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Review: ZTE ZMax for T-Mobile / MetroPCS

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Dec 31, 2014, 9:30 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   @phonescooper

The ZMax is a budget phablet available from both T-Mobile and MetroPCS. This Android handset should appeal to cost-conscious buyers who want the biggest screen they can afford.

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Is It Your Type?

The ZTE ZMax is for phablet lovers on a budget. It sports a huge screen, mid-range specs, and solid build quality for a lot less than Samsung charges for the Galaxy Note or Apple charges for the iPhone 6 Plus. The ZMax is an affordable smartphone that should appeal to dollar-conscious consumers who want the most for their money.

Body

The ZMax is an ambitious handset for the Chinese smartphone maker. It's the best-spec'd device the company has released in the U.S. and it clearly targets some of the most popular phablets in the market. It still offers that unmistakable ZTE-ness, though, which puts the ZMax in its own niche.

By modern standards, the ZMax is a bit plain as far as the design is concerned. It has a basic, rectangular footprint with an almost blunt look. The surfaces, all of which are black, vary in their finish; some are glossy and others are matte. The side surfaces are curved deeply towards the back surface. The top and bottom are severe and look like they were lopped off. The back plate is completely smooth and devoid of any sort of design elements. It comes off as pedestrian and simple, in a bad way.

The quality of materials and manufacturing is fairly good. The metallic frame is strong and the seams are all tight. The glossy plastic that forms the end caps cheapens the overall look of the device, but you don't touch them with your hands very often.

Body  

Thanks to the 5.7-inch display, the ZMax is big. It's bigger than an iPhone 6 Plus, for example. I couldn't wrap my hand all the way around it. The width is daunting and it often required two hands to use effectively (but this is true of most devices this size.) My thumb could only reach about 50% of the screen when holding the phone normally. Thanks to its girth, stuffing it in your pocket is a challenge no matter how large it is. It's also heavy. I was constantly aware of the ZMax when I carried it around; it's not comfortable to have in your jeans.

The glass forming the display is set down into the frame a little bit, which creates a rim around the screen. The rim protects the screen, but I don't like the way it felt against my skin when I used the phone. The frame is made of metal, and it's incredibly thin (but not thin enough to warrant any fear over its strength). The earpiece speaker is formed by a slit in the glass at the top of the display in addition to holes drilled into the thin bezel. Speaking of which, there are large blank areas above and below the display that make the phone extra tall. It's iPhone-like, and that's not a good thing here. The chin has three capacitive buttons for controlling the Android operating system. Those three buttons worked very well.

You'll find the volume toggle on the left edge of the phone. It has a great profile, making it easy to find, but travel and feedback are disappointing. The SIM card tray is positioned just above the toggle. These are mirrored by the screen lock button and memory card tray on the right side of the phone. I was much more pleased with the lock button. The headphone jack is on top and the USB port is on the bottom.

You won't be able to pull or swap batteries. The ZMax is locked up tightly; there's no access to the innards. ZTE's logo is stenciled on in chrome letters and the camera module is rimmed in a chrome ring. Both help break up what would otherwise be a stark black surface. There's a thin slit close to the bottom so the speakerphone can be heard.

The ZMax hardware is bulky, but functional.

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