Smartphone enthusiasts may know ZTE for its flagship Axon line, but ZTE has long delivered phones to the prepaid market in the United States. By offering a multitude of affordable yet functional smartphones on prepaid carriers such as Cricket Wireless, ZTE has become the most successful Chinese smartphone manufacturer in the US by a wide margin.
More ZTE content:
- ZTE Axon 7 hands on
- ZTE announces Z-Community Forums
- Nubia Z11 Mini announced
- Interview with ZTE at CES 2016
ZTE’s Grand X Max 2 is the latest of these smartphones, but is it worth it? Let’s find out in our ZTE Grand X Max 2 Review!
In terms of design, the ZTE Grand X Max 2 is slightly reminiscent of the recently announced Axon 7, as it shares the same port and button locations as well as a subtle curve to help with handling. Instead of an aluminum unibody however, the Max 2 is composed of a glossy plastic rear cover fixed to a plastic band with a number of clips. ZTE’s material choices could be described as not unlike those from the three-year-old Samsung Galaxy S4.
Overall, the phone looks very nice with its blue color scheme and subtle pattern on the rear. Despite its larger form factor, the Grand X Max 2 feels quite nice in the hand. It seems that the phone doubles as a fingerprint magnet at times, but this is nearly inevitable with either a plastic or glass rear. Although plastic is generally more durable than glass, we noticed many scratches on our Max 2 review unit after only a week of use.
Our unit also suffered from an approximately one meter drop onto concrete, and, although the plastic rear fared well, the side band was easily chipped in several locations. Build quality seems about average for the price, so you may want to consider also purchasing a case, as accidents do happen.
The three illuminated capacitive keys at the bottom of the phone match Google’s standard layout out of the box (back-home-multitask), but can be reconfigured in the settings for users wishing to have the back button to the right.
The confusion associated with the indeterminately labeled buttons wears off surprisingly quickly
This is a great setting to have, and the confusion associated with the indeterminately labeled buttons wears off surprisingly quickly. Now if only every smartphone manufacturer gave users this option…
The Max 2 proves itself worthy of the “Max” tag with its beautiful 6-inch 1080P display. That’s considerably larger than most smartphones currently on the market, and surpasses virtually every prepaid option. While the Max 2 seemed small to me at first after coming from the 6.44-inch Xiaomi Mi Max, the Grand X Max 2 can definitely be unwieldy, especially if you have smaller hands. The phone is narrow enough to make one-handed use somewhat comfortable, however, and if you’re considering the Max 2, you’ve likely already been sold on the more immersive media consumption experience.
All things considered, I was quite impressed with the Max 2’s display, as it is one of the best I have seen for less than $200. It has great color reproduction, very good contrast, just the right amount of saturation, and is reasonably readable outdoors.
Powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 617 – the successor to last year’s Snapdragon 615 – the ZTE Grand X Max 2 offers fairly good performance. It’s not going to crush any benchmarks by any means, but, paired with 2 GB of RAM, should be enough for the majority of users. Day-to-day performance is still quite good too, and the phone rarely had any UI hiccups during my testing.
Outside of the several preloaded resource-light games, the Max 2 can struggle a bit with its ageing Adreno 405 GPU. Although demanding titles like Asphalt 8 are still very playable, they can take some extra time to load and may exhibit some minor frame drops during gameplay.
The ZTE Grand X Max 2 includes everything you’d expect from a modern smartphone: 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1, and GPS are each on board. Call quality seemed to be excellent during my time with the Max 2 on the Cricket network. There’s also 16 GB of internal storage, which can be expanded with the phone’s microSD card slot, up to 64 GB.
It sadly lacks a fingerprint reader
Although the Max 2 adopts a Quick Charge 2.0-enabled USB Type-C port for charging and syncing, it sadly lacks a fingerprint reader, a feature which we are beginning to expect, even from budget phones. Its absence may not be a deal breaker for those upgrading from an older smartphone without a reader, but I would personally find it difficult to switch over entirely.
The Max 2’s single side-firing speaker sounds very good, with minor distortion at high volumes. It’s a bit above what I would expect at this price point, and will do the job when wanting to watch videos or casually listen to music. There is a Hi-Fi audio chipset on board as well, which will appeal to those wishing to use headphones.
After reviewing the results of four battery life tests, it seems that the Grand X Max 2’s battery life can vary significantly, but the notable outlier I had (the one with less than three hours of screen on time) was a direct result of my heavy usage.
With an hour and a half of Google Maps navigation and a forty minute Google Hangouts video call, it’s easy to see why I didn’t get the same results I did on prior days. With that said, I never worried about having to charge the Max 2 before my day was over, and some users may be able to achieve two full days of light use.
ZTE has made a very interesting move by including a dual-camera setup on the rear of the Grand X Max 2. It seems that the second camera functions only when using the software bokeh mode, which attempts to emulate a professional photo’s depth of field. Unfortunately, this feature did not work well at all in my testing, and I see no other use for the secondary camera beyond as a marketing tool.
What’s worse is the actual quality of the images that the Max 2 produced. Its 13 MP camera appeared to be promising when first glancing at the spec sheet, but after taking a look at the photos, I am very disappointed. Even when factoring in the price, the Max 2’s camera is slightly below average.
Some of these images are simply out of focus, but that can be blamed on the phone's slow and inaccurate autofocus
Firstly, many of the images that I took are noisy and distorted, something that is generally not expected in the well-lit environments that I was in. The images are also very soft, especially near the corners. Granted, some of these images are simply out of focus, but that can be blamed on the phone’s slow and inaccurate autofocus. The processing is incredibly inconsistent, with some images appearing over sharpened, with others appearing under sharpened. In addition, color reproduction can be rather bad, especially when capturing warmer colors like red and orange.
ZTE Grand X Max 2 camera samples:
Low-light performance was also not so great. The phone couldn’t focus correctly for virtually every shot, and, when it did, images came out extra noisy. It seems that the camera here is just not where it should be relative to the competition.
On a positive note, ZTE’s camera app is quite good, and offers an easy-to-use automatic experience. The bundled time lapse and panorama modes are welcome additions, and the manual mode is surprisingly comprehensive.
ZTE is shipping the Grand X Max 2 with a lightly skinned version of Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. It’s similar to stock Android in many ways, with only a few notable changes. One of which is the unlocking mechanism for the lock screen. Instead of swiping up, you just press and hold the screen for a second. That’s nice since you don’t have to move your finger back down to access your apps, but I did notice the phone unlocking, launching apps, and placing calls while in my pocket. You’ll want to be careful unless you use a passcode, which will add an extra step, of course.
The notification panel is similar to the one found in iOS in that it blurs the background as you pull it down, which, although different from stock Android, looks pretty good. The app drawer is also slightly transparent, and with the exception of a clear all button in the multitasking menu, there are really no other major UI changes. The app icons have been replaced with ZTE’s icons, however, but those still look nice.
My Cricket Wireless variant did ship with a some bloatware, but the three of ten apps that weren’t uninstallable were genuinely useful for Cricket subscribers. This sort of bloatware is definitely less than other carrier branded devices, with the number of uninstallable apps often numbering double digitis.
The ZTE Grand X Max 2 is an excellent choice for those on Cricket looking for a large affordable smartphone. Although I would have liked to see a much better camera and stronger build quality, it’s hard to fault the Grand X Max 2 given its price.
The Max 2 exceeds where it needs to with a beautiful display, great battery life, and an excellent software experience
The Max 2 exceeds where it needs to with a beautiful display, great battery life, and an excellent software experience. If you don’t take many images, you can avoid the achilles’ heel altogether and will likely be very happy with this phone.
So what do you think of the ZTE Grand X Max 2? Is it worth the money, even if the camera isn’t the best in its class? Leave a comment below to let us know!