ZTE is coming back to life in the U.S. at full speed, after paying a $1 billion fee to the US government. The ZTE Axon 9 Pro, their first phone launched after the ban lift last August, is a very good flagship handset and we awarded it an Ubergizmo’s , you can check the review here.
The Blade series is ZTE’s mid-range lineup (as defined by ZTE), and last Wednesday (10/31/2018), the Chinese manufacturer launched two smartphones in that category at $200 and less: the ZTE Blade Max View and the ZTE Blade Max 2s, both with large 6” FHD+ IPS LCD displays with 18:9 aspect ratio and massive 4000 mAh batteries in quite compact and elegant bodies for very sweet prices.
At publishing time, the Blade Max View is priced at $199.99 and unfortunately launched with Android Nougat (7.1.1) with an update to Oreo (Android 8) expected by December. The Max 2s runs on Android Oreo and cost $179.99.
Although this product is designed to address the Low Mid-Range market ($150-250 – our categorization), which is ZTE’s preferred market segment, the truth is that many products will change positioning as their price falls over the years.
With cost as main criteria, we got a group of smartphones which may be alternatives to assess how the ZTE Blade Max View fits in its immediate smartphone landscape: we will compare with the Sony XPERIA L2 (~195 USD), the Huawei Honor 7C (~160 USD), the Huawei nova 2i (~225 USD), and the Samsung Galaxy J6 (2018) (~180 USD).
The Blade View is an open market phone that supports T-mobile, AT&T, Verizon and you can buy it from ZTE.com, Newegg and B&H.
Key technical specifications
- 6” IPS LCD Display (2160×1080)
- 16 MP Camera f/2 aperture, with 2MP secondary lens for bokeh
- Dual speaker with Dolby audio and 3.5 mm audio jack
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 435 platform 3GB RAM, 32 GB of Storage + MicroSDXC (2TB max)
- 4000 mAh battery capacity
- Android 7.1.1 (Nougat) will be updated in December to Android 8 (Oreo)
Industrial design (very good for the price)
- 5 mm audio jack and USB Type-C connector
- Two speakers with Dolby Audio
- Dual SIM/microSD slot for up to 2TB memory extension
- 1% display-to-body ratio (Ubergizmo Lab measurement – very good for the market segment)
- Fingerprint sensor on the back
- Large display (6”) with lightweight (160g) and compact body in relation to the size
- Minimalistic look and feel with comfortable grip
For a $200 device, the industrial design is very good for the price, although not as creative as the Blade Max 2s with its dual color gradient.
ZTE kept the 3.5 mm audio jack at the top while providing an USB Type-C connector at the bottom for charging. At the bottom, the speakers deliver Dolby Audio, with 7.1 surround sound and good audio quality from what I heard during our briefing. (see the video with the audio demo)
On the left side, you will find the dual-SIM slot which can be used for a microSD card to extend the 32GB internal storage (up to 2TB additional storage). On the other side, the small volume buttons are located above the power button.
The fingerprint sensor on the back is the best external placement, since it frees more screen real estate in the front and falls naturally right below your index finger when you pick up the phone.
The minimalist look and feel with the black logo subtly printed on the black back cover and the camera module perfectly centered with the round fingerprint sensor conveys some level of sophistication and elegance.
With a width of 74.9mm (2.95 inches) and a thickness of 8.1mm (0.32 inches), the smartphone feels comfortable in hand. We use U.S M-size gloves for male hand-size reference, so this will vary from person to person. The device weighs 160 grams (5.64 oz), and we would consider that weight to be medium weight, although in the batch we selected, it is the lightest for its large size (6”) with only the smaller Galaxy J6 being lighter at 154g.
The Blade Max View battery capacity available is excellent for a handset of this size. The screen display-to-body ratio of 76.1% is also quite good in absolute terms and excellent for this price range.
Display (excellent for the price)
- 1% display-to-body ratio – very good for the price
- Large 6” with FHD+ (2160×1080) resolution – 18:9
- 402 ppi pixel density, very good for the price
- IPS LCD with good image quality
The image quality of the 6” IPS LCD FHD+ display looks good with bright colors and deep contrast and features a high display-to-body ratio of 76.1% for that market segment.
18:9 aspect ratio is becoming the new standard for recently released smartphones as it allows for a larger screen surface without increasing the width which would be less comfortable to hold.
The high resolution on a very large display (6” with 2160×1080) delivers a high pixel density of 402 which is only like the slightly more expensive Huawei Nova 2i in that price range (5.9” with 2160×1080 – 409ppi). The Sony Xperia L2 (5.5”, 1280×720) the Honor 7c (5.99”, 1440×720) and the Galaxy J6 (5.6”, 1480×720) are all below 294 ppi.
As it is an IPS LCD, the colors perhaps look more natural and less saturated than on the OLED and AMOLED displays we have seen. To our current knowledge, there is a a little chance to get an OLED display in that price range (sub $200), except for manufacturers who make their own OLED panels like Samsung – see below more technical info about the display technology.
At that price, we cannot expect the same top quality as the $800+ recent mobile devices, and we are pleased to see a good image quality for a sweet price.
Display technical analysis
The Blade Max View features an IPS LCD display. IPS/PLS LCD technology made LCD displays reach the next level, first on mobile, then everywhere else. IPS/PLS can reproduce more colors than normal LCD, with better color saturation and wider view angles. Within the range of IPS LCDs there are still some differences, but in general IPS/PLS are beyond basic LCD panels. However, LCD an IPS/PLS LCD displays as a group are not as technologically edgy as OLED panels which have even better contrast ratio and color saturation.
While it is feasible to design excellent LCD displays that perform at a similar level to some OLED, these LCD panels should be seen as the exceptions, and they may not have any of the normal advantages associated with LCD (vs. OLED). You can read our complete LCD vs. OLED article to learn more.
The resolution of 2160×1080 would be considered to be high in absolute terms and compared to the competition it would be above average.
Main camera – rear (good)
- Mid-range 16MP sensor, good for the price
- Dual-lens rear camera for bokeh
- No OIS, no EIS (typical at that price range)
16MP is a good resolution for the price range, since only the more expensive ($225 – +11.2%) Huawei Nova 2i offers that resolution, the Sony Xperia L2, the Honor 7c and the Galaxy J6 only deliver 13MP.
The 16 Megapixel count should never be used as a general proxy of photo quality, but in very bright light scenes, it could be a good proxy for photographic detail and sharpness. For example, on a sunny day, a landscape photo with a higher megapixel count could show finer details.
The secondary lens at 2MP is just a sensor mainly for the bokeh effect in portrait mode, a mandatory feature in today’s mobile cameras. According to ZTE, the second sensor helps to enhance the image quality of all photos, a claim we did not check yet, but we will come back to that in our full review. Dual lenses are common in the Premium phone market segment and we can notice that ZTE is the only one with Huawei to feature it for low mid-range devices, with the Honor 7C and the Huawei Nova 2i featuring a 2MP secondary sensor.
Between 12 MP, 16 MP and 21 MP differences in small details can be quite noticeable, if printed or viewed on a large and/or high-PPI display.
In dim lighting situations, the high Megapixel count (>12) has little influence. Also, the physical size of each sensor pixel is important.
With higher megapixel counts, sensing pixels (sensels) may have to be smaller. Each obtains less light information and in dark scenes, it is better for the overall image quality to gather more light with fewer (but bigger) sensels than the opposite. It is a balance that needs to be struck. Today, 12 Megapixel seem to be the best sensor trade-off between sharpness, low-light and autofocus performance.
The Blade Max View’s camera does NOT have Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) on the primary camera module. The lack of OIS support will reduce the chances to capture great photos, especially in dark scenes. That feature is present in the flagship smartphones’ cameras and not in all of them. It might be costly to integrate thus it is unlikely that any sub $200 will have it. None of the smartphones we selected in this Low/mid-range category feature OIS.
As of 11/2/2018, we have no accurate information to assess the real performance of the camera in low light. We will update this hands-on with our complete review of the camera using our new Ubergizmo Lab.
EIS (Electronic Image Stabilization) is NOT available on this handset. Because of this, the video recordings may be shakier than competitors that have this feature. Similarly, none of the smartphones we selected in this Low/mid-range category has that feature, this may be to lower the costs or because it is not well supported by the processor or both.
The autofocus of the Blade Max View camera is based on Phase Detection technology.
Phase-detection AF that was originally built into discrete AF sensor chips in the DSLR days. Then it got integrated into the camera’s primary sensor. It works by adding specialized AF pixels sensors that would tell if specific points in the image were in-focus. This method is very advanced, and the AF capabilities work well in most cases.
AF performance is somewhat proportional to the number of hardware AF sensels. Typically, this number can go from dozens to hundreds of Phase-Detection AF points. Phase detection AF is an excellent system, which is only inferior to Dual-Pixel AF.
Selfie camera (front)
The selfie camera is nothing special with an 8MP sensor, it looks similar than the competitors of the category except for the Galaxy J6 which features a LED flash, a rare feature for selfie cameras.
We do not have info yet about the aperture, or the view angle, we will get back to that in our complete review.
- 4000 mAh high capacity for the price range
- Battery life should be very good because the processor consumption is lower than flagship processors, and this, despite the high resolution of the display
The battery capacity of ZTE Blade Max View is 4000 mAh, which is impressive in general, and very impressive in its market category.
4000 mAh is way above the capacity offered by all phones in the selected group, the closest being the Huawei Nova 2i with only 3340 mAh.
Battery life is one of the most critical features of a smartphone. A key indicator is undoubtedly its battery capacity — especially within the same ecosystem (Android, iOS or other).
Battery life can be affected by many factors, but the main ones are the main processor aka SoC, display and wireless radios (LTE broadband, WiFi, the cell towers location and more). It is not possible to precisely estimate through benchmarks how much energy drain YOUR unique lifestyle will generate. However, two things are surly always good:
- A greater battery capacity
- Very fast charging
We will check the charging time when we will have the review unit in hand.
It is generally impossible to predict realistic battery life by running synthetic tests. Factors such as display brightness, (LTE/WiFi) radio usage and distance to access points will vary too much. Also, how many apps installed, and their usage cannot be estimated. Battery capacity is the best battery-life indicator for YOUR usage.
This product does NOT have a swappable battery, which is the norm for smartphones nowadays. Fixed batteries cannot be swapped or conveniently exchanged, but they do permit for smaller designs and slightly bigger battery size within the same product design.
Since this product has a very large screen, keep in mind that larger displays tend to utilize more power due to the larger surface area to light up. It depends on the brightness levels screens are being set up at, but the potential for higher energy is there, so higher battery capacity is preferable.
This handset has a relatively common screen resolution. Although this may be just enough from an image quality perspective, having fewer pixels to handle is a good thing for battery life.
The Max View, unlike the cheaper Max 2s, comes with Android 7.1.1 (Nougat) at release date which is quite disappointing. According to ZTE, the OS will be updated to Android 8 (Oreo) by December 2018.
ZTE customization of Android is minimal, to stay close to the original Android stock, even in design. Knowing that a lot of Android fans prefer the stock version, it is a good strategy to iterate faster without having to support a lot of software differences with the original.
Speed and performance
This handset’s main processor is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 435 (8 Cores, 1.4 GHz) which has access to 3 GB of memory (RAM). It is a good processor, but it will find itself at a disadvantage when compared to competitors who have faster options: Snapdragon 650 (Honor 7C), Kirin 659 (Nova 2i).
The amount of RAM is important for heavy usage, or for having many apps/services on the phone. When the memory is tight, the phone may become slow if the system has to read/write from the slower Flash storage instead. This used to be one of the big differences between low and high tiers of phones, but this line is blurry now.
When I briefly played with the Blade View, the user interface was responsive, and I could not spot any perceived performance issue. I did not have time to try some 3d games or more compute intensive activities; we will do that with the review unit.
Before you look at the charts, it is important to realize that most tests are only loose pointers, usually for system or graphics performance. It is possible to see sharp performance gaps between different tiers of products (entry-level, mid-range vs. high-end), but it is less obvious to do so within devices of the same class. Benchmarks alone should NOT drive a smartphone purchase decision. To learn more, read our Are Benchmarks Important? article.
Gaming performance benchmarks apply mainly to heavy applications using 3D graphics like complex games or VR apps. Casual games like puzzles and 2D games do not require this kind of power and can run pretty much on any modern smartphone.
Wireless Broadband Performance
The Blade Max View has a CAT6 (301.5 Mbps ⇣ / 51 Mbps ⇡ ) LTE modem. This level of performance is high in its category but not impressive in general as LTE CAT18 or above are the norm at the high-end.
Wireless networks (3G/4G) performance is often thought as peak download/upload speeds, but it is the average speed that counts. These days 4G/LTE is the primary network of interest, but 5G is coming. The higher the paper LTE performance and the better the average live user experience. Additionally, wireless providers have better and more efficient LTE networks to diminish their own costs.
We know that ZTE is a good performer in the Low mid-range market segment for smartphones and in that sense the Blade Max View delivers very good performance for the price range ($199.99). The experience will be complete by December with the expected Android Oreo update.
We still need to check a few things such as the measured responsiveness (our benchmarks), the camera performance, the battery charging time and the depletion with intense computing activities.
- Large 6” IPS LCD display with FHD+ resolution delivers high pixel density (402 ppi) for a $200 smartphone
- 76.1% High display-to-body ratio for the price range (Ubergizmo Lab measured)
- 4000 mAh battery capacity, excellent for any price range
- 16 MP dual lens rear camera
- Dual speakers with Dolby Audio deliver good audio quality for the price
- Android Nougat at launch will only be updated by December 2018
- From our estimation (no review unit yet), the processor performance seems slightly lower than other smartphones we selected in similar price range ($160-$225)