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[section label="Design" anchor="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.
[quotenew qtext="Given how affordable it is, the Blade Z Max lacks premium materials, but doesn’t feel cheap. " qposition="center" qcolor="color3"]
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.
The ZTE Blade Z Max can easily provide a full day of use with its 4,080 mAh battery.
Camera[section label="Camera" anchor="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.
[quotenew qtext="In normal shooting conditions, image quality is about what you would expect from an affordable device." qposition="center" qcolor="color3"]
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.