Time was, a sub-$200 smartphone was impressive as long as it actually turned on and connected to a network of some kind. Those times are over — in the past couple of years, we’ve seen affordable flagships like the Asus ZenFone 2 boast nearly top-tier specs combined with cheaper builds and low price tags. Still, those affordable flagships tended to hover around $200 or $300, which, while much cheaper than actual flagships, isn’t exactly a budget range, either. Sub-$150 phones remained at the bottom of the barrel.
ZTE is looking to change that with their Grand X3. A look at the spec sheet will tell you that the phone is nothing to write home about, but for $130, it doesn’t need to be. Considering that it’s not completely stripped down in terms of features, it might just be the right choice for budget shoppers who want a little more than the bare minimum.
This is usually where a budget phone is most obviously a budget phone, but the Grand X3 looks and feels surprisingly nice for its price. It’s a little heavier (170.1 grams) than similar phones, but that isn’t necessarily bad. At 5.5″, the Grand X3 is big enough to where the extra thickness (9.4 mm) and weight make it more ergonomic than the overly thin premium phones. That’s helped by a soft-touch back that feels far nicer than what you would expect from a $130 phone. In terms of look and feel, it’s one of the better plastic smartphones I’ve ever used by far.
Being a very cheap phone, a lot of extra features have been left off. There’s no fingerprint sensor, nor would we expect one at this price. There’s a lot that we’re surprised to see, though — there’s 2.5D curved glass on the screen, something we usually see on much more expensive phones. ZTE definitely used cheaper materials for the phone, but they wisely chose to spring for a few features that go a long way in making the phone appear much more expensive than it is.
It’s good that the outside of the phone is so impressive, because on the inside, the Grand X3 is unabashedly budget. It runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 210 SoC with a quad-core 1.3 GHz CPU, which was low end when it was introduced two years ago. Having 2 GB of RAM is adequate, and while having only 16 GB of internal storage was probably necessary to keep the cost down, storage capacity that low will hamper the phone’s usefulness. Fortunately, there is a MicroSD card slot that can expand storage by up to 64 GB.
It’s not too surprising that the Grand X3 struggles with benchmark tests. Over three runs of the PC Mark for Android Work test, the Grand X3 scored 3,091, 3,069, and 3,158, while scoring 23949 on AnTuTu. That puts it down there with the original Moto G, and not near anything else that’s come out anytime recently. The Snapdragon 210 really shows its age — while the phone can launch apps without much slowdown, there is some stuttering and lag while loading content within apps. Occasionally, loading times become long enough to become a distraction.
Graphics performance is bare bones. The Grand X3 scored 118.1 frames on the GFXBench GL 3.1 1080p Manhattan Offscreen test and flat out couldn’t handle the 3D Mark Sling Shot ES 3.0 test (the older version of the test). Watching videos and playing simple 2D games is fine, but the Grand X3 chugs hard when it comes to 3D games. That’s just a bit of expectation setting, though — a budget phone isn’t being purchased with 3D gaming in mind, and that’s not a problem.
There are some (literal) bright spots here. The 1280 x 720 resolution display is very bright and performs capably even in direct sunlight. The colors are a bit muted, but I was pretty satisfied considering the price range. A lot of other phones in this price range bottom out fully and use 854 x 480 displays, so getting an HD display on a $130 phone seems like a win to me.
Another nice bonus is audio. The Grand X3 uses Dolby Audio, and while there are no fancy speakers in use here, what ZTE did use gets very loud. If you want to watch a video without using headphones on the Grand X3, believe me, you won’t have any problems.