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ZTE Grand X (Cricket Wireless) review: Budget Android sacrifices specs for low price

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In our standard studio shot, the camera's flash casts a harsh blue hue against the white background, and objects look blurry. Josh Miller/CNET

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.

Performance: call quality

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.

ZTE Grand X (Cricket Wireless) call quality sample

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.

Data speeds, processing speed and battery life

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.

ZTE Grand X (Cricket Wireless) Performance Times

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.

zte-grand-x-data-speeds.jpg
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Some of the device's 4G data speeds on Cricket Wireless. Lynn La/CNET

Conclusion

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.

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