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Featured Review: ZTE ZMAX (T-Mobile USA)

October 18, 2014 - Written By Alexander Maxham

Back in Mid-September, you may remember that we went to New York to check out what ZTE had to offer. That was the ZTE ZMAX which is for T-Mobile. It’s a $250 5.7-inch mid-range phablet here. And it’s a damn good one, if I say so myself. We got some hands on with it at their event in New York, but now we have a unit in hand and have been using it as our daily driver for a little over a week now. So it’s about time we do a full review of one of the first ZTE-branded phones in the US. What do we mean by “ZTE-Branded”? Well ZTE has had other phones here in the US, but they’ve been rebranded by the carriers. One that comes to mind is the Boost Max, which was the ZTE Iconic Phablet in the rest of the world. So how does the ZTE ZMAX stack up to other mid-range phablets like, say the LG G Vista? Well let’s check it out and see.

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Hardware

For a $250 phone, you don’t normally expect great hardware and build quality, but that’s where ZTE impresses us. ZTE has an aluminum back and sides for the ZMAX, while the top and bottom are shiny – what we think is plastic – and the front is pretty much all glass. We’ve got a nice sized earpiece there on the front, as well as three capacitive keys at the bottom. There’s back, home and menu. Now I will say that the capacitive keys aren’t perfect. Yes, I prefer softkeys, but the capacitive keys don’t always work. What I mean by that is that sometimes when I hit a key, it doesn’t always register. For instance, every once in a while when I press home, it doesn’t register and I have to press it again. Not a huge deal, but probably a deal breaker for most people.

When it comes to how the phone feels in the hand. It feels nice, really nice. It doesn’t feel too big either. Which is definitely nice as these phones are getting bigger and bigger. Now it’s not super thin bezels, but they are thinner than I’d expect on a $250 smartphone here. We’ve got a 3400mAh battery inside, which powers the device quite well – more on that in the battery section – and it also has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400. Which I’ve said before, it’s a beast. Just about every mid-range and some low-end smartphones in the past year have been sporting the Snapdragon 400, so I’ve had a chance to use it on stock Android, LG’s UI, Touchwiz and even Sense 5 and 6. It performs well on all of those devices. The ZTE ZMAX is no different. Seeing as it is running on Stock Android – again more on the software a bit later.

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The Display on the ZMAX isn’t mind blowing. But that’s where we need to remember the price of this device, $250. The ZTE ZMAX has a 720p display that’s on a 5.7-inch panel. And for someone that uses the LG G3 as their daily driver, I can definitely see the pixels on this thing. However, I gave it to my sister to check out, and she couldn’t. Which she uses the new Moto X (a 5.2-inch 1080p display). So there’s that. It has great viewing angles and looks good for movies and such as well. There’s no real complaints here, especially when you factory in that price tag.

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Battery Life

It is amazing. Before we start looking at stats (even though there are some above), lets put things in perspective. The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 has a 5.7-inch 2560×1440 resolution display and a 3220mAh battery. The LG G3 has a 5.5-inch 2560×1440 resolution display and a 3000mAh battery, the Nexus 6 has a 5.9-inch 2560×1440 resolution display and a 3220mAh battery. While the ZTE ZMAX has a 5.7-inch 1280×720 resolution display and a 3400mAh battery. Yes a phone that costs roughly a third of these other phones has a larger battery than all of them. And when you have a screen like that with that big of a battery you expect good things. And ZTE delivered. Standby on the ZTE ZMAX is amazing as well. I typically slept for about 8-10 hours (depending on the day of the week) and would wake up with maybe 1% of battery less than what I had when I went to sleep. Not even the LG G3 sleeps that well.

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Software

For the most part, it’s stock Android 4.4.2. Which in of itself is a surprise. We usually don’t see the latest version of Android on cheap devices like this, especially coming from Chinese OEMs. I know we do have Android Lollipop now, but at launch, KitKat was the latest version. There’s a few changes that ZTE has made here. For instance the lock screen. Instead of a swipe gesture, you’ve got to press the screen until it makes a circle. It sounds a bit odd, and does take some getting used too. But it’s nice, actually. The notification panel is about what we’d expect, theres a few more toggles here, which include Hotspot, Flashlight and sync. Some of the icons do look different though, like Settings.

The app drawer, looks exactly like it would on the Nexus 4 before KitKat. As widgets are in the app drawer, But otherwise, it’s nice and plain and looks great. There are a few differences in settings, ZTE has added the Sound, Display, Date & Time and Language & Input to the top section while Data Usage and More… gets their own section. Other than the colored icons, settings is stock Android as well.

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Camera

There’s a 8MP camera here, and again let’s remember that this is a $250 smartphone. So I’m not expecting it to compete with my Sony RX100M3 or a DSLR, like some might want it too. Below is a gallery of a bunch of pictures taken with the ZTE ZMAX.

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Final Thoughts

The ZTE ZMAX is a great device. I would have liked to see it on more than just T-Mobile though. But for $250, there are worse ways to spend that money. it’s still a bit difficult to recommend it over the Moto G. But I will say if you want a larger device, then you should get the ZMAX. If you want WiFi calling on T-Mobile, then get the ZMAX. Otherwise the Moto G might be the phone you want.