ZTE Blade Z Max hands-on review

The ZTE ‘Blade Z Max’ is a $130 phone you won’t need to charge for days

The 6-inch ZTE Blade Z Max is a big phone with a big battery.
The 6-inch ZTE Blade Z Max is a big phone with a big battery.
The 6-inch ZTE Blade Z Max is a big phone with a big battery.

Highs

  • Grippy design
  • Large battery
  • Affordable
  • Near-stock, up-to-date Android

Lows

  • Limited to MetroPCS (for now)
  • No NFC

ZTE is rebranding its smartphones into two categories: The Blade budget series, and the flagship Axon series. It’s easier for regular people to understand, but what about the ZMax brand? Last year’s $100 ZMax Pro was our favorite budget phone. Jeff Yee, vice president of Technology Planning and Partnerships at ZTE, told Digital Trends that 3 million people bought it on MetroPCS and T-Mobile, and it’s why the company is hesitant to rid the ZMax brand. The result? The ZMax Pro’s successor is called the ZTE Blade Z Max.

The ZMax Pro was so popular, ZTE altered its design and put it on other wireless carriers under new names, such as the Max XL. This new Blade Z Max is successor to the original ZMax Pro and is available to T-Mobile/MetroPCS customers first.

Grippy design, big display

The Blade Z Max keeps the massive 6-inch screen size as its predecessor, but the design is quite different.

There’s now a grippy, rubber-like textured material covering the rear, as opposed to a soft-touch back. Like the 2016 phone, the ZTE logo sits in the center with a circular fingerprint sensor above, but the camera and flash are now on the top left side instead of in the center. There’s a dual-camera setup, which ZTE first introduced earlier this year on the Blade V8.

The SIM card slot still remains on the left side, and the volume rocker sits above the power button on the right. The front of the phone looks almost exactly the same, with the speaker grill now an oval cutout, rather than three separate holes.

This is a phone that requires two hands.

The headphone jack is now on the bottom, next to the same USB Type-C charging port. Also on the bottom front of the phone are three capacitive buttons for navigating the Android user interface.

The design change makes sense; a 6-inch smartphone is tough to handle, so a grippy back should help. It certainly is less slippery, but it still is difficult to reach the other edge of the phone with your thumb. Even for people with large hands like myself, this is a phone that requires two hands.

The 6-inch display itself offers a 1,920 x 1,080-pixel resolution. It is a sharp screen; its colors look fairly accurate; and it can get bright enough to see outdoors.

Decent performance and a standard interface

The Blade Z Max sadly doesn’t use a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 series processor, but instead opts for the Snapdragon 435 system-on-a-chip. While the Snapdragon 435 is newer and offers better connectivity, the Snapdragon 617 (which is on the ZMax Pro) offers slightly better performance. The Snapdragon 435 is paired with 2GB RAM, as well as 32GB of internal storage. There’s a MicroSD card slot, so you can expand your storage up to 128GB.

In our brief usage with the Blade Z Max, performance was reliable. Apps opened with ease, and moving through the recent apps menu and home screens was fast. Apps like Facebook and Twitter did stutter while scrolling quickly, even more so when multitasking with split-screen mode.

Pleasantly, the Android 7.1.1 interface is almost exactly like Google’s default version of Android, with Google Assistant on board. The software is easy to use, with only a few MetroPCS apps pre-installed, and it looks great. The August 2017 security patch was installed, and we hope ZTE will continue to keep up with Google’s monthly security updates.

ZTE has fitted a massive 4,080mAh battery in the Blade, which is a lot bigger than last year’s 3,400mAh in the ZMax Pro. We’ll have to do more testing, but we haven’t had to charge it for three days with light usage, which is amazing.

We haven’t had much of a chance to test the cameras yet, but the rear dual-camera setup has 16-megapixel and 2-megapixel cameras, which offer features such as monocolor and a portrait mode. The front camera features 8-megapixels, but no flash.

Availability and price

With ever-increasing competition in this price tier from the likes of Motorola’s Moto E4, we’ll have to do more testing to see how the Blade Z Max stacks up and if it’s worth the $130 price tag.

The ZTE Blade Z Max will be available only at MetroPCS on August 28 for $130. Expect different versions of this device to crop up over the course of the following year to other carriers such as T-Mobile, Boost Mobile, and Sprint. You can pre-order the Blade Z Max now.

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