ZTE Grand S2 first impressions: sweet hardware with a bitter Jelly Bean aftertaste

“The Grand S2 rocks powerful internals, but runs the age-old Android 4.2 Jelly Bean”

With so many launches by Chinese brands in the Indian smartphone market every other day, 2014 can very well be regarded as an year of Chinese manufacturers. Right from the beginning of the year, we have seen these brands changing the rules of the game and giving a tough fight to incumbents. ZTE’s latest offerings, the Grand S2 and Nubia Z7 Mini also seem fall into the same league.

ZTE Grand S2 first impressions 01

We were able to get a closer look at both the smartphones at their launch event today, and here are our hands-on impressions of the brand’s phablet, the Grand S2.

With a large 5.5-inch display, the ZTE Grand S2 falls in the phablet category. However, the device has been designed in such a way that it defies its class with a lightweight body. It tips the scale at 120g only, and is also quite thin with its 7.9mm waistline. The brand has adopted a tall and narrow design for the Grand S2, allowing it to snugly fit in one’s hands. Even then, it’s not an ideal smartphone for one-handed usage, especially for those with small hands.

ZTE Grand S2 01

ZTE has made special efforts to make the phablet look different from the crowd as it has used a combination of metal and plastic for its construction. While the front is mainly dominated by the display, the rear panel features brushed metal flanked by layer of plastic above and below. The back of the phone is home to the primary camera and an LED flash, along with a speaker grille. The unibody smartphone also has special pin connectors called pogo pins at its back that can be used to charge it, when used with a compatible charging dock.

ZTE Grand S2 02

On the right spine, the ZTE Grand S2 features the volume rocker followed by the power key. Further downwards, it also has a micro-SIM tray. The left edge is mostly empty, with an ejectable tray providing an expansion slot. Up top, lies a 3.5mm socket, whereas a micro-USB port is available on the base.

ZTE Grand S2 03 ZTE Grand S2 04

ZTE Grand S2 08 ZTE Grand S2 10

The 5.5-inch display bears a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, resulting in a rich pixel density of 401ppi. The display throws good colours and sharp text, though we weren’t able to test its viewability outdoors. The display supports glove mode, allowing it to be used even when one is wearing gloves, which is quite useful especially with the winter almost here. Above the display, the device sports the usual sensors, an earpiece and a front-facing camera, whereas below it, there’s a row of capacitive navigation buttons. However, the ZTE Grand S2 has a reverse layout of buttons, with the first button being used for back, the central one acting as the home button and the last one available for accessing the options menu, along with doubling up as a multitasking key. It must be noted that that the Grand S2 solves one of our biggest gripes with the previous ZTE’s offering, the V5 (review), which had no way of seeing recently-opened apps.

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At the heart of the ZTE Grand S2 hides a 2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 chip. Alongside the powerful SoC, 2GB of RAM takes care of computing needs. During our brief usage, the phablet was very swift while swiping between screens or opening various apps. However, its true capabilities can only be judged over extensive usage, consisting of games or running multiple apps at the background.

For installation of apps and storing your personal content, the device offers 16GB of flash storage out of which a little more than 10GB is available to use. If that’s not enough, then you can make use of a microSD card of up to 32GB.

ZTE Grand S2 06

On the photography front, the ZTE Grand S2 sports a 13-megapixel camera at the back, which is supplemented by an LED flash to shoot in low-light environments. At the front, the handset gets a 5MP fixed-focus sensor for shooting selfies or making video calls. The custom camera app offers a number of modes and features to tweak the image or videos clicked by the device. The rear camera is capable of recording full HD videos.

The Grand S2 is a single-SIM smartphone, and the best thing is that it supports both GSM and CDMA cellular technologies. Other connectivity options on the device are Wi-Fi ac, Bluetooth 4.0 and GPS. Juicing  up the phablet is a fixed 2,500mAh battery.

ZTE Grand S2 first impressions 02

While the smartphone is loaded on all aspects, the dated Android OS might be a problem for many prospective buyers. At a time when Google is rolling out Android 5.0 Lollipop, the ZTE Grand S2 is stuck at Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. On top of Android, the Chinese manufacturer has added its own customisation referred to as MiFavor UI. Sadly, the brand isn’t too keen on updating the software because of its customised layer. The device runs MiFavor UI v2.3 and interestingly, unlike ZTE V5’s Nubia UI, this one offers a separate home screen and app launcher. The interface is heavily modified with custom icons and several preloaded apps. There’s also a Kids Mode, giving users an ability to create a walled access consisting of pre-selected apps for their kids.

ZTE Grand S2 first impressions 05

The custom skin also offers a number of features. To allow the device to be used by a single hand, it features a ‘one-hand operations’ mode. It also has several gesture-based actions. A floating button on the interface allows the user to quickly access apps such as calculator, calendar, file manager, etc.

The ZTE Grand S2 will be go on sale next week onwards, in exclusive partnership with Amazon. However, the company has chosen to remain silent about the pricing of the device, and hence it’s difficult to give a conclusive judgment about it and talk about the competition. If it’s somewhere around its price in China ($280, roughly Rs 17,000), then the Grand S2 comes across as loaded phablet, albeit the older version of Android could be the proverbial thorn in the bush.

Rahul Gupta contributed to this article. Video by Pratik Vyas

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