The ZTE Grand X is a brand-new Android smartphone from the upcoming Chinese mobile maker. Typically the company has been known for its low rent handsets which cost next to nothing but this marks the start of a new era for the company in the West. The ZTE Grand X is an upmarket phone without the price to match. It runs Android 4.0 on a 4.3-inch screen and is powered by a dual core 1GHz processor. Best of all, the phone runs completely stock Android just as Google intended.
The ZTE Grand X's screen is impressive. The 960x540 LCD display is sharp and pixel packed, and bursting with colours period. We had no problems typing on it or swooping around websites with a pinch to zoom gesture. But for the large amount of smudges it picks up, it would be almost as impressive as the software it displays.
Android is famously open-source but as a result it can sometimes be a bit of a mess. Many phone manufacturers like to modify the code and create their own software experience over the top of Android to help make their phones standout, but this often backfires, slowing devices down instead and filling them with unnecessary bloatware customers don't need or want.
Unusually, ZTE has chosen to chose a different path. The version of Android 4.0.3 that is runs is one complete almost completely as Google intended with no changes whatsoever. That's a very good thing. Android 4.0 as a result is clean, clear, fun, easy to use and very, very fast.
ZTE has never been known for premium build quality in its phones, and the ZTE Grand X is sadly no different. Although the design isn't exactly ugly, the plastic quality and the quite thick, creaky build make for a rather clunky phone to hold. Given how beautiful HTC's similarly priced HTC One V is, we'd expect a bit more here. The same applies for the camera. Yes it's a five megapixel number, and yes it shoots HD video, but it doesn't do either particularly well: images are washed and it's very easy to end up with white, over-exposed results.
ZTE has actually changed one thing about Android 4.0 and it's for the worse, unfortunately. Instead of the stock Android keyboard, which is excellent, you get the TouchPal keyboard preloaded instead. It's a bit like the popular Swype keyboard which you drag your finger across to spell a word, but it's not nearly as good. Fortunately, you can replace the keyboard with one of many from the Google Play store, but not everyone will know to do this.
There's also the issue of updates to consider. Samsung's Nexus phones are already on Android 4.1 "Jelly Bean", the latest version of Google's mobile operating system, leaving everything else in the dust. If you want to be on the bleeding edge of Android, you should go one of those instead: it's not clear whether the ZTE Grand X will get updated at any time soon.
The bottom line
While we like what ZTE is trying to do with the Grand X it doesn't quite represent value for money. If you want the stock Android experience then you should go with Samsung Galaxy Nexus instead: it costs around the same now but has a larger screen and better build quality as well. Nonetheless, this marks the start of a new era for ZTE and we look forward to seeing what comes up with next: Samsung ought to be nervous.