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printed December 14, 2017
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Review: ZTE ZMax for T-Mobile / MetroPCS

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Media

There are no surprises in the media department. The ZMax relies on the Google's standard Play Store and associated apps for music, video, and other content. Like the messaging apps, Google has overhauled these, too, and the newest versions are the best yet. They all work fairly well when it comes to purchasing and consuming content.

There is an unbranded music app for spinning side-loaded MP3s and a T-Mobile-branded video app for playing side-loaded video files. T-Mobile also stuck its MobiTV-made movie/TV app on there for good measure. This app — which works best over LTE — offers video content for a monthly fee. You're best off sticking with YouTube.

Music sounds good through headphones, but I wasn't overly impressed with the quality of video playback on the screen. My eyes want more pixels.

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Media  

Camera

Placing a shortcut on the home screen is the quickest way to get to the camera. There's no access from the lock screen and there's no dedicated button.

As with most modern smartphone cameras, the ZMax's software offers two sets of controls, down the left and right sides, though there's still plenty of room on the screen for the viewfinder. The shutter controls are on the right, and there are separate buttons for still and video capture.

The different shooting modes and scenes — of which there are 18 — can be dialed in below the shutter buttons. The ZMax offers auto, normal, HDR, panorama, best shot, manual, smile, group, clear, blink detect, interval, macro, portrait, night portrait, sport, sunset, landscape, and low light shooting modes.

Best shot takes a 10-shot burst of photos and lets you pick the best one. “Photo clear” mode lets you erase objects in the background. Smile capture automatically fires the shutter when the camera senses the subject is smiling. Group shot mode takes a handful of shots and lets you combine the best series of faces into a single image. The interval mode allows you to take a short time-lapse of 6 pictures over 30 seconds, 12 pictures over 60 seconds, or 18 pictures over 90 seconds. I found each of the modes worked as expected.

Last, the settings allow you to adjust the brightness, white balance, color effects, timer, and so on.

The tools all work well, but the software has a somewhat dated appearance.

Camera  

Photos

The ZMax has an 8-megapixel camera. It does a decent enough job that most people should be able to get away with leaving their cameras at home for all but the most important events. As far as everyday imaging needs are concerned, it gets the job done. Exposure, focus, and white balance are generally accurate, though getting all three accurate at the same time is a rare hat trick. I saw lots of grain when shooting indoors, and the flash doesn't help mitigate that at all. As is typically the case, you'll get the best results on sunny afternoons outdoors. I'd take a real camera on vacation or to weddings, but using the ZMax to snap shots of your friends at happy hour is perfectly acceptable.

Photos  

Video

The ZMax can take video up to 1080p full HD resolution. For the most part, the video looked good. The video results were consistently better than those of the still camera. Focus and exposure were most consistently matched. As with the still camera, you can get away with using the ZMax for everyday needs, but I'd step up to dedicated video gear for important events.

Gallery

The ZMax uses the old Android photo gallery, but also has Google Photos+ on board. I've been recommending people move away from the older app in favor of Photos+, only because the former is being phased out. It has most of the tools average people need to tweak the appearance of their photos. That means basics such as contract, exposure, and saturation, as well as artistic filters and effects. Sharing via social networks is a breeze. Photos also automatically backs up all your photos to the cloud if you want.

Gallery  

Apps

Third-party apps are few on the ZMax. T-Mobile stuck its MyAccount app, as well as T-Mobile TV, and Visual Voicemail. You'll notice the Amazon app and Lookout Security. ZTE didn't put anything on there at all. Everything else is stock Android. It's a breath a fresh air to see so few junky apps on the phone.

Bluetooth

I had no trouble connecting the ZMax to other devices, such as headsets, speakers, and so on. All of the features worked as expected. However, call quality through my favorite headset was iffy at best. Both volume and quality were off. I'd say the same thing concerning music playback through a Bluetooth speaker. It just wasn't as good as what I've heard from other devices, especially since it doesn't support the high-quality aptX profile.

Browser

Chrome is the only browser on the ZMax and that's fine by me. It does a great job of rendering web sites whether they're optimized for mobile or not. I found it to be fairly quick on T-Mobile's network. Most web sites popped up in fewer than 10 seconds, though weak coverage would drag things out a bit. Desktop Chrome users can take advantage of advanced features, such as syncing bookmarks and browsing history.

Browser  

Clock

Were it not for the killer brightness of the ZMax's display, you'd never see the clock. The white, digital clock is hardly visible thanks to the smudge factor on the screen. The bright display helps the clock poke through the grimy gunk just enough so that you can make out the time.

GPS

Google Maps is the only location service preinstalled. It interacted with the ZMax's GPS radio just fine. The phone found me quickly and accurately. I didn't have any problems navigating from A to B. It worked perfectly.

Maps  

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