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ZTE ZMax 2 (AT&T) review: Super simple, super cheap

Objects themselves looked sharp and in-focus, but if you're a stickler for true-to-life colors, you'll want to take a pass on this device. For more about photo quality, check out the pictures below. And be sure to click on each image to see them at their full resolutions.

In this outdoor photo, light sources are a bit overexposed, but objects look clear.

Lynn La/CNET

In this indoor image, the indoor light is accurate, but the sunlight through the window is a harsh blue.

Lynn La/CNET

Though objects in our standard studio picture are in focus, the flash left a brownish hue on the background.

Lynn La/CNET

Hardware performance and call quality

  • 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400
  • 16GB of internal storage (with 32GB expandable memory)
  • 2GB of RAM
  • 3,000mAh removable battery

The handset's quad-core processor is fast, and it was able to execute daily tasks like opening up the app drawer, returning to the home page and calling up the keyboard quickly. It took about 46 seconds to restart the phone and 1.51 seconds to launch the camera -- which is about what I'd expect in general (some slower handsets can take more than a minute to restart and about 2.5 seconds to launch the camera). Game graphics looked smooth and overall, the ZMax 2 performed reliably.

On our benchmarking tests, the device's 3DMark Ice Storm (unlimited) score was 4,369 and its single- and multicore score for Geekbench was 479 and 1,378, respectively. For a device of this class with this processor, this is on par with others, which usually clock in a 3DMark score in the mid-4,000s and Geekbench scores in the high 400 and mid-1,000s.

I tested the handset in San Francisco using AT&T's network and call quality was great. Volume levels were appropriately loud, including audio speaker. My calling partner sounded clear and easy to understand and I didn't pick up any extraneous buzzing or static. Voices on the audio speaker did sound a tad thinner and sharper, but I could still make out conversation without any problems.

ZTE ZMax 2 (AT&T) average data speeds

4G LTE download rate 15.56Mbps
4G LTE upload rate 15.95Mbps
CNET mobile site load 3 seconds
CNET desktop site load 5 seconds
Temple Run 2 app download (48.03MB) 1 minute and 11 seconds
"Gravity" movie download (1.7GB) 7 minutes and 23 seconds

4G LTE data speeds were fast and stable. According to Ookla's speedtest app, the phone's average download rate was 15.56Mbps and its upload rate was 15.95Mbps. It took about 3 seconds for it to load CNET's mobile site and 5 seconds for the full desktop version. Downloading and installing the 48.01MB game Temple Run 2 took just a minute and 11 seconds on average and downloading the 1.7GB movie "Gravity" once in high definition took about 7 minutes and 23 seconds. That's a fairly short amount of time considering it usually takes about 20 minutes on other handsets.

As always with data tests, speeds differ widely depending on several factors such as location and time of day. What I observed here is just a minuscule sample and may not be what you experience in your location.

The ZMax 2's battery provides plenty of juice throughout the workday, and I had no issues with battery life after a day of surfing the Internet and conducting benchmark tests. During our lab tests for continuous video playback, the device lasted an 11 hours and 56 minutes. That's pretty decent, but not the best we've seen. The 5.7-inch LG G Stylo, for instance, lasted nearly 14 hours with its 3,000mAh battery and the ZMax predecessor had a 3,400mAh battery that lasted 14 hours. Charging it with its stock charger does take a while though. Usually phones take about two hours to fully charge, but for the ZMax, going from zero to 100 percent took two and a half hours.

If you want to take excellent photos, look elsewhere. But if you're on a tight budget, the ZMax 2 is worth considering.

Josh Miller/CNET

Conclusion

Despite its weak camera, the ZTE ZMax 2 is one of the best budget phones you'll find for the price, in AT&T's no-contract lineup or anywhere. It performs reliably and has clear call quality. Compared to other AT&T phones in its price bracket, it's a great value. The $185 HTC Desire 626, for instance, may have a more stylish design, but it's smaller screen and shorter battery life are big drawbacks. There's also the Microsoft Lumia 640 XL, which has superior hardware, but costs 2.5 times more, at $250. Also, if you're an Android user, you'd need to switch over to Microsoft's operating system.

Ultimately, the ZMax 2 is worth buying if you absolutely won't spend more than $100 all in, but if you've got some flexibility, I'd suggest just about any other phone with a better camera

Ultimately, when it comes to the ZMax 2, you'll need to make some compromises (namely with the camera). But the device performs reliably, has clear call quality, and a solid battery life.

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