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ZTE Boost Max+ review: Big and cheap, but cuts vital corners

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The Good The ZTE Boost Max+ is affordable, has a long battery life and its big screen gives you plenty of room for watching media.

The Bad The device's volume level is low, apps quit from time to time and the camera is mediocre.

The Bottom Line ZTE's Boost Max+ is a decent choice for a large-screen phone, but go with the more reliable, comparably priced LG G Stylo instead.

6.8 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 6
  • Camera 6
  • Battery 8

ZTE's inexpensive, jumbo-screen Boost Max+ for Boost Mobile is the phone maker's antidote to huge, expensive devices like the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and the Apple iPhone 6S Plus , which can cost upward from $600 unlocked. Along with a 5.7-inch screen that gives you more room to watch media and browse the Web, the Boost Max+ also has a long battery life.

But its low price comes with compromises -- the camera is poor, call volume is too quiet and it can act buggy sometimes.

With that in mind, I much prefer the more reliable LG G Stylo , which has the same display size and price, but also comes with an embedded stylus too. And if you want to spend more money without splurging altogether on top-tier phones, the 5.7-inch Motorola Moto X Pure Edition is a great halfway point at $400.

Design and build

  • 5.7-inch display with 1,280x720-pixel resolution
  • 6.5 by 3.25 by 0.4 inches (165.1 by 82.55 by 10.16mm)
  • 6.87 ounces (194.76 grams)

With its gold metallic sheen that lends an element of elegance, the Boost Max+ looks like a decent, solidly built device. But the handset is big -- even when compared to "phablets" that have the same display sizes. It has a larger footprint (in terms of measurements, thickness and weight) than both the budget-friendly G Stylo and the more higher-end Moto X Pure Edition. In the hand and pocket, it feels hefty and weighty.

On the left are a Micro-USB port for charging and transferring files, a volume rocker and a microSD slot that you'll need a small pin to push open (one is included in the package). Up top is a 3.5mm headphone jack and on the right is a sleep/power button.

You can remove the top portion of the device's back plate to access the SIM card slot. Josh Miller/CNET

The back houses a rear camera with a flash, and below that is an audio grille for the speaker. For the most part, you can't remove the battery door except for a portion at the very top (a piece that's about an eighth of the whole backside). Using the small indentation on the top corner, you can pry this section off with your fingernail to access the SIM card.

As for the display, the screen has a high enough resolution that you can read text, watch video and browse through photos comfortably. Given its spacious size, there's also much more room to view content when browsing the Web and using apps.

However, it's not as responsive as it should be to touch -- from time to time it'd require a second, or even harder, tap to execute an action. And at 720p, it isn't very sharp -- you can see aliasing on text and lettering, simple icons look pixelated and there is noticeable color banding with images.

Below the display are three hotkeys for back, home and menu. By long pressing the home and menu buttons, you can launch Google Now and recent apps, respectively.

Software and other features

  • Google Android 5.1 Lollipop
  • Preloaded Boost Mobile apps

The device ships with the Google Android 5.1 Lollipop mobile operating system and has a number of Google apps such as Gmail, the Chrome Web browser, Maps, Street View, the Hangouts chat client, Docs, Photos and YouTube.

ZTE doesn't skin its handsets too heavily, so you'll be getting a relatively clean version of Android in terms of user interface. You can, however, pick among three different themes (Android, Fancy and Sports), which changes how your apps look, and how your home screen pages animate when you swipe through them.

The handset runs Android 5.1 Lollipop and has preloaded apps from Boost Mobile (right). Lynn La/CNET

The phone has apps from Boost Mobile, though fortunately you can uninstall them if you want. There is Boost411, a directory that lets you search for local businesses and people; a ringtone and music portal called Boost Music; the digital payment system Boost Wallet; and Boost Zone, where you can check your usage and account information and stay updated with carrier news.

Other apps include 1Weather, the social-networking app AirG, Amazon shopping, the rideshare service Uber and NBA Game Time. There's also the gaming portal PlayPhone, NexRadio, the security app Gadget Guardian, and Messaging+, which is an SMS and video calling service. And of course, you'll have basic task managing apps like a calendar, a calculator, music and video players and the like.

Cameras and video

  • 8-megapixel rear-facing camera
  • 1-megapixel front-facing camera
  • Records 1,080p (rear) and 720p video (front)

Photo quality was mediocre. Even with well-lit indoor and outdoor settings, images can appear blurry around the edges of the photo and dark hues were hard to distinguish. Light sources were often blown out and overexposed, and sometimes unnatural blue hues would overlay some photos. Sometimes this was caused by the flash, which would light up a white background blue, but other times the flash was off and the blue tones were still apparent. For more on photo quality, check out the images below and click on them to view them at their full resolutions.

Video also didn't fare much better. Although objects, all in all, were clear and easy to make out, you can see footage "pulsating" every time the camera needed to refocus. And while nearby audio sounded fine, distant audio came off distorted and fuzzy. In addition, there were some really irritating times when my videos didn't save after I finished recording. I suspected this was due to a memory shortage (the Boost Max+ runs out of storage quickly), but instead of warning me before shooting a video, it lets me shoot video and then a dialogue box pops up informing me it couldn't save the footage. That was pretty frustrating even when I was just recording test footage; I imagine it would be much more annoying if I were recording something sentimental, like a concert or time with my family and friends.

In this outdoor shot, you can see the sunlight is overexposed and blown out. Lynn La/CNET
I took several photos of this indoor scene. Some pictures turned out accurate (left), while others had a noticeable blue hue (right). Flash was not used in these photos. Lynn La/CNET

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