Today, ZTE unveiled its new MAX XL entry level smartphone for the Sprint Boost Mobile network. Positioned as the contender of the Samsung Galaxy J7, the other smartphone offered by Boost Mobile, the large 6-inch ZTE MAX XL is available today for only $129.99 MRSP.
On the Boost Mobile site, the Samsung Galaxy J7 costs $199 without discount (today a $70 discount is offered) and most of the prices found on the internet are in that ballpark.
The main features of this affordable smartphone are the large 6-inch IPS FHD display, a responsive fingerprint sensor, and the high capacity battery, which delivers 3,990 mAh. By comparison, the Galaxy J7 has a smaller 5.5 display with a 3000 mAh battery and no fingerprint reader. However, the Samsung’s mid-range device features a more muscular Snapdragon 615 while the MAX XL gets a Qualcomm Snapdragon 435.
My guess is ZTE made some hard choices to offer best-in-class and sought-after features under $130 and had to cut the cost on the processor side, to be able to provide a large IPS display with good image quality, a high-capacity battery and a fingerprint sensor at that price point.
The idea behind the choices made for the MAX XL’s hardware is summarized by what Lixin Cheng, chairman and CEO of ZTE USA, said:
“The ZTE MAX XL is intended to show just how great an affordable premium device can be in 2017.We continue to push boundaries and give consumers more of what they want – bigger battery, bigger screen and the best connection possible – all at an affordable price. Consumers can get an excellent smartphone for under $130, and the MAX XL proves it.”
I have played briefly during the past few days with the ZTE MAX XL, and you can read my short review here.
Display (Very good for the price)
The main feature of the new ZTE MAX XL is the massive 6-inch display. At less than $130, we cannot expect “best in class,” however, the FHD IPS panel delivers a good image quality, with bright colors and deep contrasts. The screen-to-body ratio is rather decent, for a mid-range smartphone, the bezels are not too large.
Video Playback (good)
To make sure the video playback is good for such a nice price, I played the latest Justice League 2017 4K trailer from Youtube over WiFi. The video playback was fluid with a good sound quality, I sat the volume at about 75% of the maximum, in a quiet environment.
Industrial design (Good for the price)
Similarly, given the uber-affordable price and the large battery, the industrial design cannot be the thinnest and lightest out there. However, the built quality is very decent, the curved and subtly rubberized textured back cover feels comfortable in the palm and offers a good grip.
Fingerprint reader (very good)
It is a nice surprise to get a fingerprint reader on the back of the ZTE MAX XL, at such a low price point, for instance, the Galaxy J7 for Boost does not have one. It is quite easy to set up at least one of your fingerprint, and it can be used to unlock the device, snap photos and even answer calls. The sensor is pretty responsive, and it snapped photos very fast. Using the sensor on the back to shoot pictures is sometimes more comfortable and more practical.
The 13MP camera does a decent job at snapping photos in broad daylight, however, when tested to its limit in a dark restaurant, I had to use the flash to get a good picture of the excellent food I was eating. For a few days, I tested the ZTE MAX XL against an old flagship, the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 that launched in September 2015. Similarly, I shot a couple of photos in low light while flying on a plane; the Galaxy Note 5 had no trouble getting a good shot of my purse in a dark and shaky environment. However, the photo taken with the ZTE MAX XL was blurry because the shutter speed was probably slower to compensate for sensor’s inability to capture enough light in the dark. (see examples)
While the shutter is decently responsive, it takes a while for the to save the photo file, about one second or so. When you are used to the ultra-fast speed of flagship smartphones’ cameras, this could be a little annoying.
On the front, you will get a 5 MP camera for selfies and video conferencing.
See the original Photo samples by the ZTE MAX XL here:
And you can compare with the original photo samples taken with the Samsung Galaxy Note 5:
Sprint’s Boost Mobile
The review unit was not properly set up on the Boost network for me, since I do not have an account. As a consequence, I could not test it over the 4G LTE network, but only over WiFi or offline.
The ZTE MAX XL works with the Boost Mobile Unlimited Gigs plan, the key features are:
- Unlimited talk, text and data with mobile optimized streaming videos, gaming and music.
- Unlimited 4G LTE data for most everything else.**
- $50 a month for one line.
- $30 a month for a second line, up to five total lines.
More information on the Sprint website.
Performance and hardware
The mid-range SoC, the octa-core 1.4 GHz Snapdragon 435 (2Gb RAM) offers a decent perceived performance, sometimes a little slow to load an app, and definitively slow to process/save a photo. That’s probably because the storage isn’t super-fast either. However it is good enough for most of the daily tasks, and at that price, the experience is good.
Measured performance (decent for mono-tasking and video playback)
The ZTE Max XL handset is powered by a Snapdragon 435 SoC (system on a chip). Designed for cost-efficiency, the Snapdragon 435 can run basic smartphone functionalities well but is challenged by the more powerful Snapdragon 6xx Series, and of course, it is far from being as powerful as the Snapdragon 8xx in the high-end.
In 3D gaming applications, the Snapdragon 435 is about 30% slower than the Snapdragon 615 for old games, and up to 50% slower for recent games. We are talking about graphics-heavy games here. In general system-wide performance, we estimate that there is a gap of 20-25% in favor of Snapdragon 615.
The main difference between the two chips is that the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 Series has been optimized to work beyond FHD/1080p resolution for video decoding and encoding. That is why it has more graphics horsepower. Since the ZTE Max XL has an FHD display, it’s not a real issue. Obviously, at these price level, it’s doubtful that benchmarking prowess is a primary concern, but it’s good to know where the handset stands.
Here are a comparison between two smartphones, one featuring the Snapdragon 435 and the other one, the Samsung J7 with the Snapdragon 615 – from there you can have a pretty good idea of what to expect (Benchmark with the MAX XL coming soon here) https://www.ubergizmo.com/products/lang/en_us/devices/honor-6,galaxy-j7/
You can also compare both Socs here: http://system-on-a-chip.specout.com/compare/1097-1209/Qualcomm-Snapdragon-615-MSM8939-vs-Qualcomm-Snapdragon-435
Battery (High Capacity – Very good)
The 3,990 mAh battery should deliver a good battery life. Since I could not connect to the Boost 4G LTE network, because my account was not setup, I cannot say that much on that front.
Test over WiFi: the device was not connected to any network from 5.30 am to 11. 30 pm and went from 100% battery to 34%. Then, I connected it to a WiFi network, and it remained constantly connected. At 5 am the next day, with no activity besides the background wifi connection, the battery indicated 28% charge remaining, at 4 pm, with very minimal usage, it was down to 22%. Please note that I did not activate that many apps besides Gmail, so the notification activity was pretty minimal as well. It is safe to say that with minimal usage, the ZTE MAX XL last over 36 hours on one charge, which is pretty good.
On any device, battery consumption is highly related to usage. For instance, on my primary smartphone, I have numerous applications installed and activated that constantly push notifications, specifically, my Facebook is particularly active, since I have so many connections that post every 30 seconds on my timeline, and it tends to drain the battery faster.
Conclusion (Very good for the price)
The ZTE MAX XL will certainly appeal to people who want to use a phablet as their primary computing device and consume content on the large 6-inch display. The large battery that offers 3990 mAh capacity is the second major feature of this affordable phablet.
At $129.99, the ZTE MAX XL packs great features and is a serious competitor for the Galaxy J7, the other smartphone available on the Boost network, that does not feature a fingerprint reader or a high capacity battery.