ZTE's dual-camera, DAC-equipped Blade Max 3 is a heck of a bargain at $200

ZTE Tempo X
If you’re looking for a powerful smartphone that won’t break the bank, you could do worse than ZTE’s Blade series. The Shenzhen, China-based smartphone maker’s budget-minded smartphone line has incrementally improved with each new release, and the newest entry, the Blade Max 3, is no exception.

The Blade Max 3, a spiritual successor to last year’s Imperial Max, sticks to the curved, ergonomic design language of its predecessors. It sports a 6-inch Full HD screen  (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) with 2.5D Gorilla Glass shielding, and a 2 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor paired with 2GB of RAM under the hood. There’s 16GB of onboard storage (expandable via MicroSD slot), and a 4,000mAh battery that ZTE said should deliver up to 40 hours of talk time and 31 days on standby.

The Blade Max 3 doesn’t skimp in other areas. Dual rear cameras — a 13MP primary sensor and a 2MP companion camera that captures color data — can take pics in all lighting conditions, and a 5MP front camera handles selfies. And uniquely, the Blade Max 3 features a digital-to-audio (DAC) converter, which ZTE says will ensure a high-quality headphone experience.

zte blade max 3 resizer

In terms of sensors and ports, the Blade Max 3 is outfitted as well as any other smartphone in its price range. You’ll find a fingerprint sensor and USB Type-C port, plus a 3.5mm audio jack. Bluetooth 4.2, GPS, a light sensor, a proximity sensor, a gyroscope, an accelerometer, and a compass round out the hardware.

Perhaps the Blade Max 3’s only downside is its software. Oddly, it runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow, a version behind Android 7.0 Nougat, the newest. Making matters worse, it’s unclear if it’s going to be updated anytime soon.

Nevertheless, the Blade Max 3 isn’t much of a compromise. It costs $200 in full for new and existing U.S. Cellular subscribers, or $12.50 a month for 24 months on an installment plan. That may not be as cheap as ZTE’s new Max XL ($130), but you’d be hard pressed to find a high-definition screen, large battery, and DAC for less.

ZTE is hoping U.S. Cellular customers agree. It’s angling to rank among the world’s top three smartphone makers by 2020, and it’s well on its way. Last year, the company joined the ranks of the top six global smartphone manufacturers, coming in fourth in North America with 3.5 percent of the country’s market share. And this year, ZTE is projecting it will rank first in 4G global shipments and increase its market share “in both wireless and wired markets.”

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: inflatable backpacks and robotic submarines

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the Web this week. You can't buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Mobile

(Update: deal expired) The Essential Phone is on sale for a bargain price of $224

The Essential Phone (PH-1) was one of the best-reviewed phones of 2017, and it comes from Andy Rubin, the co-creator of Android itself. It has a striking design with a bezel-less display and the price is now down to $500.
Product Review

Sony's underwhelming XZ2 Premium makes a better camera than a phone

Sony’s third flagship phone of 2018 is its first to ever feature a dual-camera lens. The Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium can capture ultra-low-light video far better than the iPhone X or Galaxy Note 9, but is it worth the high cost?
Mobile

The HTC U12 Plus is now available in color-shifting Flame Red shade

HTC has released some pretty great flagship phones in the past few years, and it's now aiming to follow up with another one. After plenty of rumors and leaks, the company has finally taken the wraps off of the new HTC U12 Plus.
Mobile

Find love with the best LGBT dating apps for iOS and Android

If you're looking to meet someone new, look no further than your smartphone. Whether it's just a date, or you're looking for something a little more serious, here are the best LGBT dating apps available for Android and iOS.
Mobile

Pre-orders for the 2018 iPhone may start on September 14

Apple's 2018 iPhone range is still a mystery. How many models will launch? What will they be called, and how big will the screens be? Here are all the rumors and everything we know so far.
Mobile

End of the Voyage: Amazon stops selling its $200 Kindle

Amazon has quietly removed its Voyage ebook reader from its online store. The demise of the $200 Kindle, which launched in 2014, leaves Amazon with its basic $80 Kindle, the midrange $120 Paperwhite, and the $250 Oasis.
Mobile

Photos of the Pixel 3 XL show a massive, but gorgeous 6.7-inch OLED display

It hasn't been too long since Google launched the Pixel 2, but it's already gearing up for the next iteration, the Google Pixel 3. Here's everything we know about the upcoming phones so far.
Mobile

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 vs. OnePlus 6: Does more expensive mean better?

The new Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is arguably the best Android phone ever released, but it has some stiff competition from the far less expensive OnePlus 6. Is the Galaxy Note 9 that much better than the OnePlus 6?
Mobile

Tinder wants to help you make friends at school this year with Tinder U

Tinder is launching its student-only platform, Tinder U. The feature, available for any iOS user attending a four-year accredited college or university in the U.S., allows you to match with students on campus or at nearby schools.
Mobile

Redesigned Google Fit uses Heart Points and Move Minutes to keep you active

Google is finally giving Google Fit a major update. It makes the health-tracking app a little more proactive in keeping users active, along with tracking what Google calls "Heart Points," and "Move Minutes."
Mobile

Nokia 6.1 Plus arrives in India; is a U.S. release on the horizon?

It's shaping up to be a big year for HMD. After announcing five phones at MWC earlier this year, the handset manufacturer is reportedly bringing another budget phone, the Nokia 6.1 Plus, to the U.S.
Mobile

Leaked image of Huawei P20 shows triple camera lens, fingerprint sensor on rear

Huawei is no stranger when it comes to big phones. And this year it plans to go even bigger with the Huawei Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro. Here's what we think we know about the new range.
Social Media

Instagram’s test of Recommended Posts is designed to not interrupt your feed

Instagram is testing Recommended Posts -- but it's probably not what you're thinking. The posts won't be inserted into the middle of the feed like an ad or like on other networks. Here's where the suggestions will be instead.