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October 12, 2017

ZTE Blade Z Max review

by John_A

With the rise of the ultra-premium smartphone, some current generation flagships are hitting all time price-highs. Fortunately, some OEMs have continued to focus on and improve things at the lower end of the price spectrum as well.

Today’s budget-friendly smartphones are as affordable and reliable as ever, but what can we really expect from a device that costs just a tenth of what some of the highest-end offerings will set you back? Let’s find out what the  ZTE Blade Z Max has to offer!

Design

The first thing is striking about the the Blade Z Max is its size. This is an unapologetically large smartphone. Its design is reminiscent of a time before the screen-to-body ratio defined a phone and ultra-large displays were squeezed into relatively compact bodies.

The thick upper and lower bezels are particularly glaring, though they provide plenty of finger room while holding the device in landscape orientation. After using a few near bezel-less phones recently, I have to say that this is actually a comfort that I kind of miss.

Given how affordable it is, the Blade Z Max manages to pull off a rather appealing aesthetic, with what seems like a lot of attention to detail. It lacks premium materials, but doesn’t feel cheap. The durable plastic back comes with a textured honeycomb design, providing much needed grip to an otherwise large and unwieldy phone. While the frame is also made of plastic, it features a metallic finish to give the phone a premium look.

Given how affordable it is, the Blade Z Max lacks premium materials, but doesn’t feel cheap.

Taking a look around the device, everything seems to be the appropriate place. The volume rocker and the textured power button are on the right. The headphone jack and the USB-C port are at the bottom. The SIM card and microSD card combo tray is to the left. The single speaker unit can be found on the back.

Display

One of the highlights of the Blade Z Max is its huge 6-inch IPS LCD display that comes with a Full HD resolution and resulting pixel density of 367 ppi. It’s not be a contender for sharpest smartphone display, but it is extremely capable in its own right.

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Colors are accurate and quite vivid. Viewing angles aren’t an issue. The brightness is enough to allow for comfortable outdoor viewing. There isn’t much, if any, light bleed in low-light situations. Darker shades appeared to be uniform across the display. The front of the phone is covered with a 2.5D scratch resistant glass panel that provides some protection and a touch of style with the finger-friendly smooth, rounded edges.

Performance

Under the hood, the ZTE Blade Z Max comes with an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 435 processor. Everything runs as smooth as can be expected. The device takes advantage of its stock-like software experience to keep things snappy. Apps may take a touch longer to load, but aside from that, the overall performance has been pretty good.

With only 2 GB of RAM, the Blade Z Max is hardly a multi-tasking powerhouse.

The Adreno 505 GPU holds its own for gaming. I didn’t see much in the way of dropped frames or laggy gameplay, even with the performance settings set to maximum in many cases.

One thing that may be a point of contention is the fact that the device comes with only 2 GB of RAM and therefore is hardly a multi-tasking powerhouse. However, there weren’t many instances where the lack of RAM resulted in poor performance. You could bog things down and cause unwanted refreshes by keeping a lot of apps open at the same time, but you should have no complaints with average usage.

Hardware

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The Blade Z Max comes with 32 GB of built-in storage that is further expandable via microSD card up to an additional 128 GB.

While the phone’s single speaker unit gets decently loud, its rear-firing placement isn’t ideal and the audio quality itself isn’t the best. There is very little low to mid-range presence which unfortunately results in an overall thin and tinny listening experience.

Also within easy reach on the back is the fingerprint scanner. This sensor is without a doubt one of the best I’ve used with a performance that rivals far more expensive phones out there. The scanner is extremely accurate and quick to unlock the device. It never failed to read my fingerprint. The fact that you get this kind of fingerprint sensor performance with an ultra-affordable smartphone is truly a testament to how advanced biometric technology has become.

One of the advantages of such a large smartphone is how much room it has for a battery, and the Blade Z Max is no exception with its 4,080 mAh unit. The phone can easily provide a full day of use and you may even be able to push that to two days with average usage. The large battery will take a while to fully charge, but support for Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 helps it along.

The ZTE Blade Z Max can easily provide a full day of use with its 4,080 mAh battery.


Camera

The standout feature of the ZTE Z Blade Max is definitely its cameras, with this being one of very few budget smartphones to feature a dual camera setup on the back.

There is a respectable 8 MP front-facing shooter, which comes with a fairly standard field of view and a few different ways to take a selfie. Apart from the shutter button, you can take a shot with a tap of the fingerprint scanner, or by simply smiling in the frame. A beauty mode is available for smoothing out skin tone and blemishes. A small picture-in-picture window also functions as a viewfinder to allow for the rest of the screen to be used as a flash.

On the back is a dual camera setup comprised of a 16 MP main sensor that is paired with a 2 MP secondary unit that allows for artificial depth of field style effects, similar to what is available with some higher-end phones.

In normal shooting conditions, the image quality is about what you would expect from an affordable device with a mid-range camera. It is capable of taking some decent looking shots in well-lit situations with images that are sharp, with a good amount of detail. However, the color reproduction, dynamic range, and the ability to shoot in low-light suffers a bit.

In normal shooting conditions, image quality is about what you would expect from an affordable device.

The shutter speed is also not the fastest, so you will need a steady hand. The phone takes a even longer to process each image when using its burst mode.

Available shooting modes include panorama, time lapse, and multi-exposure. There is also a rather robust manual mode, which is something that you don’t usually see in this price range. You get granular control over aspects like ISO, exposure, white balance, and focus, and the built-in horizon level is a nice inclusion. Also available is a histogram to further fine tune your shots, and you also have the option to shoot using different metering modes and resolutions.

Selecting the dual lens option brings up the portrait, bokeh, and monocolor modes. The much-sought-after portrait mode will let you snap a shot, and the phone will process the image and add the background blur for you.

Unless you frame the shot perfectly, this is pretty much what you can expect most of the time. There is also no way to make adjustments to the image in any way.

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On the other hand, the bokeh mode offers more control over how much background blur is added. There’s an f-stop slider at the bottom, which imitates what your depth of field would look like with different apertures. The nice thing is that you can make this adjustment even after the photo is taken. The level of control here is good to have, but unfortunately, the overall performance is quite similar to what you get with the portrait mode.

The camera is definitely capable of getting the shot right, but more often than not, it is dependent on the shooting scenario and requires a lot of patience. The dual camera setup may not be at the same level as its higher-end counterparts, but for now, it is a pleasant indication of what the future has in store for budget phone cameras.




Software

On the software side of things, the Blade Z Max is running Android 7.1.1 Nougat out of the box and ZTE has opted to keep the UI very close to stock Android. Software features like split screen have been implemented well and allow you to make full use of the large display.

Other notable inclusions are the ability to double tap the power button to quickly launch the camera, the option to swap the positions of the capacitive navigation keys, being able to use the capacitive home button as a notification light, and using the fingerprint scanner to directly open apps from standby.

Specifications

Display 6-inch IPS LCD display
1920 x 1080 resolution, 367 ppi
Processor 1.4 GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 435 processor
Adreno 505 GPU
RAM 2 GB
Storage 32 GB
expandable via microSD up to 128 GB
Camera 16 MP + 2 MP dual rear cameras
8 MP front-facing camera
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
Bluetooth 4.2
A-GPS
USB-C 1.0
Battery 4,080 mAh
Software Android 7.1.1 Nougat
Dimensions 166.1 x 84.6 x 8.4 mm
175 grams

Gallery

Pricing and final thoughts

The ZTE Blade Z Max brings a lot to the table with its dual camera setup,  fingerprint scanner, large display, and even larger battery. The only small thing about this device is its price point. While initially launched at a very affordable $130, the device is currently available from MetroPCS for just $99!

This is certainly an ambitious smartphone from ZTE, and while it may not excel at all that it tries to offer, it succeeds a lot more than it fails. Regardless of the results, by introducing some usually high-end features in this price range, it is only going to encourage more manufacturers to follow suit.

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