27 4 / 2013

ZTE Grand X LTE (T81) Mini Review

Android Overload! Over the course of a few months, I have immersed myself really deep into the Android ecosystem. First, I wrote about installing a custom ROM on my old phone (Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S), then I bought myself an Android tablet (Cherry Mobile Fusion Bolt) that seemed like a Nexus 7 knockoff (but a good one).

ZTE, a Chinese electronics and communications company, is a bit of an obscure name in the consumer smartphones category but sales data show that it is in the top 5 global smartphone vendors. In this day and age, global market just means the Chinese market and everything else anyway. I previously wrote about the ZTE T81 when I had gotten it as a freebie from Globe for signing up for a 2-year data contract. If you check out Globe’s website for the other free phone options at Plan 999, it pretty much boils down to this phone, the Huawei Ascend P1 LTE and the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini. I can predict the question in your head right now – why didn’t you choose the Samsung? Primarily, it’s because of the lack of LTE, but in this post I’ll explain that it is much more than that. Now, on to the [modest] specs: 

  • Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich
  • 4-inch LCD Display, 800×480 resolution, 233ppi
  • 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 MSM8960 CPU
  • Adreno 225 GPU
  • 1GB RAM
  • 4GB internal storage
  • Expandable up to 32GB via microSD card
  • 2G, 3G, 4G LTE
  • WiFi, Bluetooth
  • 5-megapixel rear camera, LED Flash, VGA front camera
  • HD 720p Video Recording
  • microUSB v2.0
  • 3.5mm audio jack
  • 1900mAh Li-Ion battery
  • Price: Free with a 2-year contract

 

What I find weird about this phone is that there is almost no documentation about it online. Searching for ZTE T81 gives the top result of an article regarding a different version of it for release in Australia (4.3 in screen with 8MP camera) and a press release from Globe about this specific version. Even ZTE’s official website doesn’t list this phone; it’s like they aren’t even acknowledging its existence. Here are some of my observations after using it for a couple of weeks.

LIKE 

  • The performance is blazing fast. In my two weeks of usage, I never encountered any lag as going through the system and loading apps are both fast. 
  • The Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich OS installed is mostly stock with really hard to find customization from ZTE’s part. It’s very nice and clean.
  • The battery is highly capable. I am able to use it one full day before I have to recharge when I come home at night. This is with data on and screen at mid brightness. Perhaps it is due to combination of a good capacity battery, an efficient CPU from Qualcomm and the low-end screen resolution. Turning on 4G LTE sucks the battery dry, though. I’ll only be able to use it for half a day with LTE enabled.
  • The size, shape and weight are all very comfortable to hold. Since it is made of cheap plastic, I don’t think I’ll even bother to use a case with it.
  • The speakers and microphone are adequate. I have no complaints about either. The front-facing camera is highly useful too. Just don’t expect #selfies with amazing picture quality.
  • This is a personal thing, but I like how their is no visible branding on the phone — no logos, stickers or text anywhere. It’s clean and basic, just the way I like it.
  • 4G LTE internet speed really is amazing. It’s already proven to be faster than my home network Wi-Fi, and our DSL internet is really no slouch.

 

DISLIKE 

  • Terrible screen with terrible viewing angles and colour reproduction. Tilting the phone by just a few degrees would render the screen useless. The low-end resolution doesn’t help too.
  • Cheap build quality and cheap design make it an overall cheap looking and cheap feeling phone. Cheap cheap cheap. It’s free, though.
  • It has sub-par cameras that are only sometimes worth using if heavily processed and filtered in Instagram/Aviary/etc.
  • Android Ice Cream Sandwich is nice and all, but this phone is already two Android updates late. Jelly Bean has a multitude of features and improvements and it is a shame that this phone won’t get to enjoy them officially.

 

Here are some impressive benchmark scores and (the opposite of impressive) untouched rear camera samples. Quadrant says this phone performs ahead of the HTC One X!

On bright and well-lit environments, the camera has average performance, but it all falls apart when there is little light. On the majority of instances  focusing isn’t seamless as well.

VERDICT

Do I even like this product? I say yes. First and foremost, it is technically free, and that alone already makes it an insane value. The second best thing about this phone is the performance – it’s really that good. It has the same CPU with 2012 flagship phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S3, HTC One X and Nokia Lumia 920. This efficient and fast CPU also leads to good battery life, and it has LTE built in. Using this phone for a few weeks has already made me forgot what lag is. And just for these reasons alone, I can overlook its multitude of shortcomings.

Now on to the part where I explain why I chose this phone over the others, specifically the Huawei Ascend P1 and Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini. The Samsung has a nice size and weight, and the screen is AMOLED, but it didn’t have LTE so I eliminated it immediately just based on that. The Huawei, however is also a good choice, as it has LTE and the same CPU from Qualcomm, a better screen with better resolution (4.3 in AMOLED with 960x540 resolution) and its design looks much better, but based on specs from the net, it had a lower battery capacity. My main concern was to get the phone that would last me longer as I only plan to use it as a secondary phone. The ZTE T81 has a comfortable size and shape and its battery lasts the longest. After a few weeks of daily use, I can conclude that I definitely do not regret this decision.