ZTE's Blade Z Max is the rare smartphone that combines all the features you could want — a 6-inch full-HD display, a mammoth 4,080-mAh battery, a dual-lens camera and a fingerprint sensor that runs Android Nougat — at an ultralow price. But is this $130 unicorn too good to be true?
I went hands-on with ZTE's new MetroPCS-exclusive handset to see just how premium a budget phone can be.
Design Within Reach
Don't expect an edge-to-edge AMOLED display or finely brushed aluminum from a $130 phone, but ZTE did put some thought into the Blade Z Max's design. At 6.54 inches long, this phone is a behemoth. But ZTE added texture to the rear of the device to make it grippable; otherwise, this device would almost certainly slip out of your hand.
The pebbled, black back isn't the prettiest to look at, but it's certainly practical. ZTE also made this phone its thinnest yet, at 0.33 inches, which also makes the device easier to hold.
The company moved the dual-lens camera from the center of the device to the top left, so you won't struggle to differentiate the lens from the fingerprint sensor with your fingertip. (Ahem, Samsung Galaxy S8, looking at you.)
Dual Lenses for Less
One of the Z Max's most compelling features is its dual-lens camera system. Premium flagship smartphones have just started to embrace two rear lenses, which offer all kinds of photo effects: portrait mode, optical zoom, bokeh, monocolor and more.
The ZTE Blade Z Max's 16-MP and 2-MP rear lenses let you shoot in monocolor, apply bokeh effects that can be refocused after shooting and blur the background in portrait mode. Unlike a higher-end smartphone with dual-lens camera system, though, the ZTE Blade's results are a little uneven.
In my early tests shooting scenery in a New York City park, portrait mode wasn't super precise. The camera is supposed to capture the subject in the foreground and blur the background, but when I tested portrait mode on a flower, some petals were blurred into the background, while a passing cyclist managed to confuse the camera and remained in focus.
I had better luck with bokeh, which lets you choose which part of the image to blur and can even be adjusted after shooting. Monocolor was a standout, especially when capturing foliage in the park with the setting on green.
Battery to the Max
ZTE knows that many people use their smartphones as their main internet connection, which is why the company put a gigantic, 4,080-mAh battery in the Blade Z Max. I haven't put the phone through the Tom's Guide battery test yet, but I can attest that the Blade Z Max seems to get a lot of juice — and the device's use of Qualcomm's Quick Charge means this phone goes from 0 to 100 percent battery in no time at all.
We'll be putting the phone through more-thorough testing before our full review to see if the Blade Z Max's battery lives up to its promised 31 hours of talk time and 22 days of standby, which would land it on our list of longest-lasting smartphones.
ZTE Blade Z Max Specs
Price: $130, MetroPCS exclusive
Display: 6-inch 1920x1080 LCD
OS: Android 7.1
CPU: Snapdragon MSM8940
Storage: 32GB expandable up to 128GB
Cameras (Rear/Front): 16MP and 2MP dual lenses / 8MP
Size and Weight: 6.54 x 3.33 x 0.33 inches; 6.17 ounces
A cheap smartphone used to deliver the bare minimum in terms of bells and whistles. That's no longer the case, as models that cost $250 or less have begun adding premium features.
Though the Blade Z Max runs the latest version of Android, the next version, Android O, is just around the corner, and there's no telling if or when this phone will get the upgrade. That's something to consider.
But with this launch, ZTE is trying to prove that a solid device with the latest hardware features doesn't have to break the bank. You won't get the same quality that you would by spending $500 or more, but you won't be embarrassed to use this phone in public either. That's a big deal.
The Blade Z Max is now available to preorder through MetroPCS. Stay tuned for our full review.
Image Credits: Shaun Lucas/Tom's Guide
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Caitlin is a Senior editor for Gizmodo. She has also worked on Tom's Guide, Macworld, PCWorld and the Las Vegas Review-Journal. When she's not testing out the latest devices, you can find her running around the streets of Los Angeles, putting in morning miles or searching for the best tacos.