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The Bottom Line
Bright and vivid screen
Long lasting battery life
Good build quality
Unwieldy in the hand
Weak sounding speaker
With great battery life, a large and vivid screen, and a $200 price tag, the ZTE Grand X Max+ is the best budget-friendly phablet you can buy.
There is no shortage of mid-range, budget-friendly smartphones in the Android world, but the options do start to get somewhat limited when it comes to ultra-large smartphones in this price range. A new addition in this category, is from ZTE, but apart from its large display, what does the company’s latest offering have to make it stand out from the rest? We find out in this detailed review of the ZTE Grand X Max+
Things are quite simple and straightforward in terms of design, with ZTE not aiming for anything too flashy with this device. The front and back panels are made of glass, which can be a fingerprint magnet, with the latter featuring a carbon fiber pattern that gives the phone a little bit of flair. Holding it all together is a plastic frame, with the top and bottom portions of the phone being slightly more rounded than the rest. Overall, the Grand X Max+ features a solid build quality and feels very well constructed.
With the words grand, max, and plus all together in the name of this device, you get what you’d be expecting in terms of size, with this phone boasting a large 6-inch display, that puts it squarely in the phablet category. As such, the device is quite unwieldy in the hand, not helped by the thick bezels, sharp corners, and relatively flat profile.
With a 6 inch screen on the front, this will be a phone that many will consider way to big and it certainly isn’t easy to use in one hand. There’s no denying this is a large phone and the thick side bezels, sharp corners, and relatively flat profile all the way around makes this phone feel pretty unwieldy in the hand. The material choices of smooth plastic and glass don’t exactly provide a lot grip for the phone, either.
The power button is found on the right side below the SIM card and microSD card slots, with button placed within easy reach reach, with the volume rocker on the opposite side. The headphone jack and the microUSB port are placed at the top and bottom respectively. Up front is a notification LED located next to the front-facing camera, along with the earpiece and usual sensors.
As mentioned, the Grand X Max+ boasts a 6-inch LCD display, with a standard mid-range resolution of 1280 x 720. Unfortunately, given the large size of this screen, the pixel density isn’t that great at 245 ppi, meaning that pixels are noticeable if you look closely enough. That said, the screen still looks quite good for everyday tasks including watching videos and playing games, with the large screen allowing for a fantastic media experience. Color saturation, brightness, outdoor visibility, and viewing angles are all good, with very little color shifting, making this a very enjoyable display all around.
Performance and Hardware
Things continue to remain decidedly mid-range on the hardware side of things as well. With regards to performance, the Grand X Max+ features the quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor, clocked at 1.2 GHz, and backed by the Adreno 305 GPU and 2 GB of RAM. This processing package is increasingly becoming the standard as far as mid-range smartphones are concerned, and we’ve already seen some impressive performances from it with other devices, which is also the case here.
Navigating around the elements of the user interface, opening and closing applications, and multi-tasking are all admirably handled by the device, and most games, including first person shooters and 3D racing games like Asphalt 8 also ran smoothly without much of a hiccup. As such, performance is one aspect where everything should be more than adequate and won’t result in a lot of complaints. Granted, the Grand X Max+ isn’t going to create any new benchmarking records, but it doesn’t set out to, and the Snapdragon 400 has proven itself many times before, and continues to do so this time around as well.
The Grand X Max+ offers a standard suite of connectivity options, including support for high-speed internet, via LTE, on the Cricket Wireless network. 16 GB of on-board storage can be further enhanced up to 32 GB via microSD card, if what is available isn’t enough. There is a single speaker located on the back of the phone, denoted by a tiny slit in the glass. Apart from the poor placement of the speaker, resulting in it being muffled very easily when laying the phone down on a flat surface, the speaker volume itself is fairly low, making it difficult to hear anything save for in the quietest of environments.
Battery life is probably one of the better aspects of the Grand X Max+. Inside is a very large 3,200 mah battery, that with basic usage like texting, checking in on social networks, and light web browsing, keeps the phone running for as long as two days, with 5 hours of screen-on time. Battery life is also helped by the fantastic standby time, with the device losing just 2-3% of battery life overnight. With heavier tasks like gaming and taking a lot of pictures, the Grand X Max+ is still able to easily last an entire day, with screen-on time passing the 4 hour mark.
On the camera front, the Grand X Max+ features a 13 MP rear shooter, and a 5 MP front-facing unit that comes with an 88 degree wide angle lens. The front-facing camera not only allows for some great looking self-portraits, but also the ability to easily fit a lot into the frame.
The camera application includes three different shooting modes to cater to a variety of users. For the regular everyday casual picture taker, the automatic mode helps keep things simple, with modes like HDR and a short list of general camera settings available on the left side. Taping on the viewfinder will adjust the point of focus, but exposure is fixed based on the scenery. For the more advanced user, the PRO mode allows for manual control over white balance, ISO, and exposure, and introduces other elements onto the screen like a horizon leveler and a camera grid. The third mode is what ZTE likes to call the Fun mode, which brings about several different options for layering images together, either on top of one another or side by side, to achieve a certain effect.
The picture quality, however, is what’s going to matter most, and the camera has turned out to be at best a decent shooter. Its autofocus is fairly quick, and the majority of the time, photos will come out clear and in focus. The biggest weakness to this camera is its lack of dynamic range though, as it tends to blow out the highlights and crush the shadows almost every single time. HDR certainly will alleviate the issue, and I’d almost recommend shooting in HDR at all times if it wasn’t for the long processing times between shots. It’s also very aggressive in its color saturation, and not everyone will like that. Close up shots are also pretty difficult with this camera, as it struggles to grab focus, with this problem becoming even more apparent in low light conditions. Speaking of low light, the camera doesn’t bode well in these situations either. Not only is there a lot of digital noise, but they’re also very dark and muddy in appearance. However, even with all of its issues, it’s one of the better cameras you can get on a smartphone in this price range, with images that are certainly still good enough for social media.
The Grand X Max+ is currently on Android 4.4.4 kitkat with a custom overlay by ZTE. Unlike other versions of ZTE’s skin, or other chinese OEM skins in general, this device does come with an app drawer, that certainly allows for a more standard Android experience.
The odd combination of the holo blue from Jelly Bean, white from Kitkat, and some green thrown into the mix doesn’t make it the prettiest of skins out there. The amount of features are minimal, but they do include things like customizable quick launch shortcuts on the lockscreen, and what ZTE likes to call MI-POP, that puts virtual navigation keys on a floating bubble for easier one-handed navigation. A few bloatware applications can be found, along with some Cricket specific apps, but other than that the experience is pretty tame, and the OS doesn’t try to do too much.
Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
Android 4.4.4 Kitkat
162.1 x 83.1 x 7.9 mm
Pricing and Final Thoughts
The ZTE Grand X Max+ is available now on the Cricket network in the US for $200 off-contract, making it one of the more easily affordable large-screen smartphones out there.
So there you have it – the ZTE Grand X Max+! For the price of only $200, ZTE was able to create a very formidable package. The design might not be too flashy, but it provides a great overall experience, and most importantly great battery life. The 6-inch screen size will make many consider the Grand X Max+ to be very outside the realm of comfortable, but if you’re looking for a large screen without paying a large price, then this is definitely a solid option worth considering.