The ZTE Kis 3 Max is a budget Android smartphone with an incredibly low price of just £54.99 SIM free. It can even be had for less, with Argos offering the handset with a Virgin Media SIM card for just £30, though you do need to buy a £10 top-up at the same time.
At this price point the ZTE Kis 3 Max is up against the Huawei Ascend Y530 and the Nokia Lumia 530 at the ultra-low end of the market. Even then the Kis 3 Max is still cheaper than both phones, with the Ascend Y530 available for around £85 and the Lumia 530 selling for as low as £60.
ZTE has previously shown with handsets like the ZTE Blade Q Mini that it can do a good job of building a decent handset for an excellent price.
Will the ZTE Kis 3 Max be another successful budget phone, or have there been too many compromises in order to reach that ultra-low price?
Considering its price, the ZTE Kis 3 Max is quite an attractive smartphone. Its flat, rectangular chassis is reminiscent of Sony's design for the much more expensive Xperia Z3 Compact.
There's little chance that you would mistake the ZTE Kis 3 Max for a flagship phone, but at first glance you wouldn't think it cost as little as £60 either. In comparison, the standard ZTE Kis 3 has a more rounded and traditional design that makes it look like a cheap handset.
When directly compared the design of the ZTE Kis 3 Max looks far nicer and has a more expensive feel, even if the price between the two handsets isn't that much.
On the front of the handset the bezels that surround the 4.5-inch screen are pleasantly thin, giving prominence to the screen and making it comfortable to hold.
Below the screen, the three standard Android buttons (Back, Home and Recents) are given a minimalist makeover that drops the icons in favour of two dots either side of a circle.
It suits the aesthetics of the handset well, though if you're not used to Android you may be confused about what the buttons do at first.
The dimensions of the phone are 132mm x 66mm x 9.1mm, making the ZTE Kis 3 Max comfortable to hold in the hand. I was particularly impressed with the 9.1mm thickness of the chassis, which again helps give the ZTE Kis 3 Max a stylish look normally found with more expensive handsets.
The ZTE Kis 3 Max weighs 135 grams which gives it a solid feeling heft without being uncomfortable to hold.
In contrast to the front of the handset, which is mainly glass, the back of the chassis is plastic with a matt feel which makes it easy to hold.
On the bottom-left hand corner of the back is a small speaker. If you're holding the ZTE Kis 3 Max in your left hand then the placement of the speaker isn't much of a problem. However if you're right-handed you'll find that the speaker gets muffled by your palm.
Also on the back is the camera lens, a small LED flash and an understated ZTE logo that compliments the minimalist design of the Kis 3 Max.
Each side of the ZTE Kis 3 Max's chassis is made of silver coloured plastic. On the left side is a micro USB port for charging and on the right is the power button and volume controls.
Removing the back of the chassis reveals a removable battery, SIM card and microSD slot.
Overall I was very impressed with the design of the ZTE Kis 3 Max, which is a good looking and well-built device considering its low price. The minimalist and stylish aesthetics make it look more expensive than it actually is.
The biggest selling point of the ZTE Kis 3 Max is its very low price. At £64.99 (which includes £10 top-up from Virgin Mobile). It's one of the cheapest smartphones on the market.
In pursuit of this low price, ZTE has cut back on features and specifications. Don't expect a stunning high definition screen here: the 4.5-inch screen comes with a 480 x 854 resolution. This gives the ZTE Kis 3 Max a pixel density of 218 ppi. The low pixel count results in a screen that is sometimes blurry and lifeless.
The VodafoneSmart 4 mini, which at £50 is slightly cheaper than the ZTE Kis 3, comes with a 4-inch display running at 480 x 800 pixels and a pixel density of just 233ppi. It's not a great screen by any measure, but still looks sharper than the Kis 3 Max's.
The similarly-priced Lumia 530 manages the same 480 x 854 resolution as the Kis 3 but in a smaller screen size of 4-inches, giving it a pixel density of 245ppi.
While it is understandable that the ZTE Kis 3 Max doesn't come with an eye-poppingly vibrant screen, its competitors show that a smaller screen size can result in a more impressive display.
I'll go into more detail about the hardware specifications of the ZTE Kis 3 Max later on in this review, but as expected the handset isn't very powerful with a dual core 1.3GHz processor and 512MB of RAM.
Because of the low price it almost feels uncharitable to knock the low specs of the ZTE Kis 3 Max. The Nokia Lumia 530 packs a quad-core processor in for the same price but both the Huawei Ascend Y530 and Vodafone Smart 4 mini have similar dual-core CPUs.
All the handsets also sport 512MB of RAM, which is the norm for handsets around this price point. It does mean that the ZTE Kis 3 Max will show the strain as time goes by and more intensive apps are released.
The ZTE Kis 3 Max also comes with just 4GB of internal storage, a pretty paltry amount but again not uncommon for devices in this price range. Straight out of the box you only get 1.27GB of usable space due to the preinstalled apps and operating system. If you're looking to take photos or store songs and videos on the handset, you can expand the storage space with a microSD card - the Kis 3 Max supports these up to 32GB in size.
This puts it on a par with its closest competitors. However, with slightly better specs the ZTE Kis 3 Max could have had a better shot at standing out from the crowd. Slightly more powerful components would have jeopardised the low price of the Kis 3 Max, but while a £60 smartphone is cheap now, it doesn't work out quite as cost effective if you have to upgrade in a year.
Another key feature of the ZTE Kis 3 Max is that it comes with Android 4.4 KitKat already installed. Other handsets around the same price point come with older, less feature-rich versions of Android, so it's nice to see ZTE include the current version of Android.
ZTE has rightfully made a big deal about the inclusion of Android 4.4, and the handset benefits from a number of new features that come with that version of Google's mobile operating system. However Android 5.0 Lollipop is just around the corner. I've contacted ZTE to see if there are any plans to update the Kis 3 Max to Android 5.0 and have been told that it won't be upgraded.
If you've been eyeing up the new features that Google is implementing in the upcoming Android 5.0 then you'll want to avoid the Kis 3 Max, as it won't be benefiting from them.
Because of the low price of the ZTE Kis 3 Max I wasn't expecting an impressive spec list. Compromises have obviously been made to keep the asking price as low as possible, which is why the Kis 3 Max ships with just a dual core 1.3GHz processor and 512MB of RAM.
These are similar specs to its closest competitors, but with the Kis 3 Max running the recent Android 4.4 operating system I was worried that the handset's performance would suffer.
In day-to-day use of the stock Android installed on the Kis 3 Max there is noticeable lag when moving through menus or opening apps. For example, the YouTube app took around three seconds to load when launched.
Once loaded, YouTube videos seemed to play fine, though there is a pause of a second or so when you turn the phone to a landscape position to view videos in full screen.
I also encountered a few Wi-Fi problems and in the end resorted to using the mobile data connection instead. The ZTE Kis 3 Max isn't 4G capable, so if you're after a fast mobile internet connection it's worth paying a bit more for a budget 4G handset like the EE Kestrel which has better specs, fast 4G LTE connectivity and costs £99 (including £10 of EE credit).
I then fired up the Facebook app, which also comes preinstalled. As with the YouTube app, it took a few seconds to load and then a few more to connect to Facebook and display the information. Scrolling down my timeline was a bit of a chore, with frequent stuttering.
These pauses were only brief, but they were frequent enough to mar the experience. Posts with photos would often take a second to load the images, and overall it felt that the Kis 3 Max was struggling to keep up with even basic use.
The fact that slight pauses were common when using apps and the operating system made using the Kis 3 Max rather frustrating. For example, clicking the home button doesn't take you back to the home screen straight away. Instead, there is a slight pause. During one of these pauses I ended up irritably tapping the home button, which didn't help matters.
If you're the patient sort then you might be more forgiving of the Kis 3 Max's performance. However, if you want a smartphone that quickly brings up apps, social media, websites and more for a quick browse before you put it back in your pocket, you'll be sorely disappointed with the Kis 3 Max.
I fired up the graphically intensive Real Racing 3 driving game to see if the Kis 3 Max's Mali-400 GPU could handle it. It soon became apparent that it couldn't. After a long wait for the game to load, the opening cutscene juddered into life with a pretty poor frame rate. I wasn't actually able to play any of the game as the app soon crashed, throwing me back to the home screen.
The Kis 3 Max is exclusive to Virgin Media and although the stock Android doesn't come with any ZTE or Virgin-flavoured interfaces, it does include a number of pre-installed Virgin Media apps.
These apps include Simple Wi-Fi which runs in the background and connects the device to appropriate Wi-Fi hotspots when you're out and about.
The Virgin Cloud app lets you store files in online storage (which is actually run by F-Secure). Virgin Media customers get 5GB of storage free. You can buy larger capacity, with prices starting at £3.99 for 50GB of storage, which isn't too bad at all.
The Virgin Media TV Anywhere apps is probably the most interesting. It allows Virgin Media customers to watch live TV on the handset as well as manage their TiVo set-top box to arrange recordings.
It's a useful app but not really a selling point for the ZTE Kis 3 Max as it can be installed from both the Google Play Store and iTunes on to other devices. Because the Kis 3 Max is 3G only, you'll probably not use this app quite as much as Virgin Media hopes.
I found the performance of the ZTE Kis 3 Max during regular use isn't too great, and when I ran the Geekbench 3 benchmarks to see how it compares to its competitors, the results confirmed by impressions. The Kis 3 Max scored 585 in the multi-core tests, putting it behing the Huawei Ascend Y530, which scored 605.
Battery and the essentials
The ZTE Kis 3 Max comes with a 1,850mAh battery that can easily be removed and replaced.
On paper the Kis 3 Max's battery is apparently able to last up to 700 hours on standby, with 13-and-a-half hours of talk time. I found that in real day-to-day use the Kis 3 Max lasted a full 24 hours with a bit of juice left over. This involved browsing the internet on both Wi-Fi and cellular, listening to music, and making a call.
The 1,850mAh capacity of the Kis 3 Max is larger than the Vodafone Smart 4 Mini, which comes with just a 1,400mAh battery. The Kis 3 Max's battery also beats the Huawei Ascend Y530 and the Nokia Lumia 530, which come with 1,700mAh and 1,430mAh batteries, respectively.
Because of the low-powered components and low resolution display of the ZTE Kis 3 Max, the battery isn't under all that much pressure. It also doesn't support battery-draining 4G, and its technical limitations mean you're unlikely to be playing demanding games.
The fact that you won't use it as much as more powerful smartphones is ambivalent as selling points go, but the Kis 3 Max holds battery well and could be a decent choice if you needed a spare phone that will last a couple of days without charging. The Kis 3 Max could be just the ticket for camping or festivals - but check you'll have Virgin Media network coverage before you go.
Certain tasks drained the battery faster than others though, with around eight minutes of photography outdoors knocking 8% off the battery. The TechRadar battery test (which plays a looped high definition video with the screen at full brightness) cut the Kis 3 Max's battery to 69%. Although this is slightly better than how the Lumia 530 fared (its battery dropped to 66% during the same test), it's not a great result by any measure.
The Huawei Ascend Y530 did a better job of holding on to its battery, ending up with 74% charge after the test.
Unlike other smartphones around its price point, the Kis 3 Max doesn't come with any battery saving features that you can quickly switch on to preserve battery life. You can view battery use and see which apps are particularly power hungry through the settings, but that's about it.
The Kis 3 Max isn't impressive when playing games or being used for more intensive apps. This doesn't make it completely useless, and for the essential task of making and receiving calls it does a fair enough job.
Call quality is good, with voices coming through nice and clear. I haven't had much experience with the Virgin Media network, but during my time with the ZTE Kis 3 Max I had no problem getting signal. Admittedly most of my time was spent in a city where you would expect pretty good signal, though this isn't always the case.
A quick look at Virgin Media's UK coverage shows that most of the UK is covered, so you shouldn't have too much trouble connecting. Virgin Media actually uses the EE network, so if you can get EE reception, you'll get a Virgin Media signal as well.
Sending text messages uses the default Android app, which means the Kis 3 Max is perfectly competent here. The keyboard does a decent job of keeping up with fast typing, though I found the keyboard to be less accurate when using swipe gestures to spell words.
Things start to fall apart when using the ZTE Kis 3 Max for internet browsing, which these days is arguably just as essential as being able to make calls and send text messages.
The ZTE Kis 3 Max comes with two pre-installed browsers. The default Browser app does an OK job, but most websites (especially image heavy ones) aren't displayed properly. Chrome is also installed, and although it handles websites better, scrolling is a chore because the Kis 3 Max struggles to keep up.
As I saw when using the Facebook app, scrolling is far from smooth, with frequent pauses that make browsing websites a chore. Images again take a while to display properly, which isn't the fault of the network, as I browsed on both 3G and Wi-Fi and both times the internet experience was disappointing.
As the ZTE Kis 3 Max runs the stock version of Android 4.4 KitKat you get access to the Google Play store and all the apps in it. That gives the Kis 3 Max a versatility that some budget smartphones lack. It comes with an accelerometer, gyro and built-in compass, so it can even be used with fitness and other advanced apps.
However once again the poor specs and performance of the Kis 3 Max mean that certain apps, especially complicated and intensive ones, don't perform very well.
Media playback is another feature that we often consider essential for a smartphone. The ZTE Kis 3 Max uses the Google Play Music app for playing stored music as well as buying and downloading new tunes.
The small 4GB onboard storage is the limitation here, and if you want to keep more than a few albums worth of tracks you'll need to buy an SD card. Sound quality over headphones was pretty poor, with music sounding tinny and flat, even when using a decent pair of cans.
Watching films is handled by the Google Play Movies & TV app. It gives you a range of films and TV shows that you can download or stream, but trying to get the Kis 3 Max to run videos I transferred over to the device via USB proved annoying, with the app not always finding them. Instead I had to find the apps through the File Browser app.
The ZTE Kis 3 Max comes with a 5MP rear camera along with a decent set of features for its price, including autofocus, geo-tagging, touch focus, face detection and panorama.
The images I took with the Kis 3 Max weren't too bad, and I've certainly seen worse image quality with cameras at this price range. Colour reproduction was accurate and there was a decent amount of detail captured, something that cameras on budget smartphones often miss, like on the Vodafone Smart 4 Power.
I also tried the panorama mode, but that didn't seem to work. The camera app also felt laggy at times, due to the underpowered components.
The biggest problem was when I first loaded up the camera app. I was only able to take two photos before a warning message appeared saying the camera was out of memory and that I would need to either delete some files or add an SD card.
Luckily I had an SD card on me, which allowed me to continue snapping photos. I hadn't had the Kis 3 Max all that long, and I only had a few extra apps, one song and a video file saved to the handset's internal memory so I wasn't too impressed with being told the memory had been filled up so quickly.
The Kis 3 Max also features a 2 megapixel front facing camera which is pretty generous for a camera at this price range, and the 'selfie' shots I took with the front camera were definitely some of the better quality ones I've seen.
The ZTE Kis 3 Max can also record video at 720p resolution at 30 frames per second. Although I was pleasantly surprised with the still photo quality of both the front and rear cameras, video footage wasn't great, with artefacts and a slight judder undermining image quality.
Smartphones such as the ZTE Kis 3 Max often pose a problem for reviewers. There's no denying that at just under £60 this is a very cheap smartphone and offers a number of features that wouldn't have been thought possible a few years ago at this price point.
Because it's so cheap we can't really expect stellar specifications, and knocking a handset that costs so little for poor performance might seem a little unfair. However, the Kis 3 Max falls down in a number of ways that just aren't acceptable – no matter how much you've paid for it.
When I first unpacked the Kis 3 Max my hopes were raised as it's a very good looking phone, especially considering its budget price (which is a plus point on its own). While other manufacturers might not spend too much time worrying about what their budget offerings look like and give them perfunctory designs, ZTE has evidently thought long and hard about how the Kis 3 Max looks. The camera was also pleasantly surprising considering the price, for still photos at least.
We didn't like
Sadly there were quite a few things I didn't like about the Kis 3 Max. The low price meant I wasn't expecting particularly strong specifications, but a cheap price tag can only excuse so much.
My time with the Kis 3 Max was plagued by pauses and crashes, which revealed that the phone just isn't up to the task of running Android 4.4 and a lot of modern apps. Games, media and internet browsing were particularly problematic.
Unfortunately just because the Kis 3 Max has a low price it doesn't mean it's good value. Far too many corners have been cut in the hardware department to make the handset enjoyable to use. Frequent pauses kept Android 4.4 from running as smoothly as we expect.
You might be tempted to buy the Kis 3 Max because it is just £60, however you'd be much better off spending £40 to £50 extra to get a more competent and future-proof budget phone, such as the HTCDesire 510. It's a shame because it has such a nice design. If ZTE had put in slightly better components it might not have had such a cheap phone, but it would have been a lot more attractive.
Sure, the Kis 3 Max handles calls and text fine, but these days we expect a little more from our handsets. The Kis 3 Max fails to deliver in many regards, and its ultra-low price can't excuse that.