ZTE has quietly been making a name for themselves in the US. Largely by offering up cheap smartphones at prepaid carriers like MetroPCS, Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile. ZTE is currently the fourth largest smartphone maker in the US, and they are second when it comes to the prepaid market. A couple of years ago, they launched the ZTE ZMAX with T-Mobile, which brought a large screen device, with decent specs at a very low price. Since then they have added a few other members to the ZMAX family, with the ZMAX PRO being the latest. The ZMAX PRO is a $179 smartphone (MetroPCS - who has an exclusive on the device - is offering a $80 rebate, so you can get it for as low as $99), and it packs some incredible specs for its price. But how does it stack up to the competition? Or does it fall flat on its face? Let's find out.
When it comes to the spec sheet here, there are actually a few surprises. The ZTE ZMAX PRO sports a 6-inch 1920 x 1080 resolution IPS LCD display. This gives you a pixel density of 367 ppi, and the display takes up about 71.7% of the front of the device. It is covered in Corning's Gorilla Glass 3, to keep it safe from any scratches and such. Powering the ZMAX PRO is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 (MSM8952) SoC. This is a quad-core Cortex-A53 1.5GHz cluster with a quad-core Cortex-A53 1.0GHz cluster. That is paired with the Adreno 405 GPU and 2GB of RAM. For storage, there is 32GB of internal storage, however there is a micro SD card slot that supports up to 256GB of storage. Additionally, it does support adoptable storage.
Camera-wise, we have a 13-megapixel rear-facing shooter here, which includes phase detection auto-focus, with a 5-megapixel front-facing shooter. Both are capable of shooting video at 1080p resolution. Connectivity includes WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, WiFi Direct, Bluetooth v4.1, A2DP, Bluetooth LE, A-GPS for location tracking and USB Type-C. All of this is powered by a 3400mAh battery that is indeed, non-removable.
This smartphone is exclusive to MetroPCS, but it is GSM - seeing as MetroPCS does run on T-Mobile's network - and can be unlocked to work elsewhere in the world. Below are the bands supported here on the ZTE ZMAX PRO.
GSM 850, 900, 1800, 1900
HSDPA 850, 1700, 1900
LTE Bands 2, 4, 12
In the Box
Inside the box here, there's not much going on. As soon as you open the box, you're greeted with the large ZTE ZMAX PRO smartphone. Beneath that is a packet full of paperwork for the ZTE ZMAX PRO, including a quick start guide to get you started with your new smartphone. And of course, included is a USB Type-A to USB Type-C cable and a standard wall charger. No special quick charge or fast charging wall adapter here, unfortunately. Even though the Snapdragon 617 does indeed support it.
There are many surprises here, with the ZTE ZMAX PRO, but easily the biggest one is indeed the build quality. The ZTE ZMAX PRO is definitely not a small smartphone here, with its 6-inch display, so it's pretty surprising that ZTE didn't cut corners on the hardware build with this smartphone. The back of the device has a soft-touch plastic material. Which, while doesn't scream "premium", definitely looks and feels nice. There is a faux metal frame as well, which keeps the device looking nice, but also keeps costs down - instead of using real metal. On the back, there is the 13MP camera sensor with the fingerprint reader below it and flash in between them. The camera and fingerprint sensor have a sort of bronze looking border around them. It actually looks really nice, against this navy blue back that the ZTE ZMAX PRO has. The bottom of the backside, has the speaker. Which ZTE was smart enough to add a couple of bumps around it, so that when it's sitting on a flat surface, the sound doesn't come out muffled.
Button placement is spot on here with the ZTE ZMAX PRO. The power button is below the volume rocker on the right side. And it's right above where your finger would rest when holding the device. Meaning that you don't need to shimmy up the device to use either button. This is particularly important on the ZTE ZMAX PRO seeing as the device has a 6-inch display, and is much larger than most other smartphones. The left side has that SIM card and micro SD card slot. Allowing you to swap out your SIM card or add more storage. The top has that 3.5mm headphone jack and the bottom has a USB Type-C port. Which is definitely surprising to see here on a sub-$200 smartphone.
On the front of the ZTE ZMAX PRO, there are three capacitive buttons. Which look similar to last year's ZTE AXON PRO that was announced for the US (this year's AXON 7 actually went with software buttons). So what we have here is a circle in the middle which is the home button, and then a dot on either side which is for back or recents. ZTE has added the option in settings, so that you can have the back button on the left or the right side. And obviously the recents key would be the other button. Unfortunately, that is where the customization ends for the capacitive keys here. But still plenty for those that want the back button on the left side instead of the right, or vice versa. The earpiece here is pretty interesting too. It's three circles at the top, which gives the ZMAX PRO a pretty distinctive look, unfortunately it doesn't double as a speaker. Which would have been nice, but still surprising on a $99 smartphone.
The build quality here is pretty outstanding. It's a very comfortable smartphone to hold, which isn't something that is said often about smartphones with 6-inch displays. In fact, it didn't even seem like it had a 6-inch display. Even though it is taller and wider than both the Nexus 6 and Nexus 6P with their 5.96 and 5.7-inch displays.
What we're looking at here is a 1920 x 1080 resolution IPS panel that is 6-inches, measured diagonally. Obviously, we'd prefer a QHD resolution panel here, but given the price of the ZMAX PRO, we're pretty surprised that it is a 1080p panel. Given the fact that the HTC Desire 530 is almost the same price, and it has a 720p display - also a much smaller display. Just because ZTE was able to put a 1080p display on the ZMAX PRO, doesn't mean that it is a terrible one. It's actually quite good.
The IPS panel here gets plenty bright, which tends to be an issue with IPS displays. They usually don't get bright enough, especially in direct sunlight. Luckily, that's not an issue here with the ZTE ZMAX PRO. We played Pokemon GO outside in the summer sun and there were no issues with the visibility of the display, it was more visible than the display on the Nexus 6P, actually. Colors on this panel aren't as saturated as what you'd find on an AMOLED panel, but they are still quite good. The blacks are dark, but again not as deep as an AMOLED panel. The colors are more "natural" on this panel, which is something we've come to expect from IPS panels, especially with LG's smartphones.
When it comes to inexpensive smartphones like the ZTE ZMAX PRO, one area that usually suffers is the digitizer. Many OEM's believe that they can cheap out on the digitizer and users won't notice, but they certainly will. The digitizer is under the display and it is the component that registers when you touch the display. So every time you are scrolling on Twitter, typing on the keyboard or interacting with the display at all, the digitizer is being used. And if the digitizer is slow at all, many will think that the device is lagging, but it's just a terrible digitizer. Good news here is that ZTE has put in a pretty decent digitizer. Through our daily usage, we didn't find a single problem with the digitizer (of course that doesn't mean that every single model won't have an issue, as quality control can sometimes miss things).
Inside is one of Qualcomm's newer chipsets, the Snapdragon 617. This is a slightly upgraded Snapdragon 615, which had loads of problems in devices in 2015. Much like the Snapdragon 808 and 810 from last year, the Snapdragon 615 was also slow and very hot. Part of that still holds true with the Snapdragon 617 in the ZTE ZMAX PRO. It does get a bit warm, but the interesting thing here is that it's still a bit cooler than the Moto G4 and Moto G4 Plus - both of which have the Snapdragon 617 as well - and our daily usage was virtually identical.
The Snapdragon 617 can feel a bit slow or sluggish at times, and this is due to the fact that its max clock speed is 1.5GHz. But for the most part, it's not an issue. Unless you are a hardcore user and are running tons of apps and some graphic intensive games, the processor will be more than sufficient. Surprising, even with just 2GB of RAM included. For many, 2GB of RAM would definitely be a turn off. But since ZTE is using, basically, stock Android here, 2GB of RAM actually performs quite well. Obviously, more RAM is better, but 2GB of RAM will be perfect for most people. We didn't have to clear out our recently running apps list, nor did apps have to constantly reload when we were multi-tasking (meaning we ran out of RAM). So is 2GB of RAM future-proof? Definitely not. But if you just need a phone that works, it'll more than do the job.
The ZTE ZMAX PRO is definitely full of surprises, and another one of those surprises is the fingerprint sensor on the back. This is surprising for a few reasons. One is obviously the price of the phone, and another is the accuracy and speed of the sensor. The fingerprint sensor unlocks the ZTE ZMAX PRO really quick, now it's not as quick as the Nexus 6P or LG G5 - but unless you have them side-by-side for a comparison, you won't notice the difference - but it's plenty quick. And it's very accurate. Out of all the times I've unlocked this phone (it was my daily driver for nearly a week), it only failed to recognize my fingerprint once maybe twice. Which definitely left me very impressed with how well this fingerprint sensor works.
Now let's talk about the placement of this sensor. On a smartphone this large, the placement of things like the power and volume rocker as well as the fingerprint sensor is pretty important. Seeing as not everyone has a huge hand. ZTE managed to put the fingerprint sensor high up on the back, but not so far up that it's tough to reach without shimmying your hand up the device to unlock it with your finger. For me, when holding the ZTE ZMAX PRO, my finger rests just below the fingerprint sensor (between that and the ZTE logo) so it made using the sensor pretty easy, not something that is common on a 6-inch device.
With the ZTE ZMAX PRO, we ran the usual benchmarks here. Including AnTuTu, 3D Mark and PC Mark. You can see the results from those three in the gallery down below.
The ZMAX family of smartphones from ZTE has been known for a few things. One is being a cheap smartphone with decent specs, the other and perhaps more important, is the amazing battery life. When the original ZTE ZMAX came out on T-Mobile a couple of years ago, I was blown away by just how good the battery life really was, on that 5.7-inch device (which at the time was pretty large). The battery would last all day long and then some. Which led me to go into the review of the ZTE ZMAX PRO with pretty high expectations on the battery life for the device, and they weren't let down.
The ZTE ZMAX PRO has a 3400mAh battery inside, which may seem a bit small given the size of the display, but it definitely will last you a full day or longer. The first charge with the ZTE ZMAX PRO, I spent a good part of the day playing Pokemon GO. Despite that, I still got nearly 4 hours on screen time, and it lasted me until I went to bed that night. The second charge was nearly two full days of use. Which is pretty darn good, and it was running on T-Mobile's 4G LTE network as well.
Now, ZTE doesn't market the ZMAX PRO as having Quick Charge 3.0, nor do they include a Quick Charge 3.0 compatible charger in the box. But with the Snapdragon 617 inside, it does technically include Quick Charge 3.0. So we plugged it into a Quick Charge 3.0 wall charger here and it charges much faster. We were able to go from around 19% all the way to 100% in about 80-90 minutes. That's a bit slower than the LG G5, and Moto G4, but remember that this has a 3400mAh battery versus a 2800mAh and 3000mAh respectively. So that's to be expected. It's a good thing that it does support Quick Charge 3.0, but not too surprising that it doesn't come with a compatible charger in the box. Seeing as ZTE did need to cut corners somewhere.
Phone Calls & Network
As mentioned, this is a MetroPCS smartphone. When ZTE sent us this review unit, they did include a MetroPCS SIM card, but unfortunately, it appears that the data plan wasn't active. That wasn't an issue, as we simply popped in our own T-Mobile SIM card and it worked without any issues. Since MetroPCS runs on T-Mobile's network, the experience should be identical. We made phone calls here in Southeastern Michigan without any issues. And since the ZTE ZMAX PRO is a MetroPCS branded smartphone, it does have support for HD Voice and VoLTE. All of the calls we made, in fact, were on VoLTE. Which does make a huge difference.
On the data side of things, we got identical speeds to what we would see on the Nexus 6P on T-Mobile in the same areas. In fact, some were even a tad bit faster. Which is likely due to the number of users on or not on the tower at that specific time. T-Mobile LTE speeds ran between about 20Mbps and 100Mbps. Of course, that all depends on a ton of factors, the biggest one being the time of day.
Surprisingly, the sound quality on the ZTE ZMAX PRO is actually pretty darn good. ZTE was smart enough to put a bump on either side of the speaker on the back of the device. This helped make the speaker better, even though it is still on the backside of the phone. The reason why this matters is because those bumps will raise the smartphone up just a tad, when it's sitting on a table. It's enough for sound to come out and not be muffled. And actually sound good. The ZTE ZMAX PRO speaker is nice and loud, even when holding the device. The sound quality is actually really good as well. Obviously it's not HiFi audio, like what you get in the ZTE AXON PRO and the AXON 7, but still respectable.
As far as software is concerned, the ZTE ZMAX PRO is running Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow and that is paired with the June 1st, 2016 security patch. It's pretty surprising to see it sporting the June 2016 patch, especially seeing as cheaper smartphones like the ZTE ZMAX PRO typically come out with older versions of software. While it's not the latest, it is pretty new. However, it's tough to say whether we'll see constant updates for the ZTE ZMAX PRO. And again, that's due to this not being their flagship smartphone (that's the ZTE Axon 7 for now) which will get more attention than the ZMAX PRO, obviously.
ZTE has stuck with a relatively stock version of Android here on the ZMAX PRO. Which is a great thing as it means updates should be easier, but you also get all of the features from AOSP here. Including Doze, and Google Now on Tap. Speaking of Google Now on Tap, you access it the same way that you would on any other smartphone. Just long-press the capacitive home button, and you're all set. Unfortunately, ZTE isn't using the Google Now Launcher - of course, you can install that from the Google Play Store - but their launcher is pretty decent. It's not jam-packed with features, but it does its job. The app drawer scrolls vertically, and has a search bar at the top. Close to what you get with the Google Now Launcher, but the most-used apps aren't included here.
The notification panel here is pretty familiar looking, although it is transparent, unlike stock Android. One swipe down and you have access to four quick settings (which are customizable), by default these include Bluetooth, WiFi, Data and Location, along with a brightness slider down below it. Of course, if you pull down the notification shade again, you'll make the other two rows visible. When it comes to notifications, ZTE has added something pretty cool. Swipe the notification from right to left and you'll get the option to no longer notify you of notifications from that app.
The only other real change to the software here on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow is the ability to change the navigation keys. If you jump into the settings, you'll see the option to change them. Unfortunately, there's not many options here for changing up the navigation keys. You can keep the back button on the left side and recent apps on the right, which is the default option. The other option just flips these around.
ZTE has done a good job with software here on the ZMAX PRO. It's not perfect, and not everyone is going to love what's going on here. But it does offer up plenty of features to keep users happy. And what's even more important than all of that, is the fact that the software is very fluid and there's not a single hint of lag here at all. Which is to be expected with the Snapdragon 617 processor, which might be slow at times, but Google has done a good job at optimizing Android in the last few years to make Android run better on lower-end specs.
The camera app here on the ZTE ZMAX PRO is definitely not the stock camera app. It's pretty heavily customized, and offers plenty of great features and modes. Of course, it defaults to an auto mode that works pretty well - in fact all of the pictures taken in the gallery below were through the auto mode. There are a few other modes included like slow-motion, multi-exposure and panorama. There's also manual mode here. The manual mode here allows you to change the shutter speed, ISO, exposure, white balance and much more. Making it easy for you to get the perfect shot from the ZMAX PRO's camera. The UI is pretty easy to use, even though it has plenty of features and settings available for users.
Now when it comes to the quality of the pictures coming from the ZTE ZMAX PRO, they are actually surprisingly good. As you can see from the gallery below, many of the images came out stunningly good. A bit surprising, given that most smartphones in this price range have issues with noise, especially in low-light conditions. But the ZTE ZMAX PRO doesn't have that issue at all. Which is quite good, to be honest. Now, like with most smartphone cameras, if you zoom in at all, the pictures will likely break down. But for the most part, you'll get some great images from this camera.
Battery Life: As expected, the 3400mAh more than delivers a solid day of usage.
Display: Despite it being a 1080p display, it's still pretty decent, even at 6-inches
Performance: Even though the Snapdragon 617 has a reputation for being pretty warm and sometimes slow, the performance of the ZTE ZMAX PRO was actually really good. Not flagship good, but still good.
Size: Spec-wise this is a 6-inch device, but it definitely doesn't feel like that in the hand. Which is good for anyone wanting a larger display without having a huge smartphone.
Availability: Unfortunately, the ZTE ZMAX PRO is exclusive to MetroPCS (it will work on T-Mobile though). It's unfortunate because ZTE could sell this as an unlocked smartphone and likely sell a boatload of them.
Capacitive keys: Some will like them, but ZTE could have shaved off some more bezel at the bottom of the smartphone by using on-screen buttons instead of capacitive keys.
RAM: 2GB of RAM is enough, for now. But the real question is whether or not this small amount of RAM will be enough 6 months from now. It likely won't, and that's something that users will have to deal with.
The ZTE ZMAX PRO is a whole lot of phone, both literally and figuratively, for the price. This 6-inch smartphone is probably one of the best on the market right now. ZTE has checked a whole lot of boxes with this smartphone. But again, putting it on just MetroPCS in the US, is going to be a big issue for ZTE. Especially since they are looking to pick up more momentum here in the US. Hopefully there is another model that ZTE will make available unlocked, like their Axon 7.
Should I buy the ZTE ZMAX PRO?
Definitely, but only if you are on MetroPCS. You can get it if you are on T-Mobile, but you'll need to have service with MetroPCS for 3 months before you can use it on T-Mobile, or any other GSM network. The ZTE ZMAX PRO is probably the best smartphone under $200 (it's $179 normally, MetroPCS is offering a $80 instant rebate, knocking it down to $99), even better than the Moto G4 and Moto G4 Plus, especially if you are looking for a large screen device.