Owning a phone doesn’t mean having to endure a costly investment. The times have changed, obviously, since phone makers are making it more affordable than ever to own a smartphone. Take for instance ZTE, who for the longest time placed its attention on making entry-level devices that were easy on the pockets, but is making a significant charge yet again by upping the ante with its latest affordable option.
Most people agree that sub-$200 is pretty aggressive for brand new phones, however, ZTE thinks that more can be done. Cutting that cost in half, the ZTE ZMAX Pro is undeniably tempting with its hard-to-resist price of $99.00 – and that’s all you’re going to have to pay for it. This threshold might not be anything new for the pre-paid market, but what makes it impressive is the fact that it’s slapped with a handy fingerprint sensor, something you wouldn’t expect in something price like this.
The first order of business with the design is its size, something that’s arguably going be the biggest deal breaker for people. It’s a mighty big phone that pushes it well into the phablet category, so it’s quite honestly a handful to operate. Being so wide and all, two-handed operation is going to be the preferred method with the ZMAX Pro, since one hand operation is nearly impossible unless you have larger-than-average hands.
Size aside, ZTE has actually fashioned it with a pleasant design that doesn’t make it feel like a phone in its price range. The soft touch matte finish of the rear combined with the faux-metal bezel are nice touches, pushing it well beyond the context of being “cheaply” made. We really didn’t think that a phone could be this decent looking and constructed, just because phones under the $100 threshold tend to be sub-par in terms of this.
Despite its gargantuan size, they’re mindful about the placement of the power and volume keys – they’re positioned on the right edge, making them accessible to the thumb. Meanwhile, a USB Type-C port is found on the bottom, ensuring that it’s going to be compatible with whatever USB-Type C accessories that are beginning to come out now.
Dominating its façade is a 6-inch 1080p TFT LCD display with Gorilla Glass 3, which is again something you wouldn’t think of getting with a sub-$100 smartphone. Better yet, the fact that they’ve opted to go with 1080p resolution shows that they want to make a statement – implicitly saying that phones of this caliber deserve more. And to that, it’s nice to know that it’s sufficiently detailed enough to make out.
In looking at the other aspects of the display, however, it indicates that it has an extremely colder color temperature than most at roughly 8000K. It’s far from that ideal reference value of 6500K, which makes whites appear bluish in tone. Moving onto color accuracy with this TFT LCD display, it’s a miss on nearly all fronts – including the color teal, which is probably the easiest color to reproduce accurately. All of the values in the sRGB color gamut chart miss their intended target reference marks, where magenta and teal in particular are heavily influenced by blue.
Even though it reaches a peak brightness output of 460 nits, the overall tone of the display seems washed out. Sure, we dig the specs for a phone of this caliber, but our testing reveals that its characteristic aren’t quite up to the levels you’d find in some pricier things. Then again, should we be surprised by this revelation?
Performance & Hardware
Given its price point, the Snapdragon 617 chip makes perfect sense in powering this affordable smartphone. Paired with 2GB of RAM, it suffices for the basic stuff, but it’s not suited to do more intensive operations – gaming in particular, where it exhibits too much choppiness for it to be a candidate. Okay, it’s not the gaming type, nor is it for power users who demand a lot more, but on a base level, its hardware combination is enough to get by.
For $99.00, we’re actually pretty stoked to know it’s packing 32GB of internal storage. Best of all, too, you can supplement its capacity because there’s a microSD slot on hand. It’s a feature that people probably wouldn’t expect to find in a phone with its price, but it’s a delightful that they opted to offer it.
Something that adds a lot more value to the phone is the fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone, it’s an unexpected treat quite honestly. Given that it’s a feature that’s relatively uncommon in entry-level phones, you can say that we feel a teeny bit spoiled to find it. As for the sensor itself, it’s slightly recessed, but works well in adding that extra layer of security. In addition to simply just unlocking the phone, it can also be used to quick open an app, take a photo, or answer a phone call.
Increasingly becoming a standard for ZTE’s phones, the ZMAX Pro features capacitive buttons beneath the display. Unfortunately, the two dots flanking the home button can’t be programmed for anything else besides acting as the back and recent apps functions. In the rear and towards the left corner, we can make out the speaker grill, which emits a decent volume output, but doesn’t pack a whole lot of substance with its quality.
Conducting phones calls is a breeze with this one, thanks in part to the loud volume out of its earpiece and speakerphone – it’s potent enough to use in noisy conditions. Accompanying the strong volumes, we have clear and distinctive voices as well that solidifies its performance in this area. On the other end of the line, too, our callers didn’t have any problems discerning our voice.
The single most underrated portion about the ZMAX Pro in our opinion is its battery, a modest 3500 mAh cell to be exact. Considering the phone’s gigantic size, you might think it could’ve been larger, but don’t be fooled because when it’s paired with the screen’s 1080p resolution and Snapdragon 617 processor, it delivers longevity like no other. In fact, we’re able to get through a solid 2 days of battery life – and even into the start of a third day.
Using the included USB Type-C charger, it takes approximately 125 minutes to fully recharge its battery. That mark might not be close to some of the fastest recharging phones out there, but it’s not the slowest either at doing it.
In all fairness, the area where we see the biggest disparity in terms of quality against higher-priced alternatives is the performance in its cameras. For the ZTE ZMAX Pro, it relies on a combination consisting of a 13MP rear camera and a 5MP front-facing one. There’s nothing fanciful about them, nor the accompanying hardware – they’re just as ordinary as any other low priced phone. Running the camera app, there’s a decent mixture of modes and options at our disposal, like its manual mode, which people will probably appreciate having in a phone like this.
Regrettably, the phone’s biggest weakness is exposed here with the cameras – there’s just nothing spectacular about their performances. It’s okay enough to use for outdoor shots when lighting is ample, but there’s a noticeable level of over-sharpening, which seems to try and compensate for the rear camera’s softer details capture. Under low light, however, things take a dip even more as details become more speckled in tone. And finally, the HDR mode seems to just boost the contrast with shadows, making images appear a bit overblown.
Moving onto video capture, which tops out at 1080p resolution, the results don’t improve much at all, as the general performance is similar to its still shot capture. Over-sharpening again is evident here, but this time, videos tend to have an under-exposed tone to them. And don’t bother using it under low light, just because noise and its muddy results don’t make it flattering to watch.
Purists will love that the ZTE ZMAX Pro is mostly running a stock experience. In particular, it’s running Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, which has the general look and feel of stock Android. Anyone getting into Android will have an easy time getting acquainted, since it’s pretty streamlined and straightforward. Yes, there’s some bloatware from MetroPCS, but given that it’s at the mercy of the company, it’s something you’d expect.
Power users, though, will probably feel that the experience isn’t up to snuff with their demands. Multi-tasking is generally reserved to just apps switching with the recent apps menu, but you won’t find any other enhanced features that would aid in its productivity. The biggest question with the phone, much like most budget stuff, is whether or not it’ll get upgraded to the next version of Android in a timely manner.
Owning a cheap phone no longer means you’re getting a cheap phone, that’s just not the case anymore after checking out the ZTE ZMAX Pro. The $99.00 price tag it’s stickered with is without a doubt an aggressive move on its part, especially more given its phablet-esque stature and the inclusion of a fingerprint sensor. These are two things in particular that you wouldn’t expect to find in a phone in its price range, but that’s the beauty about it – you do get them!
Pricing is quite favorable here, but there are some other factors that’ll dictate your decision to buy it. First of all, this is strictly a MetroPCS exclusive, so you’ll have to settle with that reality if you intend to reap the benefits of its incredible pricing. This is arguably a factor that’ll limit its overall reach, as being confined to one carrier means it won’t get as much face time face time from consumers. And secondly, there are still some sub-par qualities with it – such as the inaccuracies with the display and over-sharpening effect with its cameras.
Then again, these compromises can be overlooked due to its price point, which again is the focal point here with the ZTE ZMAX Pro. At the end of the day, it’s a worthy recommendation if you’re on a tight budget.