for my line, I was told that I sounded clear as well -- with little to no static or distortion.
The audio speaker fared just as well, too. Though my partner's voice sounded a bit thin and sharp, I could still understand her. It helped that the Grand X's volume was appropriately loud.
Because we are located outside of US Cellular's LTE network, only 4G roaming could be measured. Data speeds here were slow and inconsistent, but different users will have different experiences depending on their location. For me, there were many times when a web page would load in just a few seconds, but during the next trial, the same site would stall and stop loading altogether.
On average though, it took about 8 seconds to load CNET's mobile site and 7 seconds to load the desktop version. The New York Times' mobile and desktop sites loaded in 15 and 6 seconds, respectively. The mobile site for ESPN clocked in at 6 seconds, and 12 seconds passed before its desktop site fully loaded. Ookla's speed test app showed an average rate of 3.93Mbps down and 1.15Mbps up, and the 43.70MB Temple Run 2 game took 1 minute and 58 seconds to download and install.
|Average 4G download speed||3.93Mbps|
|Average 4G upload speed||1.15Mbps|
|Temple Run 2 app download (43.70MB)||1 minute and 58 seconds|
|CNET mobile site load||8 seconds|
|CNET desktop site load||7 seconds|
|Restart time||46 seconds|
|Camera boot time||4.35 seconds|
The handset's dual 2.3GHz Snapdragon processor is capable of executing small but necessary tasks smoothly, but not at blazing, instantaneous speeds. You'll need to wait a few moments for actions like calling up the keyboard, switching from landscape and portrait mode, and swiping through the app drawer. On average, it took about 46 seconds for the handset to restart. Benchmark tests mirrored these real-world observations. The phone's highest Quadrant score out of five trials was 4,878. For comparison, that puts it on a par with the LG Optimus F3Q and the Boost Max (which scored 4,837 and 4,795, respectively). The Grand X also had a Linpack multi-thread result of 119.622 MFLOPs in 1.41 seconds.
Anecdotal observation of the 2,300mAh appeared good so far. It lasted days on standby without charging, and it survived a workday with mild use without being plugged in. It has a reported talk time of up to 8.5 hours and a standby time of 17.5 days. During our lab test for continual video playback, it lasted 10 hours and 5 minutes.
Although the ZTE Grand X is inexpensive for a prepaid device, Cricket has many other Android phones that perform faster and better at the same price or less. The most inexpensive option is the $60 LG Optimus L70 . Like the Grand X, the handset isn't LTE enabled, and it has a smaller, 4.5-inch display. But the L70's 5-megapixel camera takes clearer shots, and it runs the more recent 4.4 KitKat OS.
Two other solid alternatives are the HTC Desire 510 and the Motorola Moto G with 4G LTE. Both are LTE handsets that run Android KitKat, and are equipped with higher-end hardware, like a quad-core processor, 5-megapixel cameras that can record HD video and have twice the amount of internal memory at 8GB. What's even better is that the Desire 510 costs $75 the Moto G is $100 -- meaning you'll get a better phone without breaking your $100 budget.