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Review: ZTE Grand X 4 for Cricket Wireless

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Dec 21, 2016, 8:30 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   @zeman_e

ZTE's latest low-cost Android smartphone for Cricket Wireless is the Grand X 4. This phone is well made, but offers middling specs and performance. If you're on the hunt for a bargain, the Grand X 4 may not fit the bill. Read Phonescoop's full report to find out why.

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Hardware 

Is It Your Type?

The ZTE Grand X 4 is a mid-range offering in Cricket's lineup of handsets. This Android phone boasts a solid spec sheet for the price and is wrapped up in a sturdy shell. If you're on a budget and prefer prepaid carriers, the ZTE Grand X 4 is a reasonable option from Cricket.

Body

The Grand X 4 looks a lot like ZTE's other mid-range handsets. It's a black-and-gray slab with a glass front and plastic rear shell. It's not totally generic, but it's not exactly brimming with personality, either.

The shape of the Grand X 4 is a familiar one. ZTE selected 2.5D curved glass to form the X 4's face, which helps a lot. The curved edges of the glass give the front a friendly profile. The rest of the chassis is a single piece of plastic. The shell forms the entire rear panel and all four side edges of the phone; the glass is fitted within. The gray shell has a nice crisscrossed texture to it. Some chrome-colored accents help complete the appearance by throwing in a hint of eye-catching sparkle.

The Grand X 4's 5.5-inch display means the phone is rather large. It's close in size to the iPhone 7 Plus and Pixel XL, which both have the same screen size. I'm glad the X 4 isn't too thick. ZTE's decision to curve the rear panel and taper it as it reaches the sides was a wise one. The phone doesn't feel absolutely huge, but people with small hands or those who prefer smaller phones may find the Grand X 4 too large. I had no trouble putting the phone in my pocket, and yet I always knew it was there.

ZTE used good materials to build the Grand X 4. Nothing about the phone feels flimsy or weak. The glass is installed tightly into the plastic chassis; the seams are even all the way around. Since the chassis is a single piece of material, it is incredibly strong. There's no flex to the phone at all. The Grand X 4 may be affordable, but that doesn't mean it's cheap.

Body  

The X 4's face is rather plain. It's all black, with few design elements to dress it up. The bezels are rather thick. I wish the display blended in seamlessly with the glass around it; it stands out. The user-facing camera is clearly visible off to the right of the ZTE logo. Three capacitive buttons line the bottom of the phone. Like many ZTE handsets, the buttons consist of a small, circular icon in the center for the home button, and two smal dots to either side for the back and app-switcher functions. They glow a nice blue so you can find them in the dark. The buttons work as they're supposed to.

You'll find the screen lock button and volume toggle on the right edge. These buttons are covered in a chrome paint so they stand out visually. The lock button's profile is very good, making the key easy to find by feel. It has very good travel and feedback. It has a very fine ribbed texture to it. The volume toggle resembles two screen lock buttons stuck together, but with a smooth texture. I wish the volume toggle were a little bit longer, which might make it easier to tell up from down. Better yet, I wish it had nubs on the up/down buttons. I sometime found myself raising the volume when I meant to lower it and vice versa. That said, travel and feedback is quite good.

The card tray is slotted into the left edge of the phone. It accommodates both a SIM card and a microSD memory card. The tray is mostly metal, so it doesn't feel flimsy. You'll find a standard 3.5mm headset jack on the top edge and a USB-C port on the bottom. The USB-C ecosystem is finally beginning to pick up a bit of steam, but it still may be harder for you to find cables and other accessories to work with the Grand X 4.

I like the treatment of the rear panel. The patterned texture is something you don't see on phones as much as you used to. The Grand X 4's backside has a nice curve to it. The camera, flash, and fingerprint sensor are a finely balanced trio of elements. The camera module and fingerprint sensor are small round circles rimmed in chrome, which helps them stand out. The camera module is raised perhaps one millimeter, while the fingerprint sensor is indented perhap one millimeter. You can easily tell them apart by feel. Cricket's logo is painted on the plastic.

You can't remove the Grand X 4's rear panel, which means battery is sealed inside. That might be a dealbreaker for some.

Overall, ZTE did a fine job with the Grand X 4. I wish it had a bit more visual appeal, but you can't fault the build, quality, or functionality of the hardware.

Screen

The Grand X 4's 5.5-inch screen offers 720p resolution, which is what I'd call the bare minimum for a display this size. Words and icons are noticeably less sharp than on higher-end phones with 5.5-inch screens. Don't expect to use the Grand X 4 for virtual reality. However, brightness is excellent; the display pushes plenty of light to your eyes, and it's clearly visible outdoors under bright sun. Color representation is accurate, and viewing angles are decent for this type of screen. Though I wish it had higher resolution, the Grand X 4's display is certainly good enough considering the price point.

Signal

Cricket Wireless operates on AT&T's network. The Grand X 4 performed about on par with other Cricket phones I've tested in recent months. I was able to consistently connect all calls, even under poor signal conditions, on the first dial. The phone held onto calls firmly at highway speeds. The X 4 didn't miss or drop any calls while I reviewed it. The Grand X 4 performed as fast as it is allowed to on Cricket's LTE network (Cricket limits speeds to 8 Mbps). Data performance was good enough to handle low-key social networks such as Instagram and Twitter, but streaming YouTube and Spotify content via LTE was sometimes choppy.

Sound

The Grand X 4 is a middling voice phone. It's just loud enough that I was able to hear calls most places I took the phone. City streets were often a bit too much, but coffee shops and the car weren't. I did have to keep the volume set all the way up at all times. Clarity is a bit of a different story. The earpiece produces choppy sound, for sure, especially when you crank the volume. It's uneven and distorted. People I spoke to through the Grand X 4 said I sounded "broken up."

The speakerphone takes things down a step. It's not quite loud enough, and it's even less clear than the earpiece. This means calls are harder to understand all around. The speaker generates enough volume for use at home or the office, but it's barely adequate for the car. The distortion could be mitigated a bit by turning down the volume. Sadly, that makes calls all but unhearable.

Alert tones are loud enough, and the vibrate alert is strong enough.

Battery

The Grand X 4 stuffs a good-sized 3,140 mAh battery into its shell. The lithium-ion power cell delivered a full day of use, but just. The Grand X 4 pushed from breakfast to bedtime, though it had little power to spare at the end of the day. I tested the phone with all the radios active, and I set the screen brightness to "auto." I streamed plenty of media during my tests, browsed the web, and scrolled through media-rich social networks endlessly. It gets through a day, but not any more. It's worth remembering that cell phone batteries lose capacity over time. It's possible, after a year or more, that the X 4 could last less than a day.

The phone includes Google's basic, system-level battery saver tool. You can turn it on manually or set it to come on automatically when the battery reaches a predetermined percentage. It cools down the processor, dampens screen brightness, and chills out the notifications. You may need it on occasion.

The Grand X 4 supports Quick Charge 1.0 with the included charger. That means it charges a bit faster than most entry-level phones. It doesn't support any sort of wireless charging.

Bluetooth, GPS, NFC, WiFi

The Grand X 4 didn't give me any trouble with the secondary radios. I was able to pair and connect the phone to a variety of Bluetooth devices. It worked with headsets, speakers, and cars without problem. It also managed to connect to other phones and PCs without issue. Phone calls with standard, mono headsets delivered below-average call quality. Volume was good, but distortion was a big issue. Calls were even worse when pushed through my car's hands-free system. Music sounded OK when sent to a Bluetooth speaker, but wasn't amazing.

The GPS radio mingled with Google Maps well. The Grand X 4 was often able to locate me in under 10 seconds, and accuracy was as good as about 30 feet. When used as a real-time navigation device it performed well enough, though I've seen much better.

The WiFi radio worked very well. The Grand X 4 does not include NFC, so no Android Pay.

Software 

Lock Screen

The Grand X 4's lock screen does a fine job helping you manage incoming notifications. Press the screen lock button to see the clock and notifications; there are no smart features to wake the screen. The lock screen provides a large and easy-to-read clock near the top. Notifications are broken down by app and listed in chronological order underneath the time/date. As always, you can select how revealing those notifications are.

Be default, the Grand X 4 requires a long press on the lock screen to unlock the phone. I really dislike this method, as it doesn't work consistently. I'd much rather have the option to swipe the screen, but no dice.

Lock Screen  

But of course you should really secure your phone, and the X 4 offers PIN, pattern, password, or fingerprint options. I didn't have any trouble training several fingerprints and found the reader was fast enough most of the time for unlocking the phone. Last, you can make use of the Smart Lock function, which will keep the device unlocked when it senses trusted devices (smartwatch, Bluetooth headset), trusted places (home), trusted voice (speed recognition), or on-body detection (knows it's in your pocket). These all worked fine.

The lock screen provides shortcuts to the phone and camera apps. Like other ZTE handsets I've reviewed, using the camera shortcut on the X 4's lock screen always opens the camera in selfie mode. This cannot be changed.

Security  

Home Screen

The Grand X 4 runs Android 6 Marshmallow (no Nougat... sad face) with a mild user interface skin from ZTE.

The home screen panels and app drawer function much like they would on a standard Android handset, but have their own look and feel thanks to ZTE's fonts and colors. Two home screen panels are active out of the box, but these can be customized as per the norm. That means wallpapers, app shortcuts, and widgets are free for the arranging.

The settings menu looks and behaves like stock Android, but the Quick Settings tool has been adjusted to match ZTE's fonts and semi-transparent theme. One nice change is that ZTE allows Grand X 4 owners to arrange the Quick Settings panel however they wish.

Home Screens  

The Grand X 4 includes a couple of themes: normal and sport. The sport theme makes the phone look like it belongs on the bench with the New York Knicks basketball team (ZTE sponsors the Knicks.) More themes are available to download from ZTE if you're looking for a non-sporty appearance. You may also select from several different screen animation styles.

By default, the capacitive keys below the screen are back, home, multitask, but you can swap back and multitask if you want.

Customize  

The Grand X 4 also includes ZTE's Mi-Pop tool. Mi-Pop takes the form of a small floating circle on the screen. You can plop the circle anywhere on the screen you prefer. A quick press of the Mi-Pop button takes you back a screen. A long-press and slide to the left calls up three other options (home, menu, multitask). Mi-Pop is supposed to improve one-handed use. It's not for me, and thankfully it's off by default. You can turn it on/off at will.

MiPop  

The Grand X 4 has a Snapdragon 425 processor under the hood. This chip falls within the middle of Qualcomm's range of processors. The 1.4 GHz quad-core engine does an admirable job motivating the Grand X 4. Performance was smooth most of the time. I didn't see any major issues when transitioning between screens, jumping to other apps, or playing some of the preinstalled games. The only app that felt slow was the camera.

Camera

The only two ways to open the camera app are to use the lock screen shortcut or the normal app icon on the home screen. The app takes a couple blinks to open. The lock screen shortcut always opens the camera in selfie mode. The normal app icon opens the camera in whichever mode was used last. One interesting note: The camera opens in whichever mode you used last. Tthe Grand X 4 includes a dedicated (but totally redundant) selfie app — which simply opens the camera in selfie mode.

The main camera screen includes a handful of toggles for some features (settings, HDR, timer, flash, camera switcher) on the left and separate buttons for the camera and video camera on the right. The Grand X 4 has five shooting modes: auto, manual, panorama, time-lapse, and multi-exposure. Most of these are self-explanatory.

The multi-exposure mode does pretty much what the name implies: you take two pictures and overlay them in a handful of different ways to create a single image. Multi-exposure is fun and produces some unique images, but if you're trying for a specific effect, you really have to practice to get the hang of it.

Camera  

The manual mode is great for people who want to take a little more control. It allows you to adjust shutter speed, white balance, ISO, exposure, and focus. The manual mode includes an always-on visual tool to help ensure the shot is level (if you want it to be).

You can also simply fire away in auto mode and ignore the advanced functions completely. There are filters available in each mode to give photos effects such as sepia or black and white.

The deep settings controls are just as frustrating to use as other ZTE phones I've reviewed this year. They appear on the screen in a series of transparent drop-down menus and are nearly impossible to see/read. The small, white text is often lost entirely. These tools allow you to set the image size and aspect ratio, geotagging, grid lines, and so on.

The selfie camera includes a beautification tool that reduces blemishes and wrinkles. I like that it has a sliding scale for adjusting just how fake you want to look. The selfie cam also has a smile-capture setting.

The Grand X 4's camera could be easier to use and I wish it were a lot faster at actually capturing photos.

Manual Mode  

Photos/Video

The 13-megapixel sensor takes decent shots most of the time, though none of them really blew me away. Exposure and white balance were often accurate, but focus was hit or miss. For this, I blame the slowness of the camera app; I simply started to move, whether by accident or design, before the Grand X 4 finished capturing the shot. I was pleased with the color balance. The Grand X 4 did a fine job scoring rich color from time to time. Taking shots in dark environments introduces a lot of grain and the LED flash doesn't do much to offset it (look at manger photos.)

The 5-megapixel selfie cam is acceptable but I fear Snapchat fiends might not be so happy. Focus is generally a bit soft and exposure can be all over the place.

The Grand X 4 might be good enough for everyday shots as long as everything is holding relatively still. I'd rely on a better camera for important stuff.

The same is true for video. The Grand X 4 can capture video up to 1080p HD and it's pretty decent. As is often the case, the video camera software is able to improve upon the camera's focusing issues; most of the video is properly focused and exposed. White balance is accurate, too. Still, I noticed plenty of grain and suggest better gear when you want the best results.

Photos  

ZTE / Cricket Stuff

The Grand X 4 has 47 apps installed on first launch and not enough of them can be deleted. Cricket-branded apps include Cricket Rewards, MyCricket, and Visual Voicemail. Other apps taking up space include Argus, AskMD, Cookie Jam, Deezer, Dolby Audio, Empire, Game of War, Genies & Gems, Panda Pop, and WPS Office. Thankfully you can toss the games. The Grand X 4 has 16 GB of internal storage and you have access to 8.2 GB of it. I recommend adding a memory card.

Wrap-Up 

The ZTE Grand X 4 doesn't offer quite enough phone for its $130 price point.

Even if the handset borders on the generic, its strong materials and solid build quality will give you confidence when carrying it around. The screen is very bright, though some might wish for more pixels. Phone calls and data speeds are about average, and battery life is adequate at a single full day of heavy use.

ZTE's spin on Android 6 Marshmallow is fine. It's not overwrought, and some of the touches, such as themes and a bevy of screen animations, make personalizing the Grand X 4 fun. The processor and RAM offer enough power to push the X 4 through most tasks with the exception of the camera. I wish the camera software were a bit easier to use, and I'd prefer to see ZTE speed it up so it takes sharper pictures.

There isn't a lot of competition in the $130 range on Cricket's shelves. Most of the carrier's handsets fall under $100. The Alcatel Idol 4 is probably a better pick than the Grand X 4, especially considering that it costs less and includes a pair of VR goggles. Given the alternatives at Cricket, I'd only recommend the Grand X 4 to ZTE loyalists.

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Comments

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acdc1a

Dec 21, 2016, 1:03 PM

I'd only recommend the Grand X 4 to ZTE loyalists.

Is there such a thing?
 
 
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