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ZTE ZMax Pro review: Big phone, small price

What the ZTE ZMax Pro lacks in power, it makes up with its $100 price.

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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.

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4 min read

When it comes to large-screen phones with displays that measure 5.7 inches or longer (otherwise known as "phablets") there aren't a lot of cheap choices The Apple iPhone 7 Plus and the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, for instance, start at $700 to $800, and even more affordable devices like the Google Nexus 6P fall at the $500 range.

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7.2

ZTE ZMax Pro

The Good

The ZTE ZMax Pro has a solid build, an expansive screen, and an exceptionally low price tag.

The Bad

It's only available on MetroPCS for now, it doesn't have NFC, and the battery charges slowly.

The Bottom Line

If you're willing to use MetroPCS' network, the ZTE ZMax Pro is a great big-screen phone for cheap.

Enter the ZTE ZMax Pro. It costs just $100 and features a 6-inch screen, fingerprint reader, a 13-megapixel camera and runs Android Marshmallow (not the latest version of Android, but recent enough).

So what's the catch? Well, it's only available on the prepaid carrier MetroPCS for now, which uses T-Mobile's network. It's no real speed demon, it doesn't have a near-field communication chip (meaning you can't use things like Google's Android Pay digital wallet) and it's nonremovable battery could last longer and charge faster.

Even given all these compromises, the ZMax Pro is definitely worth considering. And if you're in the market for a cheap big-screen device and don't mind being on MetroPCS, this should be your top choice.

ZTE's big, blue and budget ZMax Pro

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Design: Big, solid build

With its 6-inch display, the handset is big -- really big, and it reminds me a lot of 2014's Google Nexus 6. Due to its size, it won't fit easily in your pants pockets and if you have a small grip like me, holding it with one hand won't be comfortable, so prepare to use both hands for navigating. In addition, the phone's back cover is matte blue and collects a lot of fingerprint smudges that I had to wipe away constantly.

But other than that, the ZMax Pro's design is good. It's solidly built and I especially like the subtle rosy color accents around the buttons, camera and fingerprint scanner. And though it only has a 1,080-pixel display (in high-end devices, a display this size would have a 1,440p resolution), text, images and movies are still sharp and easily viewable.

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With its 6-inch display, the handset is a whopper of a phone.

Josh Miller/CNET

Software: Just the basics

The handset runs Android Marshmallow 6.0.1, which has features like the more robust search assistant Now on Tap and added user security with app permissions. Marshmallow also supports the digital payment system Android Pay, but since the phone doesn't have an NFC, you can't use it. Otherwise, ZTE kept the ZMax Pro's software and interface pretty light. There are a handful of preloaded MetroPCS apps though, and since you can't uninstall them, they'll have to stay put inside your device.

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The ZMax Pro's simple interface (left) and lack of Android Pay support (right).

Lynn La/CNET

Camera: For your casual photo needs

The ZMax Pro's 13-megapixel camera is a pretty sufficient shooter. Some images did end up over-exposed and the camera's burst shot feature (aka the ability to take lots of pictures rapidly in succession) takes a beat to fire up. But in general, the camera works well, especially for the kind of informal pictures you would take daily. Photos are clear and bright and retain a lot of detail at max resolution. For more about photo quality, check out the images below and click on them to view them at their full resolution.

The camera has a few useful tools too, like a manual mode that lets you adjust brightness, ISO levels, shutter speed and more. You can capture panoramic photos, slow-motion video and pictures with multi-exposures overlaid on top of one another.

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In this well-lit indoor shot, objects and faces are generally clear, but can be sharper.

Lynn La/CNET
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Though the flower petals in this closeup shot are vibrant, the light around it is blown out.

Lynn La/CNET
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This outdoor image is bright, with objects that are in-focus and clear.

Lynn La/CNET

Performance and battery

The handset's Snapdragon 617 processor isn't the fastest or most advanced chipset around, but it's enough to power the phone comfortably. Apps launched and quit with relatively smoothness, and the fingerprint reader was prompt at scanning my print and unlocking the screen. And while daily tasks like calling up the keyboard, unlocking the display or switching orientations could execute a hair faster, it wasn't slow enough to bother me.

On paper, the device did great with our benchmark tests when we compared it to other $100-$200 handsets. It easily beat the Samsung Galaxy J3, the Blu R1 HD (which starts at $50 if you get it with Amazon-sponsored ads) and the Motorola Moto G4 Play on 3D Mark's Ice Storm Unlimited test. It also got higher marks than the latter two on Geekbench 4's single- and multi-core tests (the Galaxy J3 was not available for that test).

ZTE ZMax Pro Benchmark Scores

ZTE ZMax Pro 708 2244 9807Samsung Galaxy J3 N/A N/A 3789Blu R1 HD 547 1580 5255Motorla Moto G4 Play 506 1327 4376
  • Geekbench 4 Single-Core
  • Geekbench 4 Multi-Core
  • 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

In standby mode, the ZMax Pro's battery has enough capacity to survive the weekend without a charge. During our lab tests for battery life, it continuously played a video on loop for 10 hours and 18 minutes on Airplane mode. Because the phone doesn't have any fast-charging technology, juicing it up with the stock charger does take long. After 30 minutes the battery was at 32 percent, and it took about 2 hours for a full charge.

Compared to its alternatives, which have battery capacities ranging from 2,500 to 2,800mAh, the ZMax Pro's 3,400mAh battery was not able to edge them out in this regard. Indeed, all three devices lasted more than 11 hours, with the Galaxy J3 clocking in a 15+ hour battery time.

ZTE ZMax Pro spec comparison chart

ZTE ZMax ProSamsung Galaxy J3 (2016)Blu R1 HDMotorola Moto G4 Play
Display size, resolution 6-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels5-inch; 1,280x720 pixels5-inch; 1,280x720 pixels5-inch; 1,280x720 pixels
Pixel density 367 ppi294 ppi294 ppi294 ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.50x3.30x0.35 inches5.6x2.8x0.3 inches5.65x2.83x0.34 inches5.7x2.8x0.39 inches
Dimensions (Millimeters) 165.10x83.82x8.89 mm142x71x7.9 mm143.5x72x8.7 mm144.4x72x9.9 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 6.7 oz; 190g4.87 oz; 138g5.01 oz; 142g4.83 oz; 137g
Mobile software Android 6.0.1 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0 Marshmallow
Camera 13-megapixel5-megapixel8-megapixel8-megapixel
Front-facing camera 5-megapixel2-megapixel5-megapixel5-megapixel
Video capture 1,080p720p1,080p1,080p
Processor 1.5GHz eight-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 processor1.2GHz four-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 processor1.3GHz four-core processor1.2GHz four-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 processor
Storage 32GB16GB8GB, 16GB16GB
RAM 2GB2GB1GB, 2GB2GB
Expandable storage Up to 128GBUp to 128GBUp to 64GBUp to 128GB
Battery 3,400mAh (nonremovable)2,600mAh (removable)2,500mAh (nonremovable)2,800mAh (removable)
Fingerprint sensor Back coverNoneNoneNone
Connector USB Type-CMicro-USBMicro-USBMicro-USB
Special features N/AN/AN/ASplash-resistant
Price off-contract (USD) $100$110-$180 (varies by carrier)$100 (8GB), $110 (16GB); $50 (8GB, with ads), $60 (16GB, with ads)$150

Big phone, big bargain

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For $100, the phone's drawbacks may be worth it.

Josh Miller/CNET

The ZTE ZMax Pro has its fair share of drawbacks. It's not the fastest handset on paper, you can only get it on MetroPCS for the time being, there's no NFC and its battery charges relatively slowly. But for $100, I'm willing to overlook some of these flaws.

Especially when you consider the price of phablets, the device is a big bargain. Usually, a decent big-screen phone costs about $500 or more, with $800 being the common ceiling. Even amongst similarly-priced handsets like the Galaxy J3, the R1 HD (though as mentioned before, that phone starts at $50 if you get it with ads) and the Moto G4 Play, the ZMax Pro remains the largest and cheapest.

So if you're looking for a handset with a generously-size screen but don't want to cough up tons of cash, the ZMax Pro is a great candidate.

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7.2

ZTE ZMax Pro

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 7Camera 7Battery 7
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