Who Needs a Flagship? ZTE and LG Leading the Way for Practical Smartphones at CES 2016

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There sure are a lot of mid-range smartphones at CES 2016. Maybe that’s because companies like LG and ZTE want to emulate the success Motorola is experiencing with its Moto G line; or maybe it’s because Mobile World Congress is right around the corner and the new flagships are still under wraps. But either way, a tech showcase that’s typically dominated by cutting-edge consumer electronics is playing host to some very practical mobile hardware.

ZTE Grand X3

ZTE doesn’t have the brand recognition of Samsung or HTC, but the Chinese device maker has been pumping out quality Android handsets for just as long. Its latest, which debuted at CES 2016, is the ZTE Grand X3.

The 5.5-inch Grand X3 has a respectable spec sheet considering its full price of $130. This Cricket-exclusive only has a 1280 x 720 LCD TFT display – far from the Full HD and up we see on today’s flagships, but it still looks decent, approaching AMOLED-levels of brightness.

ZTE Grand X3

ZTE Grand X3

ZTE Grand X3 back panel

ZTE Grand X3 back panel

It sports a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 1.3GHz processor that handles its Android 5.1.1 (Lollipop) OS very well, resulting in a snappier experience than the 2GB of RAM would suggest. Maybe this is because the Grand X3 is very close to being stock Android. In fact, outside of “back” and “apps” capacitive keys that can be swapped to either side (a possibly useful feature we’ve never seen on Android hardware) we are hard pressed to find any UI tweaks or skins, which makes it all the more appealing.

For capacity, it has a 16GB, along with microSD expansion. If it ever gets Android 6.0 (Marshmallow), users will be able to mount an external card as internal storage. This would be a huge boon for users looking to load this device up with apps and pics.

On that note, it has a 2-megapixel front-facing camera, and 8-megapixel rear. Again, this is not a point-and-shoot replacement, but the camera app has plenty of manual controls for things like ISO and exposure.

Other specs include a removable 3,080mAh battery (another great feature) and USB Type-C input for charging. Here at least, the X3 has recent flagships like the Samsung Galaxy Note5 beat, which still has an aging microUSB 2.0 input.

The Grand X3 is plastic, with a textured back that easy to grip. It’s very light for such a big smartphone.

But again, this is only $130 off contract, with Cricket’s LTE month-to-month service attached. Since Cricket’s parent company was acquired by AT&T in 2014, users should have no trouble finding a high-speed signal.

LG K Series

LG K Series

LG K Series

The LG K Series is similar, with LG launching two handsets at CES 2016: the K7 and the K10. Expect these devices to come to the pre-paid carrier Boost Mobile, which is hosted on Sprint’s network) later in the year.

Device specifics are a bit murkier here, as both handsets will have different specs varying by region.

The K7 is the smaller of the two, with a 5-inch display and 854 x 480 resolution. As with the X3, this is low, but it still looks good enough with a decent brightness and full colors. This will likely be called the Tribute 5 when it does launch on Boost. At least one unit will support LTE and have a 1.1GHz quad-core processor, along with a 5-megapixel front-facing shooter, and 8-megapixel rear. But again, that could change depending on where it is made available.

The K10 is slightly larger, with a 5.3-inch display and 1280×720 resolution. There is an LTE version, with either a quad-core 1.2GHz processor, quad-core 1.3GHz processor, or octa-core 1.14GHz processor.  It will have a flagship-level 8-megapixel front camera, and 13-megapixel rear.

LG K Series back panel

LG K Series back panel

Both phones are plastic and lightweight, but they look good, with what LG describes as a “curved, modern finish” and “2.5D Arc Glass” display. You certainly won’t be ashamed to be seen in public with either. They both ship with Android 5.1.1.

No word on pricing, but they should match or beat the ZTE Grand X3. Again, this is not the most exciting hardware, but it is exciting that these inexpensive smartphones are not far from the $700 flagships currently on the market. In terms of what you can actually do with these devices (text, email, apps, browsing the web, mobile productivity), there is virtually nothing that separates them.

The Moto G owned this category for the past few years, and now Motorola has serious competition in the form of these practical handsets. Stay tuned for some full reviews of the new ZTE and LG Android hardware.


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