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printed November 23, 2017
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Review: ZTE Max XL for Boost Mobile

Hardware Software Wrap-Up Comments  

Lock Screen

The Max XL's lock screen helps you manage incoming notifications like most other Android phones. It includes a version of the now-common "always on" display, but it is turned off by default and buried deep in the settings menu. In fact, I only discovered it by accident. When turned on, it will briefly flash incoming notifications on the lock screen.

Press the home or lock button to wake the display, and see the clock and notifications. The lock screen provides a large clock in the upper-right corner, but it's hard to read (especially outdoors). Notifications are broken down by app and listed in chronological order underneath the time/date. As always, you can adjust the privacy of notifications.

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Lock Screen  

The Max XL offers PIN, pattern, password, or fingerprint options for securing the phone. Training several fingerprints is a breeze and I found the reader was typically fast enough for unlocking the phone. The Max XL also supports the Android Smart Lock function, which will keep the device unlocked when it senses trusted devices, locations, and voices. These all worked as they should.

Notifications  

The lock screen provides shortcuts to the camera and Google voice search. You cannot customize these.

Home Screen

The Max XL runs Android 7.1 Nougat with a light user interface from ZTE and Boost.

The home screen panels and app drawer function as on any standard Android handset. Three home screen panels are active out of the box, and Boost Mobile has slathered them with all sorts of folders and such. As per the norm, these can be customized however you wish. The app drawer, settings menu, and Quick Settings shade are all stock Android, which I appreciate.

Home Screens  

By default, the capacitive keys below the screen are back, home, and multitask, but you can swap back and multitask if you're used to the Samsung layout. I like that you can adjust the size of the fonts and on-screen elements to make use of all the screen real estate. There are several pre-installed themes, and you can download more from Boost Mobile if you so desire.

Customize  

The Max XL has a Snapdragon 435 processor under the hood. This chip falls toward the lower end of Qualcomm's processor lineup. Still, this 1.4 GHz octa-core engine with 2 GB of RAM does an admirable job keeping the Max XL moving smoothly. Performance was quick most of the time. I didn't see any major issues when jumping from screen to screen, switching to other apps, or playing games.

Camera

The quickest way to open the camera is by double-tapping the screen lock button (as long as you activate this feature.) You can also use the lock screen shortcut or the standard camera app icon on the home screens. The camera opens quickly enough.

The viewfinder includes a handful of toggles for some features (settings, HDR, timer, flash, camera switcher) on the left. The Max XL has six shooting modes: auto, video, manual, panorama, time-lapse, and multi-exposure. The first three are available directly from the viewfinder, while the latter three must be accessed through a secondary menu. Most of these modes are self-explanatory.

The multi-exposure mode — which is common to ZTE phones — allows you to take two pictures and overlay them in a handful of different ways to create a single image. Putting this mode to effective use takes practice.

The manual mode is great for people who want to take a little more control. It allows you to adjust shutter speed (up to 80 seconds!), white balance, ISO, exposure, and focus. The manual mode includes an always-on visual tool to help ensure the shot is level, and lets you lock focus and exposure if you want.

The camera's settings are a cinch to use thanks to the simple and straightforward design.

The selfie camera includes a brightness slider, but not a beautification tool. The selfie cam also has a smile-trigger setting and a screen-based flash.

The Max XL's camera offers a lot of shooting modes and is relatively straight-forward to use. Most people will figure it out in a snap. The camera app runs quickly.

Camera  

Photos/Video

The Max XL's main camera has a 13-megapixel sensor. It's aided by the flash. I thought most pictures I took with the Max XL were decent, but they didn't bowl me over. Focus, white balance, and exposure were typically good, though there were plenty of unusable shots. Most people should get usable photos the majority of the time. I did see a bit of grain in low-light images, but it wasn't too bad. The flash does well with exposure when you're shooting at close distances. Pictures shot in bright sunlight or evenly overcast skies were best.

The 5-megapixel selfie cam does a pretty good job. The smile-capture tool works really well, as does the selfie flash. Focus is a bit soft and images did tend to be somewhat grainy.

The Max XL's full HD video camera shoots clean, well-exposed video.

I wouldn't use the Max XL for vacations or important life events, but it's passable as an everyday camera.

Photos  

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