ZTE Max XL review: A huge phone with good features, budget price

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If you’re in need of a phone and live in an area with strong Sprint service, the ZTE Max XL should absolutely be a consideration.

TA-ratings-92Not everybody wants or needs the latest and greatest flagship cell phone offering. Believe it or not, most people are completely happy with something other than the newest, fastest, or shiniest thing out there. The good news is that there are more budget and lower priced options available than ever, and many of them provide a pretty good experience. The ZTE Max XL is a phone that will hardly put a dent in your wallet. Keep reading to see if it’s worth the small price you’ll pay.

Specifications

The ZTE Max XL comes with the following features and specifications:

  • Android 7.1.1 Nougat
  • 6″ IPS FHD (1920 x 1080) Display with Gorilla Glass
  • 3990 mAh Battery
  • Fingerprint Sensor
  • 13MP Rear-Facing Camera + 5MP Front-Facing Camera
  • 1.4GHz Octo-Core Processor
  • MicroSD, support up to 128GB
  • Talk Time: Up to 26.6 hours
  • Chipset: Qualcomm MSM8940 Snapdragon 435
  • CPU: Octa-core 1.4 GHz Cortex-A53
  • GPU: Adreno 505
  • Internal: 2GB RAM + 16GB ROM
  • Modes: GSM 850/1900 UMTS 2/4/5 3G/4G LTE/Enhanced LTE
  • Bluetooth: 4.0
  • Wi-Fi: 802.11 b/g/n
  • Mobile Hotspot: Yes
  • GPS: Yes
  • USB: Yes, USB Type-C
  • FOTA: No
  • Hearing Aid Compliance: M4/T3
  • Text Telephone (TTY) Compatibility: Yes
  • Height: 6.5″
  • Width: 3.3″
  • Depth: 0.37″
  • Weight: 6.34 oz

What’s in the Box

  • ZTE Max XL
  • SIM tool
  • USB-A to USB-C cable
  • USB power adapter

What’s in the box?

Design

The first thing you’ll notice after removing the ZTE Max XL from its packaging is definitely going to be the size. This is a big phone with a very large screen. If you read through the specs above you’ll have already seen that you’re getting a 6” display with a 1920×1080 resolution (in landscape orientation, of course) in an only very slightly larger overall frame.

With a 6″ display, this is a big phone.

The side bezels on the front are very very thin, while the top and bottom are just slightly thicker at ½” and ¾” respectively. The top bezel has your standard centered receiver speaker as well as the front-facing camera to the right side. The bottom bezel includes the capacitive on-screen menu buttons, though, in a bit of a departure from most Android devices, the side buttons are simply dots. The left dot still goes back while the right still opens your recently used apps (by default, this can be swapped in the phone settings), they’re just not labeled as they normally are. The center home button is the same circle that you’re used to seeing on other Android devices.

The right side of the phone includes the power button and volume rocker switch. The power button sits below the volume rocker, and it was in a very good spot for me when holding the phone in my left hand. My index finger would somewhat instinctively go for the fingerprint scanner (more on that in a bit) while my middle finger would come to rest on the side of the phone, almost exactly on the power button. The left side has the SIM/MicroSD tray as well as the pinhole used for opening the SIM tray. The top of the phone has a 3.5mm audio jack on the left side as well as a small hole that I’m assuming is an ambient noise mic. The bottom includes another small hole for the phone microphone as well as a centered USB-C port for charging. USB-C is definitely a fantastic inclusion here, though it’s still interesting to see the devices getting released without it…

We’ll hopefully see USB Type C on all devices pretty soon.

The back of the phone is grey with a very nice textured cross-pattern. The bottom left corner includes five holes for the speaker grille, while centered up at the top (from top to bottom) you’ll find the 13MP camera sensor, the flash, and finally the fingerprint scanner. The ZTE name mark is just slightly below the fingerprint scanner, and honestly depending on the angle you may not even notice it. It’s very subtle, allowing the rest of the design to shine through, but looks classy when you do actually see it. All of this is packed into an incredibly light body at only 6.34 oz.

Display

The 6” display is huge and very bright. Games, videos, email, and everything else came through clear and as expected. The 1920×1080 resolution fits this device, though anything less would really just feel awkward. Sure, a huge display like this could easily handle a larger resolution, but that would definitely increase the price. I really didn’t have any complaints at all with the resolution the way it was.

The 1080P resolution keeps the price down and is adequate for this screen size.

Software

The ZTE Max XL is running Android 7.1.1 (Android N) and it’s about as close to stock Android as you’ll find outside of the Nexus/Pixel lineup. There are a few small tweaks that ZTE has made, but nothing too egregious. Honestly, you’ll really hardly notice the few tweaks that are there unless you’re really curious about finding them.

The phone that I tested runs on Boost Mobile, and there are quite a few pre-installed apps. The good news is that many of these apps can actually be uninstalled if you don’t want to use them. A few can only be disabled, and an even smaller subset really just have to be left where they are, but the fact that many of the apps can be removed is very helpful, especially with only 16GB of internal storage.

Performance

Running with a Snapdragon 435 you’re not getting the top of the mobile CPU heap by any means, but as I’ve mentioned, not everybody needs that in their lives. The Snapdragon 435 along with the phone’s 2GB of memory power most everything pretty well. I ran into a little bit of lag, or some slight hiccups while scrolling on occasion, but this phone is going to have plenty of performance for 95% of people out there.

Apps and games generally run smoothly. The huge screen is obviously great for looking at media as well as apps and games. Keeping the screen resolution at 1080p means that fewer pixels need to be pushed, allowing for better performance from the hardware on board.

The buttons are placed nicely for the large size of the phone.

I did have some occasional delay between when the fingerprint scanner would read my finger and the screen unlocking, but more often than not it was only marginally slower than a Nexus 6P or Pixel XL. The occasional lag didn’t happen often, but it’s worth mentioning.

Speakers/Sound

At this price, you can’t expect everything to be fantastic, and unfortunately the speaker is a casualty of the price of the phone. The external speaker will be OK for the occasional video or playing some mobile games on your phone but you’re really not going to want to do too much else with it. Its position on the back of the phone doesn’t do it any favors, and it’s really just tinny and unbalanced.

The good news, however, is that audio via headphones — wired or wireless — is really pretty good. If you’re going to be listening to much music with your new ZTE Max XL, I’d recommend putting a few of the dollars you save towards a pair of headphones. There are some really decent options available for not a lot of money.

Camera

The onboard 13MP rear camera takes some pretty clear pictures in good lighting. The camera app is one of the changes from stock Android, adding in additional features and options outside of the stock camera. The app opens pretty quickly though, letting you get to the action more quickly. The shutter isn’t the fastest though, so you’ll be best suited with slow-moving or stationary subjects, but as long as you don’t move the phone during the process you’ll get some good results. Low lighting is a bit more blurry, with detail lost and some noise added in areas where the flash isn’t quite necessary. The flash does help, though as is the case with most camera flashes it can end up washing out your subject slightly.

If you’re feeling more adventurous, there is a manual camera mode, allowing for adjustment to shutter speed, ISO, Exposure, White balance, Intervals, and Focus. You can also specifically set an area in the viewfinder to focus on, as well as create panoramas, multi-exposure shots, and time-lapse photos. Intervals and time-lapse photos will create videos based on all of the photos that you’ve taken, while multi-exposure combines two photos into one for more interesting effects.

Manual controls add additional functionality.

Overall there are some really nice things about the camera and its app, especially considering the price of the phone. It does have a few shortcomings but as long as you work within its wheelhouse you can get some pretty nice results.

Reception/Call Quality

Phone reception was acceptable. Callers could hear me without issue and I was able to hear callers clearly as well. In the Boost Mobile version that I tested, data will depend largely on how strong the Sprint network is where you live. In the Chicago suburbs data was quite strong, and I actually got better speeds on the Max XL than on my T-Mobile equipped Nexus 6P. Your mileage will obviously vary though.

Battery Life

With a 3990 mAh battery inside, your Max XL is going to give you some pretty good battery life. Even with that giant 6” screen, you’ll have the benefit of only pushing 1080p resolution instead of anything higher which definitely helps.

If you’re not a heavy user, you can probably get a few days out of the Max XL. As a heavy (and I mean heavy) phone user, I could still get a full day with just a little bit left in the tank at night. Your mileage will obviously vary based on your usage, but you ought to be able to get at least a full day out of the Max XL out of the box.

Price/Value

You can snag a ZTE Max XL of your very own for the low, low price of $99.99 USD. That is an absolute steal. You’re getting a phone with good performance, a huge battery, and a giant 6” screen. You’re basically paying sub-budget prices for an incredibly capable phone.

The ZTE Max XL really is a nice looking phone.

Wrap Up

If you’re in need of a phone and live in an area with strong Sprint service, the ZTE Max XL should absolutely be a consideration. For the price you just can’t beat the performance and even the style that this phone provides.

*We were sent a review unit of the ZTE Max XL for the purposes of this review.

ZTE Max XL

$99.99 USD
ZTE Max XL
9.2

Design

10/10

    Display

    9/10

      Software

      10/10

        Performance

        9/10

          Speakers/Sound

          8/10

            Camera

            9/10

              Reception/Call Quality

              10/10

                Battery Life

                10/10

                  Price/Value

                  10/10

                    Nailed it

                    • $100 USD for this phone is a steal
                    • Huge screen
                    • Good battery life
                    • Mostly stock Android experience
                    • Sound is good with headphones or external speaker
                    • Very nice design overall
                    • Incredibly light

                    Needs work

                    • On board speaker isn't very good
                    • Camera shutter is just a little bit slow
                    • Occasional hiccups in performance
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