Phablets are officially in fashion, and like a snazzy new piece of clothing, they typically come at a premium, with phablets costing more than your average smartphone. That's not the case for the ZTE Grand X Max+, though. This plus-sized, 6-inch phone looks and sometimes acts like a flagship, but sells for an inviting $199 on Cricket Wireless. The X Max+'s rich display, sharp design and superb battery life make it compelling for the price, but is it enough to keep you from splurging on a Nexus 6 or iPhone 6 Plus?
In case the name ZTE Grand X Max+ doesn't get the point across, this is a very big phone. The rectangular phablet comes in a black plastic package that's simple but slick, with flat edges along the sides and a curved top and bottom.
The Grand X Max's glossy back panel sports an attractive, reflective pattern, but it feels a bit too slippery for one-handed use and is susceptible to fingerprints.
The handset's ports and buttons blend seamlessly with its black edges, with a volume rocker on the left, a headphone jack at the top, a microUSB port on the bottom, and a power button and dual SIM slots on the right.
ZTE's mega-phone is definitively a two-handed device, as I struggled to get my thumb to the opposite side of the screen when holding the Grand X Max with one hand. While the phone's edges felt somewhat stiff when I gripped the device tightly, I never felt like the phone was going to slip away when I was using it with both hands.
Measuring 6.38 x 2.98 x 0.35 inches, the Grand X Max+ is taller than phablet peers such as the Apple iPhone 6 Plus (6.22 x 3.06 x 0.28 inches), the OnePlus One (6.01 x 2.98 x 0.35 inches) and Google's Nexus 6 (6.3 x 3.3 x 0.4 inches). The 6-ounce device is heavier than the 5.71-ounce OnePlus One, about as weighty as the 6.07-ounce 6 Plus and lighter than the 6.5-ounce Nexus 6.
The Grand X Max+'s 6-inch, 720p display doesn't offer the full- or quad-HD resolution of premium competitors such as the iPhone 6 or Nexus 6, but that doesn't stop this phone from being bright and beautiful. App icons and backgrounds look vivid on the phablet's super-size display, as did an adorable, colorful, hi-res photo of a pack of golden retriever puppies hanging out in the grass.
The X Max+ proved suitable for watching movies on the go, as it was able to preserve the crisp, superhero-y glory of an HD trailer for Ant-Man. I saw the finer stubble on Paul Rudd's face during a close-up, as well as the checkerboard textures of Ant-Man's charcoal-and-red suit.
The X Max+ was just as impressive on our brightness test as it was in the real world, registering a luminous 495 nits on our light meter. This outshines the Nexus 6 (273 nits), OnePlus One (432 nits) and our 436-nit smartphone average, while falling just short of the iPhone 6 Plus' 537 nits.
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Our gamut test showed off the ZTE phone's color-richness, with the X Max+ registering 94 percent of the sRGB color gamut. This is about on par with the iPhone 6 Plus (95 percent) and OnePlus One (92.7 percent), but not quite as colorful as the Nexus 6's 165 percent or the 116-percent smartphone average.
While exhibiting excellent brightness and richness, the Grand X Max+'s display could be more color-accurate. The smartphone's Delta E (color accuracy) rating of 6.2 is far from a perfect zero or the 6 Plus' close-to-perfect score of 1.9, though it still beats out the Nexus 6 (6.5) and OnePlus One (8.6).
Packing a teeny speaker on its towering underside, the Grand X Max+'s audio output isn't quite grand. Fall Out Boy tracks such as "Centuries" and "Immortals" were just barely audible, with the songs' guitar and bass almost completely disappearing into the background. It doesn't help that the phone's speaker is rear-facing, as the device's already canned playback becomes even more muffled when you lay the phone flat on a table.
You can tinker with the Max+'s audio output using the Dolby Digital Plus app, which allows you to switch among audio profiles for music, movies, games, voice or your own custom settings. The app's effect is more noticeable with headphones on than without, though I did notice a significant volume boost when switching the software on.
The Max+ registered 78 decibels on our audio test (tone playback from 13 inches away), which is softer than the Nexus 6's 91 dB, the OnePlus One's 86 dB and our 81-dB smartphone average. However, the ZTE tied with the iPhone 6 Plus' output.
While the ZTE Grand X Max+'s 13-MP rear camera takes nice shots in some scenarios, you're mostly getting what you pay for from the budget device.
The camera excels outdoors, as store logos, passing cars and a rippling American flag all looked crisp and colorful when shooting on a sunny day in Manhattan's Flatiron District. The 1080p videos I took in the same area were similarly sharp.
I had mixed results when I brought the Grand X Max+ indoors, however. The smartphone captured every noodly detail of my chicken pad Thai lunch, but with HDR off my pictures of coworkers at the very same table came out blurry and blown out from incoming light behind them.
I had similarly muddy results when taking photos of my girlfriend under natural light in my living room with HDR off. When HDR was on, her face became overly red and saturated, and the incoming light from the left still looked blown out.
When I took photos in our dimly lit video studio, my colleague's blue shirt looked black, with the background seemingly engulfing the garment. When I tried to combat this by turning flash on, the resulting photo was incredibly blown out.
The smartphone's 5-MP front camera had no issues accurately capturing every facial hair and birthmark on my face, and the included Beauty Face filter allowed me to add a subtle airbrush effect when I wanted to smooth out those details.
The front cam sports an 88-degree wide-lens for group selfies, which let two of my pals join in on my narcissism with plenty of room to spare.
The handset's camera feature-set is basic, with HDR and flash available on the rear camera and up to a 20-second timer on both sides.
Interface and Apps
Running a custom skin over Android 4.4.4, the Grand X Max+'s interface brings the glossiness of Samsung's TouchWiz to mind.
The handset's home screens show ZTE's clock and music player widgets by default, and there is an array of both Google and ZTE widgets that you can add for quicker access to things such as contacts, calendars and messages.
You can customize the way the phone transitions from one home screen to another, whether you prefer a standard sliding effect or would rather see your app icons roll or flip every time you turn a page. Swiping from the top of the display reveals a clean quick-settings/notifications menu, which lets you toggle Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, sound and brightness.
The Grand X Max+ is pleasingly light on bloatware, with only a handful of pre-loaded apps to complement standard Google fare such as Hangouts, Play Store and Drive. The phone includes a trio of Cricket Wireless apps: one for checking voicemail, a Wi-Fi app for connecting to nearby hotspots and a My Cricket app that lets you manage your phone plan.
The phablet also includes Sharecare's AskMD app, which is designed to let you diagnose your or your loved ones' health issues. After typing or stating your ailment (such as headache or stomachache) into the app's search bar, the app will ask you a series of questions in order to provide as accurate a consultation as possible.
At the end of the survey, AskMD will list all possible causes of your symptoms, and use your location to find nearby doctors. You can also enter and keep track of health statistics such as blood pressure and cholesterol.
Powered by a 1.2-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 CPU with 2GB of RAM, the Grand X Max+ has enough muscle to keep you entertained. Graphic-intensive games such as N.O.V.A. 3 and WWE Immortals played smoothly on the handset, and I was able to hop among Netflix, YouTube and the two games without any slowdown. I did, however, notice that the smartphone ran warm when I had all of the aforementioned apps running at once.
While N.O.V.A. 3 played just fine on the Max+, the app's 20-second load time is slower than the ones we experienced on the OnePlus One (15 seconds), Nexus 6 (12 seconds) and the iPhone 6 Plus (an extra-zippy 5 seconds).
Because it lacks the super-zippy processors of its premium peers, the Max+'s Geekbench 3 score of 1,114 is significantly lower than that of the Snapdragon 805-powered Nexus 6 (3,196), the Snapdragon 801-powered OnePlus One (2,504), the Apple A8-powered iPhone 6 Plus (2,903) and the 2,040 category average. The Max+ performed nearly identically compared to the Motorola Moto G (1,153), which packs the same Snapdragon 400 processor.
Graphics benchmarks told largely the same story, as the Max+'s 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited score of 4,660 is less than a third of what the Nexus 6, iPhone 6 Plus and OnePlus One produced, and far lower than the 13,078 smartphone average. The phablet also underperformed by a small margin compared against the Moto G's score of 4,717.
Cricket Wireless and Pricing
The Grand X Max+ is exclusive to Cricket Wireless, a carrier that offers high-speed service for budget phones using AT&T's nationwide 4G network. Cricket plans start at $25 a month for unlimited talk and text, while a $40 monthly plan adds in 1GB of up to 4G LTE data. Cricket's $50 Smart plan includes 3GB of high-speed data; a $60 Pro plan includes 10GB, and both offer unlimited international texting.
If you're on the $40 monthly plan or higher, you'll save an extra $10 for every line you add to your account, meaning you'll save $10 on the second line, $20 on the third line and so on.
Cricket's $60 Pro Plan is comparable to Boost Mobile's $55 per month, 10GB plan, and offers more high-speed data than Virgin Mobile's $55, 3GB plan. MetroPCS offers unlimited high-speed data for the same $60 monthly fee as Cricket's 10GB Pro Plan, though 10GB of data is fairly hard to exhaust in a month.
The Grand X Max+ isn't just big in terms of size; it's battery life will last you a full workday and then some.
Enduring a strong 9 hours and 14 minutes on our battery test (continuous Web surfing over 4G LTE), ZTE's phablet outlasted the Nexus 6 (7:05) and our 7:47 smartphone average. Still, the OnePlus One (13:16) and iPhone 6 Plus (10:00) offered longer endurance.
If you've been yearning for an extra-large Android phone but are on a tight budget, the $199 ZTE Grand X Max+ is a solid buy. The phablet's 6-inch display produces bright and beautiful images (albeit at a relatively low 720p resolution), and its 9-hour-plus battery life ensures that you can take this device out all night with confidence.
However, the Max+ is still a budget device, and you'll have to live with its inconsistent camera and weak speakers in exchange for the welcoming price. You can get better audio, a better camera and even stronger battery life by spending an extra $100 on the OnePlus One. However, if you don't have that extra cash to spare, the Grand X Max+ does almost everything you'll want a phablet to do, and it does it for a less-than-premium price.