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ZTE Grand X Max+ (Cricket Wireless) review: The best budget phablet you can buy

Available on Cricket Wireless, the Grand X Max+ is an impressive six-inch handset that won't break the bank.

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Lynn La
Lynn_La2.jpg
Lynn La Senior Editor / Reviews - Phones

Lynn La covers mobile reviews and news. She previously wrote for The Sacramento Bee, Macworld and The Global Post.

7 min read

When ZTE unveiled its Grand X Max+ for Cricket Wireless at CES 2015, I honestly wasn't very impressed. Despite now having an HD display and LTE, it didn't seem too different from the original Grand X Max. And aside from its wide-angle front-facing camera, nothing about it stood out.

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6.7

ZTE Grand X Max+ (Cricket Wireless)

The Good

Cricket's competitively priced ZTE Grand X Max+ has nimble front- and rear-facing cameras, a lightweight design and 4G LTE.

The Bad

The phone's smooth texture and large size render it unwieldy at times. Constant static on calls can be distracting.

The Bottom Line

Despite its few drawbacks, get the ZTE Grand X Max+ is a good, low-cost buy for a big-screen handset.

As I spent more time with the phone, however, I began to appreciate the Max+'s solid user experience and steady performance. I especially liked its capable cameras (yes, both front and back) and responsive 6-inch display.

Most importantly, however, this sturdy phone comes at a terrific cost: just $200 prepaid. Top-tier phablets already cost upward of $500 off-contract, and a lower price suggests a lot of cut corners. Happily, that isn't so with the Max+. Sure, its specs are modest, but if you want a big-screen handset and you're not looking to spend a lot, this is a handset to get.

ZTE's big-screen Grand X Max+ goes small on price (pictures)

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Design

Similar to its predecessor, the Max+ sports a generous 6-inch touchscreen with a 1,280x720-pixel resolution. This time, however, it has an HD display that is bright and easy to view under sunlight. With a close eye, you can still see some aliasing with images and texts, but for the most part, the display is sharp, responsive, and has a wide viewing angle.

The device measures 6.38 inches tall, 3.27 inches wide, and 0.31-inch thick. Given my petite grip, I found it difficult to maneuver with one hand, and uncomfortable to hold. Especially since its front and back surfaces are completely flat with no curvature, and its right and left edges run completely straight. In addition, its back panel is smooth and glossy. Though I thought this detail lent a subtle element of luxury, it also makes it slick to hold. There were a handful of times I almost dropped the handset while using it.

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Though it'll be a snug fit in pockets, the Max+ is relatively lightweight compared to other phablets. Josh Miller/CNET

Of course, if you have bigger paws, the phone's size may not bother you. And compared with other devices its size, the X Max+ is relatively light at 6.06 ounces. Alternative big-screen handsets, like the Google Nexus 6 , Samsung Galaxy Note 4 , and Apple iPhone 6 Plus , are heavier, as well as Cricket's other cost-conscious phablet, the Nokia Lumia 1320 . During my time with it, it didn't feel particularly hefty when I put it in my back pocket or held it still in landscape mode while watching a few video clips.

On the left of the phone is a volume rocker, and up top you have a 3.5mm headphone jack. On the right edge sits the microSD card slot that is expandable up to 32GB, and a SIM card slot (you'll need a small pin key to open both ports). Smack dab in the middle of the spine is the sleep/power key that is raised slightly above the surface to make it easier to feel for. The back sports a subtle striped pattern and houses a 13-megapixel camera and its flash, as well as a small slit for the audio speaker at the bottom right corner.

Software features

The X Max+ runs Android 4.4.4 KitKat, and has the standard package of Google apps you'd come to expect, like the Chrome browser, Drive, Gmail, Search, Plus, Hangouts, Maps, Photos, YouTube and portals to the Play Store for Books, Games, Newsstand, Movies & TV and Music.

Baked-in task management apps include native browser and email clients, a calendar, a calculator, a notepad, a clock with alarm and stopwatch functions, video and music players, a sound recorder and a voice dialer.

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A quick glimpse at the UI's app drawer (left) and the phone dialer. Lynn La/CNET

Cricket threw in some of its preloaded apps, too. There's a mobile Wi-Fi client, visual voicemail and My Cricket, which lets users manage their phone and data services. Other third-party apps include TouchPal X, which activates an optional keyboard and text-inserting function; Amazon Kindle; AccuWeather; the mobile office suite KingSoft Offices; and AskMD, a medical reference and health consulting app.

The device also has Bluetooth 4.0, 16GB of internal memory (which, again, can be expanded up to 32GB) and 2GB of RAM.

Camera and video

Taking brilliant photographs has rarely been a strong suit for ZTE handsets (even its Nubia 5 , which was billed as a "photographer's phone," fell short of its promises). But surprisingly, I was genuinely impressed with both the Max+'s rear- and front-facing cameras. Although some photos taken with the 13-megapixel were overexposed, and it took a few beats for the camera to ready itself for another shot after I pressed the shutter, images for the most part were clear, in-focus and had colors that were true-to-life. For more details on photo quality, click on each picture below to see them at their full resolution.

Video quality was also solid. Both moving and still objects were easy to make out and colors were accurate. The camera adjusted quickly to varying lighting situations, and nearby and distant audio picked up well.

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Here, small details like the running water and grass are still clear, though the sky is overexposed. Lynn La/CNET

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Despite the graininess in this less well-lit indoor photo, colors are still accurate and objects like the coffee table are in focus. Lynn La/CNET

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In our standard studio shot, the colors are true-to-life and objects are in focus. Lynn La/CNET

The front-facing 5-megapixel shooter also snapped decent images. Though pictures had a noticeable amount of digital noise, and skin color had a tendency to look too orange, the camera was able to take some pretty clear shots. Because it's an 88-degree wide-angle lens, you may see some distorted or elongated angles near the corners of the photos. However, I think this is a small price to pay for being able to fit way more content into each frame.

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Though a bit blurry, this photo taken from the front-facing camera captured a lot of content. Lynn La/CNET

Along with digital zoom and flash, the rear-facing 13-megapixel camera has three shooting modes. For all your daily, informal shots there's auto mode, which has HDR shooting, a noise reduction mode, and a timer. The more advanced pro mode includes a horizon leveler, two guideline options (one that displays the rule-of-three grid, and another that shows the golden ratio spiral), and options to adjust the white balance, ISO and exposure levels. You can also turn on and off the gradienter, face detection and night shooting. Lastly, fun mode lets you shoot photos with certain effects like panoramic or a multilayered picture.

There are 10 possible photo sizes ranging from 640x480 to 4,160x3,120-pixel resolution, and you can shoot up to 1080p video. Video options include pausing footage, taking photos, and zooming while recording, and lock-focus.

The front-facing camera doesn't have different shooting modes, but it does have smile detection that activates the shutter, a timer, and a small tool that auto-softens your face to diminish imperfections and blemishes. It can also flip images vertically and can shoot in six different sizes ranging from 640x480 to 2,592x1,944-pixel resolution.

Performance: Call quality

I tested the Max+ at our San Francisco offices using Cricket Wireless' network. Call quality was adequate -- audio didn't clip in and out, and my calls didn't drop. However, during times of silence, I heard a low but steady stream of static. This white noise wasn't overly irritating, and I was still able to hear my calling partner, but it was noticeable nonetheless. Interestingly enough, my partner didn't hear the noise on her end, and said that my line sounded clean and clear.

Podcast

The static wasn't apparent when I turned on the speaker, and audio remained clear through that channel as well. However, my partner's voice thinned out and sounded slightly tinny. Overall though, call quality was good through both speakers.

Data speeds, processing speed and battery life

One new advantage the Max+ offers over its predecessor is that it now comes with 4G LTE connectivity. Though a bit slow in our testing area, the data speeds on the carrier's LTE network were consistent for the most part. Though there were a couple of times when a Web page stalled during loading, on average, it took about 13 seconds to load CNET's mobile site and 10 seconds to load the desktop version. The New York Times' mobile and desktop sites loaded in 18 and 13 seconds, respectively. The mobile site for ESPN clocked in at 8 seconds, and 13 seconds passed before its desktop site fully loaded. Ookla's speed test app showed an average rate of 6.29Mbps down and 9.17Mbps up, and the 44.52MB Temple Run 2 game took 2 minutes and 42 seconds to download and install.

ZTE Grand X Max+ (Cricket Wireless) performance times

Average 4G LTE download rate 6.29Mbps
Average 4G LTE upload rate 9.17Mbps
Temple Run 2 app download (44.52MB) 2 minutes and 42 seconds
CNET mobile site load 13 seconds
CNET desktop site load 10 seconds
Restart time 41 seconds
Camera boot time 2.31 seconds

The device's quad-core 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400 processor executes simple and daily tasks smoothly, but there was some lag from time to time. For example, I noticed it while quickly scrolling down Web pages, or when a blur transition effect stalled while swiping through my home screen pages. For the most part though, the experience didn't feel too glacial, and actions like calling up the keyboard or launching the app drawer felt reasonably fast.

Benchmark tests also reflected consistent results for a midrange handset. On average, it took about 42 seconds for the phone to restart, and 2.31 seconds for the camera to launch. The Max+'s highest Quadrant score out of five trials was 8,389. For comparison, that puts it on a par with the LG G Vista and way above the ZTE Boost Max (which scored 8,969 and 4,795, respectively). The device's best Linpack multithread result was 243.738 MFLOPs in 0.69-second.

My observation of the nonremovable 3,200mAh appeared good so far. It lasted the weekend on standby without charging, and it survived a workday with mild use without being plugged in. It has a reported talk time of up to 6.5 hours and a standby time of about 36 days. During our battery drain test for continuous video playback, it lasted an impressive 16 hours and 37 minutes.

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A few 4G LTE data times measured by Ookla (left), and the handset's best Quadrant score. Lynn La/CNET

Conclusion

The ZTE Grand X Max+ has its faults. Its call quality could be clearer, and its wide, slick construction makes it difficult to hold. In addition, compared to high-end devices like the Nexus 6 , Galaxy Note 4 and iPhone 6 Plus , its processor is a bit sluggish.

But as far as budget phablets go, the $200 Max+ stands out as one of the better values we've seen. For example, the comparable 5.7-inch G Vista , which has the same processor and 720p display, costs $350 off-contract from AT&T. And while Windows Phone enthusiasts will dig Cricket's other 6-inch handset, the Lumia 1320 , the phone itself costs $280 despite having a 5-megapixel rear-camera and 8GB of internal storage.

Lastly, the Max+ performs more reliably than another off-contract ZTE phablet, the Boost Max . Even though both cost $200, the latter is heftier, has a slower dual-core processor, and less built-in storage capacity. Simply put, theMax+ is the way to go for large-screen budget-seekers.

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6.7

ZTE Grand X Max+ (Cricket Wireless)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 7
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