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ZTE Announces the ZMax 2, a $150 phablet bound for AT&T

There’s no doubt about it: big phones are a big deal stateside. According to market analysts at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, phablets — oversized phones or undersized tablets, depending on your perspective — made up 21 percent of all U.S. smartphones sales in Q1 of this year, up 6 percent from the same period last year. That’s largely attributable to the release of Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus, which nabbed 44 percent of those sales, but also to a new wealth of big-screen budget phones from phone makers — Nokia, Huawei, and LG among them — vying for a top spot in one of the industry’s hottest segments.

But the fiercer-than-ever competition isn’t stopping ZTE. The Chinese phone maker, long a forerunner in the phablet segment thanks to aggressive pricing and a focus on the prepaid market, took the wraps off its latest creation this morning: the ZTE ZMax 2.

The ZTE ZMax 2’s entire concept is affordability. The 5.5-inch phone is only $150, and will be the largest (in terms of sheer size) available through AT&T’s low-cost GoPhone program when it launches in the coming days. That drive to rock-bottom pricing unfortunately necessitated compromise: the ZMax 2 sports the same display resolution as last year’s ZMax at 1,280 x 720p, the same amount of RAM (2GB), the same 8-megapixel rear-facing camera, and the same 16GB storage capacity.

Related: T-Mobile and ZTE announce the ZMax, a $250 phablet with a huge battery

But ZTE has made improvements in other areas. It’s lighter (5.99 oz vs. 6.70 oz) and the exterior’s been retooled a bit — it now features a light sensor and configurable capacitive buttons, and the front-facing camera’s been bumped up to 2 megapixels. The battery, while slightly smaller in capacity than last year’s model (3,000 mAh vs. 3,400 mAh), is removeable, which should obviate the need to take knife and screwdriver to it. And the handset ships running version 5.1 of Google’s Android operating system, only a version behind the newest.

The ZMax 2’s the least expensive off-contract phablet we’ve seen. That certainly doesn’t mean it’s for everyone — ZTE’s gunning for the most cost-conscious of consumers here, and is cutting corners to do so — but it’s hardly a bad pick if cheap, generous screen real estate is an absolute must.

The ZMax 2 will be available on AT&T starting Friday, September 25.