There’s nothing grand about the ZTE Grand S

New phones are fun. It’s exciting to hold them and try them out – to see what strange new innovations they’ve been packed with. I used a lot of cool new phones at CES this year. Sadly, the Grand S, while a competent phone on paper, wasn’t one of them. The official tagline for the ZTE Grand S is – and I kid you not – “There are so many S’s, but this one is different.” How it’s different, we may never know. ZTE doesn’t say and I don’t have a clue.

The Grand S is ZTE’s latest attempt to launch a competitive flagship smartphone in the United States and put some recognition behind its brand. It has the same specs as every other new flagship phone lately: quad-core Snapdragon S4 processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, a 13-megapixel camera, and a 5-inch 1080p screen. Compared to ZTE’s previous flagship designs, it’s a huge step up. But sit it next to top phones by HTC, Samsung, LG, Sony, or even Huawei’s Ascend D2, and its clear that despite being the fourth largest phone manufacturer in the world, ZTE doesn’t yet have what it takes to compete in the big leagues.

The build quality still feels somewhat cheap, a problem that caused me to name ZTE’s Era the “least durable phone” at last year’s Mobile World Congress. Unlike the Era, at least the Grand S was working on the show floor. Unfortunately, the units we tested were laggy – unable to keep up with our modest swipes and app launches. This is likely because ZTE’s Android skin is hogging too many resources, or there’s some underlying hardware issue. Regardless, it made an otherwise decent phone seem quite cheap. 

Part of the problem, as with all of these new 1080p phones, is that ZTE is trying to run Android on an insanely high-resolution screen. HTC figured out how to do it with the Droid DNA, as has Huawei with its Ascend D2, and Sony on its Xperia Z. Why, with almost identical specs, does the ZTE Grand S lag behind? It’s certainly doesn’t have anything to do with any innovative software features. So far as I can tell, there are none. It might have been smarter for ZTE to just run a vanilla, completely clean version of Android – it likely would have operated faster – but so far, ZTE is trying to play the same game every other Android phone maker is playing, but it’s not doing a great job.

In all fairness, the Grand S is a much better phone than I expected after seeing ZTE’s press conference earlier this week. It was one of of the most laughable press conferences I’ve ever been to; the company attempted to mimic recent Samsung press conferences by having a magician – except, unlike those press conferences, he appeared to have a budget of about $10, was in a 50-by-50-foot gray room with about 150 people crammed into it, and the only decoration on the wall was a CES poster and a home projector. The magician’s tricks were fine (and the dude gets around – I saw him at an HTC party a day or so later), but the whole press conference reminded me a lot of where ZTE is at right now. It wants to be a major player and ascend the ranks, but it’s still stuck. It doesn’t yet know how to create a great premium phone, nor does it know how to present one.

ZTE Grand S Press Conference

To sum up: Someone should be fired over ZTE’s CES press conference. Nobody should be fired over the Grand S. But if ZTE wants to break into the U.S. premium smartphone market, it’s going to need more than this. And please, dump the “S.” Samsung’s been there. It’s done that. Get a new letter, ZTE.

Mobile

Razer’s Wireless Charger will turn your desk into gamer heaven

The Razer Wireless Charger adds colorful flair to your desk or bedside table. It works with any phone that supports Qi wireless charging -- with some quirks -- but is it worth the high price tag? We take a look.
Home Theater

Want to mirror your smartphone or tablet onto your TV? Here's how

A vast arsenal of devices exists to allow sending anything on your mobile device to your TV. Our in-depth guide shows you how to mirror content from your smartphone or tablet to the big screen from virtually any device available.
Mobile

Is this the first image of a Galaxy S10 being used in real life?

It won't be long now; With 2019 underway, the Samsung Galaxy S10 is almost here. Before it arrives, here's absolutely everything you need to know about all three of Samsung's next flagships.
Mobile

The Note 8 and S8 range now have access to the Android Pie beta

Android 9.0 Pie has been released. But is your phone getting Android 9.0 Pie, and if so, when? We've done the hard work and asked every device manufacturer to see when their devices would be getting the update.
Social Media

Spice up your Instagram videos by adding your top tunes to the soundtrack

Have you ever taken a beautiful video, only to have it ruined by some jerk in the background yelling curse words? Here's a list of apps you can use to add your own music to Instagram posts as well as your Story.
Home Theater

Dolby’s secret recording studio app may soon exit stealth mode

In secret testing since June, Dolby's stealth recording and social network app may soon be ready to make an appearance. Dolby 234 blends unique noise-canceling tech with Instagram-like audio filters.
Mobile

5G phones make a lot of promises. Here’s what to really expect

There has been a lot of marketing copy expounding the potential benefits of 5G networks, but a lot less on the practical implications of 5G smartphones. There's a reason for that.
Business

Google is buying mysterious smartwatch tech from The Fossil Group for $40 million

Google is about to step up its smartwatch game. The company has agreed to buy an unnamed smartwatch technology from The Fossil Group for a hefty $40 million. Considering the acquisition, it's clear Google is serious about smartwatches.
Mobile

Here’s how to take a screenshot on an iPad, step by step

The ability to capture screenshots may not be the iPad's most glamorous feature, but it's one of its most useful. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to take a screenshot on an iPad, whether it's an iPad Pro from 2018 or an older iPad model.
Home Theater

Here are some common AirPods problems, and how to fix them

Apple’s AirPods are among the best fully wireless earbuds we’ve seen, but they’re not perfect. If you’re having trouble, take a look at our guide to the most common problems and what you can do to fix them.
Social Media

Here’s how to save someone’s Instagram Story to your phone

Curious about how to save someone's Instagram Story to your phone? Lucky for you, it can be done -- but it does take a few extra steps. Here's what you need to know to save Instagram Stories on both iOS and Android.
Wearables

Lack of regulation means wearables aren’t held accountable for health claims

As fitness trackers become more like health monitors, some physicians are concerned they can lead to over-diagnosis of non-existent problems. It’s already happening with wearable baby monitors.
Mobile

Here’s how to download podcasts and listen to them on Android or iOS

Podcasts have become a cultural staple. Here's how to download podcasts and listen to them on your Android or iOS device, and which apps to use if you're looking to get the most out of the format.
Business

Apple banned from distributing some iPhone models in Germany

Apple is following the FTC's lead and has sued Qualcomm for a massive $1 billion in the U.S., $145 million in China, and also in the U.K., claiming the company charged onerous royalties for its patented tech.