The world of smartphones can be a scary, confusing, and expensive place, but there are several phones at CES 2015 that will make you question whether it really has to be like that. The ZTE Grand X Max+ (MSRP $199.99) is part of a growing movement to bring powerful mobile tools to everyone who needs (or wants) them.
With a list of impressive specifications including a gigantic, 6-inch screen, the Grand X Max+ is not only affordable, but built to work on low-cost mobile carrier Cricket, which offers plans as cheap as $40 a month. Given these no-contract MVNOs tend to offer low-end, outdated hardware, it's big news that Cricket snagged a phone of this magnitude.
Design & Handling
It's big. Very big.
The Grand X Max+ is a large phone—bigger than the iPhone 6+ and right there with the Google Nexus 6. Its 6-inch 720p HD LCD screen is bright and clear, though at just 720p resolution its pixel density lags far behind Apple's phablet, as well as the new Asus ZenFone 2. Despite its size, the phone is still light and relatively easy to hold (and I say that as someone with very small hands). Despite its surprising lightness, the phone doesn't feel flimsy or cheap, either.
As with most modern Android devices, all navigation is done on-screen, because the screen takes up almost the entire front of the phone. On the demo unit I tried, an option was enabled that put the main navigation buttons in a floating bubble widget (not unlike a Facebook chat head), giving you more vertical screen space and putting the vital controls closer to your hand of choice.
As you'd expect at this point, the Android 4.4 KitKat OS is fast and responsive. I saw very little lag between furious swipes of the screen. The screen itself seemed fairly smudge-resistant, and the overall look of the phone is simple—not too flashy, but in a good way. The design is thin, flat, and angular, with minimal ZTE branding top front and the center back.
A subtle carbon fiber pattern underlies the glossy plastic of the back. As with most glossy plastic finishes, it's plenty grippy and doesn't feel like it's likely to slip out of your hand, despite the slightly unwieldy size.
Features & Specs
What do you get for such a low price?
The Grand X Max+ has a 1.2 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor (like the $180 Moto G), 16GB of on-board memory, 2GB of RAM, and microSDHC support for up to 32GB of additional storage.
Compared to the CES Editor's Choice award—winning Asus ZenFone 2, the specs are a little weaker in these categories. The ZenFone 2's Intel Atom processor is the only question mark; aside from that, it offers a sharper (and slightly more manageable) screen, as well as the potential for more RAM, more internal storage, and more expanded storage. It also runs Android 5.0 Lollipop right out of the gate.
Then there's the fact that it's carrier-unlocked, meaning you can use it on AT&T or T-Mobile, as well as MVNOs that allow you to bring your own handset. For these reasons, we prefer it over the ZTE X Max+, but for those already happy with Cricket, ZTE's phone still looks to be a fantastic choice.
There's one nice advantage on the X Max+'s side: The large 3200mAh battery is paired with Qualcomm Quick Charge, which can get you from a dead battery to 30% in just 30 minutes.
The 13-megapixel camera around back looks to be a variant of the same unit found on other phones around the same price point, including the ZenFone 2. On the front, there's a standard 5-megapixel secondary camera for selfies and video chat. ZTE's custom camera app has some fun features to work with, including a Pro mode that provides some pretty advanced exposure correction options.
Getting more for less
One would think that a smartphone would cost less than a laptop, but these days, that might not be the case. For many people, smartphones have replaced laptops and tablets entirely, but until recently there was no Chromebook or netbook equivalent in the smartphone world.
Thankfully, phones that fill this niche are becoming more popular. While the ZTE Grand X Max+ may not be as powerful as some of the other phones in the under-$200 range, it promises to be a solid option, especially for people looking to use a low-cost, no-contract data plan.
The Grand X Max+ is available now online at Cricket Mobile's website and retail locations.