Finding the right affordable smartphone may be harder than finding a needle in a haystack, especially when you stick to prepaid offerings. We have the iconic Moto G’s and Moto Es, which definitely serve their purpose, but a lot of us are tired of the same cookie-cutter smartphones in the prepaid market. We want something different.
And if you go outside this new category of what we currently know as “acceptable” mid-tier devices, you are likely to find yourself in disappointment. So where do we find this missing link between affordability, fair performance and decent build quality?
The industry is moving forward and a few manufacturers are answering your geeky prayers. Among them is ZTE, who has decided to jump into this competitive market with both feet in. We are tough judges when it comes to these mid-end smartphones, especially in the USA, a market ZTE is trying to penetrate and has some very worthy competitors. Can today’s contender pass our test?
The Chinese manufacturer has sent us the super-sized ZTE Grand X Max+ for review. It’s priced $219.99 off-contract from the popular prepaid carrier Cricket Wireless. We have used and abused it, so let’s jump into this review and see how it fares.
ZTE Grand X Max+ specs
- Android 4.4.4 KitKat
- 6-inch 1280x720p display
- 1.2 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor
- 2 GB of RAM
- 16 GB of internal storage (expandable via MicroSD by up to 32 GB)
- 13 MP rear-facing camera with LED flash
- 5 MP front-facing camera
- 3200 mAh battery
- 4G LTE
- 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS
- 6.38 x 3.27 x 0.31 inches
- 6.06 ounces
Design and build quality
While ZTE hasn’t been known for their design prowess, they have done a great job with the ZTE Grand X Max+. The phone offers a clean, square slate design without much fanfare, which makes it look like a very elegant piece of hardware.
ZTE also managed to keep the front of the device with very little bezel-to-screen ratios, giving it a form factor that is still rather large, but definitely feels smaller than other 6-inch devices. It may be important to note the phone is very light and thin for its size, which makes it feel a bit more compact.
The ZTE Grand X Max+ is also made very well. It has a glass front and back, along with a plastic construction, it feels far from a cheap phone. In fact, their design and build quality remind me a bit of Sony’s, which is definitely not a bad thing.
I can’t attest to its resistance, as I haven’t (and won’t be) dropping it on purpose. The phone does feel strong enough, though. I do believe it’s enough proof that I have been carrying this phone around for weeks and I have found no sign of significant wear and tear.
You also have to give it to ZTE for keeping expandable storage available, even if the phone is thin and has no removable back plate. The one complaint I do have is that its buttons can be a bit loose.
Size comparison between iPhone 6, HTC One M8 and ZTE Grand X Max+
Performance and software
I won’t say this phone performs like a champion, but it’s not meant to. Remember this is made with affordability in mind, and considering all the circumstances, it manages to make for a very worthy experience.
I would say its performance is better compared to that of the Moto G, which is actually saying a lot. The Moto G is known as one of the best budget smartphones around, offering the best bang for your buck. Now, the ZTE Grand X Max+ does cost a bit more than an off-contract Moto G, but it also comes with 2 GB of RAM, a better camera and 4G LTE connectivity, along with a larger display (if that is your cup of tea).
But let’s jump back to talking about performance. This device will take care of your daily tasks pretty well. That Snapdragon 400 processor keeps things pretty snappy, and the 2 GB of RAM ensure your multi-tasking experience is not harmed.
I found no problem running casual games, and it can even handle even some cool titles like Shadowgun and Asphalt 8: Airborne. Granted, you get the occasional hiccup and slower loading times, but it still gets the job done with a passable gaming experience.
Surprisingly, I am also quite a fan of the ZTE Grand X Max+’s software UI. The phone runs Android 4.4.4 KitKat under ZTE’s skin. The user interface can bee a bit cartoon-like (similar to most Asian UIs), but they did a good job at keeping it lighter than what we have seen in other smartphones.
You get simple, clean home screens you can customize to your liking, along with a row of 5 icons on the dock (which does include the app drawer). The notification area is also free of most clutter. There’s a row of widgets on top, which can be expanded with a dedicated button. Right under it is the time, a clear notifications button and a settings button. This is actually a breath of fresh air, as this is an area manufacturers are known to pack with unnecessary features.
The app drawer is probably the part of the UI that annoyed me the most, and it’s not even that bad. My only gripe was that I happen to dislike folders within the app drawer, so I was forced to manually move each icon out of its folder (ZTE and Cricket put a lot of apps in folders). It’s simple to manage after you have it all set up, though. And if you happen to like folders, it may keep you happy. You do get the ability to search within the app drawer and hide applications, so all that bloatware may not be that much of an issue.
There was a mention of an update to Android 5.0 Lollipop coming, but we haven’t heard much about that lately. Maybe they are still working on it; or it could be another lost case. We will have to wait and see how ZTE does with software updates as they try to gain popularity in the USA market.
Remember when we told you the Acer Iconia Tab 8 was living proof that affordable devices could have awesome screens? Well, the same applies to the ZTE Grand X Max+. Really, I call bullshit on any manufacturer who tries to tell you they had to sacrifice screen quality for affordability. The Moto G has a good screen; the Acer Iconia Tab 8 has a good screen; the ZTE Grand X Max+ has a good screen. And all of these cost around $200!
ZTE Grand X Max+ (left) vs iPhone 6 (right)
Now, let’s not confuse a good screen with a high-definition panel. These are different things, and though a high definition panel is part of having a competitive display, it’s not the end-al-be-all factor. You could have a great 720p display, which is what the ZTE Grand X Max+ accomplishes.
I base this argument on other factors, like brightness and color reproduction. I was actually quite surprised to see this phone’s screen the first time. The screen actually reminds me a lot of Samsung’s AMOLED technology, but this is simply labeled as an LCD panel.
ZTE Grand X Max+ (left) vs iPhone 6 (right)
This display is super bright, making it good for outdoor viewing. It also happens to have very vibrant and saturated color, which makes for an awesome experience. Unless you happen to like “true to life” colors, in which case you may find the screen to be too saturated. As I always say, though – this is not my photo/video editing screen. I don’t need my phone to look real, I want it to pop. Of course, that is a very subjective matter, though.
One thing you definitely can’t avoid noticing is the definition. As good as the screen looks, I do wish it had a 1080p resolution. 720p is nice for smaller phones, but you can really start noticing the pixels once you stretch to a 6-inch screen. You won’t be wanting to pull your eyes out either, but you can definitely notice the difference. And this one may be excusable considering the price, as the screen still looks awesome.
ZTE Grand X Max+ (left) vs iPhone 6 (right)
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to get any good results out of this camera. I mean, all affordable phones have crappy cameras, right? Turns out I was surprised once again. No, this phone’s camera won’t go up against the big guys, but I found the experience to be quite pleasant for casual photos.
Pictures were always on focus, and the camera did a great job calculating exposure and white balance. The final images were good (good… not awesome), and I happen to love ZTE’s Pro mode, so I was glad to see this phone shares the camera software with the latest camera-centric Nubia phones.
I like the Pro mode because it allows you to choose where you want the camera to focus, calculate exposure and set white balance on. You just move some figures around to help the camera make the best decision. The controls are simple and fun, yet feature-full. I am a fan (of the software, at least).
Regardless, here are some samples:
Now, if there is an area where ZTE did mess up, I will have to say it will be in sound. The sound is… just passable. The sound is loud enough, but it’s a bit mute fro my liking. Maybe it’s just unfair that I am comparing it to the HTC One M8 and the iPhone 6. I have definitely heard worse, that’s for sure, but I wouldn’t say the ZTE Grand X Max+ offers a good sound experience.
In addition, the phone lays flat on its back and has no curves, which means you will often find that whatever is under the phone will muffle the sound. In summary, it’s not a bad speaker for listening to tunes in the shower, but I would rather use an external speaker or headphones if I were to be watching a movie.
Oh, and calls. That thing none of us do anymore! Well, some do. If you are living in that age, you will be happy to know calls sound good and people on the other side told me I was loud and clear.
Large phones are known for having amazing battery life, and I am happy to report the ZTE Grand X Max+ is not the exception. This guy packs a 3200 mAh battery that has the ability to keep your phone on for days!
I was able to kill it in 13 hours of usage… once. Most of the time I went over 20 hours with average use. The kicker? Some of the times I made it a point to give it so low usage and I was able to keep it alive for well over 2 days. That is simply outstanding!
By the way, I wasn’t lowering the brightness or turning features off. I just used it lightly for emails, social networks and light browsing.
I will walk away from this review knowing that today, more than ever, good technology doesn’t have to cost a fortune. ZTE did a great job with the Grand X Max+, especially considering it costs $219.99 with activation (off-contract). Sure, it’s not the powerhouse every hard-core geek dreams of, but at this price I would say it’s about the best you can get.
If you are like me and prefer big phones, I would actually tell you this is better than the Moto G. And that is saying a lot, coming from a person that has backed Motorola’s device from the beginning.
There is really not much to dislike from the ZTE Grand X Max+. Compare it to its direct competitors and you will find it beats at least most of them. The screen is great (even if I would like a slight bump in resolution), performance is more than fair and the phone happens to feel/look great. Not to mention, that killer battery life is insane, and 4G LTE data speeds come in very handy.
All for $220 bucks? I say go for the ZTE Grand X Max+ if you are in a budget and are set on sticking with Cricket. The only thing pushing this smartphone back, really, is that it’s exclusive to Cricket. I really wish it was more openly available.