[MWC 2013] The ZTE Grand Memo was demonstrated at Mobile World Congress, and the quickest description that you may commonly get is that the Grand Memo is a “ZTE Galaxy Note 2”, which looks extremely competitive on paper: it is equipped with a Qualcomm 800 processor (SoC), runs a recent Android Jelly Bean, has a 13 Megapixel camera in the back, 16GB of storage, a 5.7″ 1280×720 LCD display and a 3100mAh battery. ZTE is a major handset manufacturer worldwide, but gets little attention in the USA because local carriers are not yet purchasing their products in quantity. I played with the device, and here are my first impressions:

Designed to be a real Galaxy Note 2 Competitor

Superficially, it looks and feels somewhat like a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 (see the side by side pic). Obviously that’s only the “general feel” because when you get closer, both phones are different on many levels. First, the ZTE Grand Memo is even bigger than the already massive Galaxy Note 2 (5.7″ vs. 5.5″), and I was just fine with that. I use a Galaxy Note 2 regularly, and the Grand Memo didn’t feel much bigger, unlike like the Huawei Mate did back during CES. The 5.7″ display is definitely manageable on this smartphone.

Yet another custom user interface

Secondly, ZTE has customized the user interface: off the bat, the user-interface work appeared to be mainly esthetic instead of focused on productivity. The menus and many screen has fancy 3D (polygonal) effects, including animated polygonal-3d backgrounds etc. That’s a fancier version of the live wallpaper, but I was wondering if there was a noticeable cost in terms of battery life, since those 3D background use the graphics processor, which is one of the more power hungry components of the system. I can’t blame any manufacturer for wanting to differentiate, but I feel like time would be better spent on things that actually make the experience better and not for the sake of being different  — that’s true for all handset makers.

Industrial Design: ZTE is getting better, but isn’t quite there yet

The industrial design is clean, and I think that the designers did a good job with this device. The build quality could be better, and overall, it feels a bit more “plastic” than the Galaxy Note 2, which has a plastic back. I’ve been looking at ZTE for the past few years, and I have to say that they have been moving up really fast, and I expect that company to become a global force in the coming years. But right now, a bit more work needs to be done.

Doesn’t “fell” like a Snapdragon S800 at all, because… it’s not running an S800/S600?

And surprisingly I found the overall performance to be worse than “ordinary”, if not outright slow, despite running in theory on a Snapdragon S800 processor (!!). As I browsed around, I noticed that the user interface (UI) is slow, the scrolling is not smooth, and overall, the ZTE Grand Memo is slower than most Android handsets that we play with. Right now, the demo units either have very poor software, or are NOT using the S800 (or S600) as the official specs from the press release indicated.

I’ve seen the “Android > About” menu provide wrong processor information when used with older development builds, so unless I crack open the phone, I can’t be 100% sure of what’s going on inside, but the performance certainly doesn’t reflect anything that I have seen running on S600 and S800.

Update: it has been confirmed to us that the ZTE Grand Memo demo units in the MWC show floor are indeed equipped with Snapdragon S4 chips. They are most likely here to show the design and software features, but clearly not the final performance of the product.


Depending on the speed and pricing (yes, that’s a LOT), the ZTE Grand Memo could be a decent alternative to the Galaxy Note 2, or it could be a failed competitor. A this point, it’s just too early to tell. Unless there is a massive change (for the better) in performance, I doubt that it could compete effectively with the Galaxy Note 2. What do you think of this ZTE design? Are you ready for even larger screens? Remember that the Galaxy Note 3 is rumored to have a 6.3 display — crazy or not? Leave a comment to tell us.

Filed in Cellphones >Featured. Read more about and .