Review: ZTE ZMax for T-Mobile / MetroPCS
The ZMax runs a nearly skinless version of Android 4.4 KitKat. That means it behaves like most other Android smartphones released in the last year or so, with just a smattering of ZTE-designed apps here and there. ZTE hasn't yet said anything about updating the ZMax to Android 5.0 Lollipop, so we'll have to assume for now that it will be on KitKat for the foreseeable future.
Disappointingly, there are no app shortcuts available to the home screen. You can lock it with a PIN, password, pattern, your face, or leave it unlocked entirely. The choice is yours. The Quick Settings panel is accessible from the lock screen (even when protected) but notifications aren't. The phone does support lock screen widgets, though, so you can see your Gmail or SMS inboxes if you want.
The ZMax has five home screen panels active out of the box and they are (thankfully) devoid of manufacturer and carrier apps or junk. The main app drawer lists apps in alphabetical order. You can drop them in folders, but the ZMax doesn't support lists or customized views. The settings menus look and function just like they should on any Android KitKat phone. They run in a vertical list with white text on a black background. At least ZTE tossed some colored buttons into the setting menus to brighten it up.
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A Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 serves as the ZMax's application processor. It's got four cores at 1.2 GHz each. This is Qualcomm's workhorse processor and I've tested it in what feels like dozens of phones this year. It performs really well in the ZMax. I didn't see any lagging or slow performance. Nearly all the ZMax's features functioned perfectly with the 400 providing the oomph.
The ZMax relies on the stock Android phone and people apps. The phone app, which is located in the dock at the bottom of the home screen panels, opens in a jiffy. The call log, dialer, and contacts are sorted into tabs. You swipe sideways to switch between them. Google assumes most people will initiate calls from their contacts or favorites list, rather than actually dial numbers, so the dialer's importance is downplayed. T-Mobile's WiFi Calling service isn't available to the ZMax.
The contact app can pull in contacts from myriad sources, including Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft/Exchange. Contact details can also be pulled from your social media accounts (Facebook/Twitter) to help flesh out contact cards. The contact app lets you put direct dial/message shortcuts on the home screen if you wish, but there isn't a larger home-screen widget for contacts. I do wish the native people app were a bit less white.
The ZMax comes with Gmail, email, messaging, Hangouts, and Google+. Google has updated many of these apps so they are the same no matter what version of Google you're running. The latest Gmail app is great and now incorporates other email services. It's a toss up whether you use the older Android SMS app or Hangouts for SMS these days. The old app is a barren service, while Hangouts is richer but much more confusing to use. Twitter and Facebook aren't preloaded, so you'll have to find them and any other social networks in the Play Store.
Hands On with the ZMax for T-Mobile
At an event in NYC tonight, ZTE announced the ZMax, an affordable, large-screen phone for T-Mobile USA. The phone comes at a time when ZTE is trying to escape its low-tier reputation in the U.S.
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