A just-decent-enough $250 smartphone strapped onto a monster battery
The ZTE ZMax is the type of phone that you get for a very specific reason: you want to play lots of videos and games but you don't have a lot of money to blow on a pricier phablet like the Galaxy Note 4 or the impending Nexus 6/X/whatever. The ZMax is $252 outright on T-Mobile, and for that money, it performs better than its budget in most areas, but not quite all of them.
So, can this phone stand out in the mid-range phone market? Let's take a quick look
The ZMax certainly towers above most phones in size. This phone has a 5.7-inch screen, not counting the pesky capacitive buttons below it and the not insignificant bezels that complete the front face. You'll likely not be keeping it in your pants unless you're a lucky devil with TARDIS-like pockets. That nice big screen is good for videos and games, and I only say good because it's only a 720p screen, and it doesn't take much to see the individual pixels on this phone and the brightness could be more in outdoor environments. But for $250, what else did you expect? Videos are decent on this screen, but you should probably invest in bluetooth headphones if you intend to watch for very long, because the speaker is quite tinny and not all that loud.
Over four and a half hours of non-stop Netflix at full brightness.
This phone is made for long video sessions, as you can easily watch hours and hours of video without the 3400 mAh battery passing out on you. In fact, in the week I've had the phone I think I've only charged it three or four times. It's a phone that will get you through the day and then some, especially if you're using Wi-Fi calling and don't have the cellular radios always active.
The phone doesn't feel terrible in the hand, but you're definitely going to want a tight grip on the slippery smooth plastic, and the back has a little give when you hold the phone. The battery's non-removable, and the microSD slot is on the side, accessible with a SIM tray puller. The SIM slot is on the opposite side. Below the two slots are the power and volume rockers, and I have to say I'm not thrilled with having them on opposite sides, but you get used to it.
The phone is almost mostly stock with the usual T-Mobile bevy of apps and a few ZTE utility apps, including a Task Manager (first one I've seen in a while), File Manager, and Flashlight. It's running the stock launcher, not the Google Now Launcher, but you could easily download and install it, or any other launcher. The settings are ever so slightly off, and it's missing a few sections like the 'Home' settings for launchers. The camera, like the phone, is a bit unwieldy, with decent auto-focus but the shutter button could take a bit of reaching for those with smaller hands, and would be better suited on the sides rather than the middle of the control bar. If ever there was a phone that could benefit from the 'tap anywhere to take' feature from the Moto X, this would be it. The front-facing camera is adequate; it'll get you through your selfies and your video Hangouts, but don't expect it to give you the moon in 1.6 megapixels.
All in all, the ZMax is a massive phone with a big battery and a price that won't break the bank. If you're a binge-watcher with giant pockets and not a lot of scratch to spare, this phone will get you by and then some, so long as you have a good set of bluetooth headphones. If you're looking for budget-friendly headphones, my personal headset is the $25 Kinivo BTH-240, which lasts me almost a week per charge and comfortably fits my head, even when I'm wearing my beloved jeep caps.
We may earn a commission for purchases using our links. Learn more.