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ZTE Grand S Android Smartphone Hands-on: Budget Unlocked Price, Decent Specs

You may have seen ZTE-brand phones being sold at some of the smaller carriers in America, but the smartphone maker is actually one of the most popular in China. Targeting the budget-minded consumer who doesn't want to be tied to a plan, ZTE launched its $399 Grand S Android phone in October, which you can purchase via Amazon, Walmart or Best Buy. We had a chance to take the Grand S for a spin to see if this Chinese import is worth your time.

At first glance, the white Grand S looks like every other Android smartphone, with a slim bezel, glossy screen and a rectangular build. But turn the 0.27-inch thick phone around and you'll find the top Band Aid-shaped section, which houses the camera and flash, juts out slightly. We liked the beautiful, vivid 5-inch display on the Grand S, which boasts a full HD, 1920 x 1080 resolution. With 443 PPI, the wallpaper of a ladybug on a green leaf was crystal clear and vivid.

The phone also packs rear-mounted Dolby stereo speakers, which are a nice touch, but we couldn't test them out accurately thanks to a noisy convention floor. We also appreciated the sharp images we shot of a conventions floor with the Grand S' 13-megapixel rear camera.

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While there was plenty we liked about the Grand S, the device failed to meet our expectations in some respects. Packing only a Snapdragon S4 Pro chip with 2GB of RAM, the Grand S  delivered decent performance as we flipped through screens and apps with ease. However, we did notice some lag when a rep was changing the wallpaper. Worse, the phone only carries Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean, that is skinned with ZTE's MiFavor UI. The manufacturer's software gets rid of the app drawer, bringing all your apps to the home screens a la the iPhone, and lets you add infinite pages. With just a 1,780 mAH battery, we don't expect the Grand S to last very long on a charge either.

In comparison, the Google Nexus 5 sports a speedy Snapdragon 800 CPU and ships with Android 4.4 KitKat for just $349 unlocked. But if you want a better camera in your phone, the Grand S might be the way to go. Stay tuned for our full review of the Grand S to find out how it stacks up against the competition.