Review: ZTE Grand X Max+ for Cricket Wireless
Google's Play-branded apps constitute the bulk of the media apps found on the X Max+. The Play Store serves as the content warehouse for music, movies, books, and magazines and the separate apps for enjoying these bits of content are all on board. Google has revised most of these apps since October; they feel fresh thanks to Material Design.
The X Max+ also offers stand-alone music and video player apps for side-loaded or memory card content. These two apps are functional and serve well. The phone also includes the trusty YouTube app.
ZTE tossed the Dolby app on board for good measure. It lets users dial in sound preferences to suit their tastes. The Dolby app has several presets (movie, music, game, voice), but also supports two user-defined EQ curves. This is something I appreciate. I tested the Dolby app up against my best headphones and can report that each of the presets offers a unique sound profile. For example, the soundstage is much wider when using movie mode than it is with music, and the voice mode sounds flatter than the others.
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At the end of January, Cricket will retire its legacy Muve Music service and replace it with Deezer. Deezer is totally optional, but provides access to 35 million songs for $6 per month.
The camera app for the X Max+ is a brand new one from ZTE. It's much more attractive and modern than what we saw on last year's ZTE phones. It opens quickly from the lock screen shortcut, but it's a pity there's no dedicated button for it.
There are three basic operating modes: Auto, Pro, and Fun. The default is Auto, but you can cycle through them with a button in the upper right corner. The Auto mode is fairly straight-forward. The left side of the screen has five small buttons running along the edge for switching to the selfie camera, setting the timer, turning HDR on/of, setting the flash, and adjusting certain settings.
If you switch to Pro Mode, the five buttons on the left remain the same, but the settings menu changes dramatically and lets you adjust everything (image size, white balance, ISO, exposure, gradient, face detection, and so on.) Perhaps its best feature is the built-in level that helps you align your shot.
The Fun Mode simply lets you adjust the exposure time from 0 seconds to 60 seconds with a slider on the right side of the screen. I'm not exactly sure what's fun about that, but that's the gist of it: it's a long-exposure mode.
All three modes let you set focus and exposure by touching anywhere on the screen. I figure most people won't bother switching from Auto mode most of the time, but more advanced users may appreciate the additional options available in Pro mode.
I found the camera app to be a bit slow and unresponsive at times, which, I'm afraid, is a characteristic common to devices with the Snapdragon 400 processor. It's the only app that performed somewhat under par as far as speed is concerned.
The X Max+ improves the camera resolution from 8 to 13 megapixels. Even so, getting a good shot is more a happy accident than anything else. The X Max+ was wildly inconsistent at everything. Sometimes white balance, exposure, and focus were all good, and sometimes they weren't. Typically only two of the three were accurate and the third was way off. You can see the overexposed wall behind the shrub below, the wacky white balance in the shot of the canoes and sit-n-spin, and the soft focus of the wire-frame deer. I was stunned the shot of the sunset in my backyard worked, but it's loaded with grain. Bottom line: you can't trust the X Max+ to get the job done consistently. That's a shame.
The X Max+ can shoot 1080p HD video and does a better job of it than it does with the camera. It was better at scoring accurate exposure, focus, and white balance all at the same time. I did notice plenty of grain, though, even when the subject was brightly lit. You're apt to get usable video from the X Max+, but I'd still turn to dedicated equipment for important events.
The Grand X Max+ relies on the old Android photo gallery, but also has Google Photos. I've been recommending people move away from the older app in favor of Photos+, only because the former is being phased out. The new Photos has most of the tools average people need to tweak the appearance of their photos. That means basics such as contrast, 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. The old gallery app has fewer features and an outdated design.
Cricket and ZTE did a great job keeping the X Max+ free of bloatware. Aside from three Cricket-branded apps, there's no real junk on the X Max+. That's a bonus in my book. The extra apps included are potenially useful, and include Amazon Kindle, AskMD, Evernote, and Kingsoft Office.
The X Max+ has Bluetooth 4.0 on board. I thought voice calls routed to my favorite wireless headset sounded good, but I've heard better. I was disappointed with the loss of clarity when compared to using the regular earpiece, but volume was typically good. Music sounded decent when sent to a Bluetooth speaker, but again I've heard better. The X Max+ sadly doesn't support the aptX profile for top-quality Bluetootg music.
You'll find a generic browser and Chrome on the X Max+. I'd recommend you stick with Chrome. The generic browser is skinned by Cricket and is rather flaky. The address bar and other tools could be more user friendly. Chrome is better, though it has its own quirks. Most importantly, I found Chrome to be consistently better at rendering web sites quickly and accurately over AT&T's network. The X Max+ never felt hindered by its somewhat slower LTE performance.
The clock on the lock screen is a simple, white digital clock. There's nothing fancy about it, and it cannot be changed or altered. The X Max+ has a bright display, which means you can read the clock even when the sun is high in the sky. You do have to pick your wallpapers carefully to contrast with the white numbers.
Google Maps is the only preinstalled navigation tool and that's just fine. I found it worked really well on the X Max+. The phone interacted with GPS quickly and accurately pegged my location. The X Max+ was able to stay on top of turn-by-turn directions without falling behind or getting lost.
Hands-On: ZTE Grand X Max+ and SPRO 2
Here is a quick take on ZTE's new hero phone for Cricket Wireless as well as a peek at the new mobile hotspot projector.
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