ZTE Grand X3 (Cricket Wireless) Review: Cheap But Sluggish

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These days, you can get a pretty solid Android phone for around $200. ZTE's Grand X3 on Cricket Wireless costs an even lower $129 yet offers a big 5.5-inch display, excellent battery life and a convenient USB Type-C port wrapped up in a premium body. However, the phone's slow performance will annoy impatient users, and Cricket offers a better phone for the same price.

Design: Basic and Sturdy

The Grand X3 doesn't feel like a $129 phone. The rounded rectangular slab is solid and sturdy, and reminiscent of the Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3. I love the soft touch finish on the Grand X3's back and the glossy sheen up front.

Credit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's Guide)

Pop off the plastic back cover, and you'll get access to the phone's removable battery, as well as microSD and SIM card slots. A USB Type-C port on the bottom is a nice perk.

The Grand X3's 0.37-inch profile makes it thicker than the Huawei Honor 5X, the Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3 and the Blu Life One, but slimmer than the bulky Moto G 2015. Weighing 6 ounces, the X3 is also the heaviest phone of that lot.

Display and Audio: Good Enough

I enjoyed watching an HD trailer for The Huntsman: Winter's War on the Grand X3's 5.5-inch, 1280 x 720 display. Every fine hair on Chris Hemsworth's finer face was crisp, while the green grass looked vibrant. Viewing angles were generous, with images just barely washing out as I tilted the phone side to side.

In this price range, the Grand X3's 720p resolution is par for the course, as only the Idol 3 and the more-expensive Honor 5X offer higher-resolution 1080p screens.

Registering 457 nits on our light meter, the Grand X3's display is brighter than the average smartphone (425 nits), but dimmer than its closest competitors. The Moto G's 463-nit screen was the next dimmest.

The Grand X3 feels nothing like what I'd expect a $129 phone would.

The Grand X3 reproduced 104.3 percent of the sRGB color gamut, making it less colorful than the average smartphone (119.6 percent) and the Honor 5X. It did show off more colors than the Blu, the Idol 3 and the Moto, though.

Credit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's Guide)

The Grand X3's rear-mounted speakers pumped out loud but tinny music. Instruments in DNCE's Cake By The Ocean clashed harshly against the lead singer's vocals. Unfortunately, the speaker placement also makes it easy to accidentally muffle the audio.

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Using the included Dolby app for audio enhancement, I switched between such audio profiles as Music, Movie, Game and Voice. The Music mode produced the best results overall.

Software: Sucking Lollipop

Running the relatively old Android 5.1 Lollipop, the Grand X3 comes with a handful of ZTE and Cricket apps that are generally redundant. The Selfie app simply launches the Camera with the front shooter already activated, but offers no additional tools. Other extras, such as AskMD and Visual Voicemail, are unnecessary. I found the Mi-Moment note-taking app, Task Manager and Backup & Restore apps more helpful.

Because of its relatively feeble Snapdragon 210 CPU, the Grand X3 frequently stuttered during my game of Cooking Dash.

The lock screen is needlessly different than stock Android. Instead of swiping your screen to unlock the phone, you'll have to press and hold until a circle fills up to do so. Thankfully, this happens quickly enough, and although it took some getting used to, was easy to do.

You can also launch the Camera app from the lock screen by holding down the icon on the bottom right for a second.

Performance: Expect Lag

Playing my favorite game Cooking Dash 2016 on the Grand X3 with about a dozen apps open in the background was a mildly annoying experience. Because of the phone's relatively feeble 1.3-GHz quad-core Snapdragon 210 CPU and 2GB of RAM, the Grand X3 frequently stuttered during my game, sometimes causing me to lose customers as I struggled to get their orders out. I also noticed lag when I tried to pull up the already-open YouTube app or when I switched between Spotify, Chrome and YouTube.

On synthetic benchmark Geekbench 3, the Grand X3's score of 1,111 trailed the budget-phone competition. For instance, the Moto G notched 1,591.

The ZTE handset was also slower than any other competing smartphone in video editing, taking 12 minutes and 11 seconds to transcode a 204MB video from 1080p to 480p.

Casual gameplay may look all right on the Grand X3, but don't expect to smoothly play games with intensive graphics. Notching 4,623 on the graphics test 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, the Grand X3 fared worse than the Idol 3 and the Honor 5X. However, it outpaced the Blu and the Moto G.

Cameras: Colorful, But Not the Sharpest

Credit: Cherlynn Low / Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Cherlynn Low / Tom's Guide)

The Grand X3's 8-megapixel camera is merely serviceable. My shot of Manhattan buildings at sunset had accurately red buildings and blue sky, and outlines of windows were clear. However, the image wasn't as sharp as I'm used to from other smartphone cameras.

Credit: Cherlynn Low / Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Cherlynn Low / Tom's Guide)

In low light, the X3 struggled to take a clear shot, with the labels for different kinds of milk looking blurry.

Credit: Cherlynn Low / Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Cherlynn Low / Tom's Guide)

With the flash turned on, though, the camera snapped a crisper shot.

The 720p video I shot of New York City traffic looked smooth, showing the bold red-and-white stripes of a cement mixer and clear building outlines.

Credit: Cherlynn Low / Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Cherlynn Low / Tom's Guide)

The 5-MP camera didn't take the best-looking selfies. The pictures had a slight green cast, and my hair and sweater were covered with noise (colored speckles).

The Camera app offers some goodies on top of the stock Android version, such as the fun Multi Exposure mode to let you layer and blend two pictures together. It also offers a smile-detect trigger mode.

Battery Life: Epic

This is a phone that will take you from morning to night. Lasting a stupendous 11 hours and 28 minutes on our battery test (Web surfing over Cricket's 4G LTE network at 150 nits of brightness), the Grand X3 outlasted the average smartphone (8:15) and every other competing budget handset. It was freeing to not worry about the phone dying if I didn't charge it during the day.

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Bottom Line

At first blush, the ZTE Grand X3 seems like a solid deal. It offers incredible stamina and a decent display in a sturdy body for just $129. But when you consider that you can get the Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3 for the same price on Cricket, the Grand X3's appeal quickly fades.

The Idol 3 is an all-round better phone, with a brighter, sharper display, superior cameras and much faster processor. While it doesn't match the ZTE’s battery life and lacks a USB Type-C port, the Idol 3's better multitasking ability will save you some frustration in the long run.

If you're switching to Cricket from another carrier, the Grand X3's price drops to a super-low $80, while the Idol 3's only falls to $100. In that case, the Grand X3 becomes a more compelling deal. But without the $50 discount, you're better off getting the Idol 3 instead of the ZTE Grand X3.

Cherlynn Low

Cherlynn is Deputy Editor, Reviews at Engadget and also leads the site's Google reporting. She graduated with a Master’s in Journalism from Columbia University before joining Tom's Guide and its sister site LaptopMag as a staff writer, where she covered wearables, cameras, laptops, computers and smartphones, among many other subjects.