You could probably tell by the name that one of the defining features of the ZTE Max XL is its size. The Max XL features a large 6-inch display and an impressively large 3,990 mAh battery, but is long-lasting battery life and a large display enough to make this device worth your while? Let’s find out.
While the Max XL features a large display – a hot commodity in today’s smartphone industry – it isn’t the best quality. With an HD 1920 x 1080 display on a screen that large, images won’t be the sharpest and colors won’t be the most vibrant. If we’re being honest, there’s nothing particularly wrong with the screen; it’s just average.
In fact, most aspects of the phone can be described as average. Full specs for this device include:
The two showcasing features of the ZTE Max XL are its large 6-inch display and long-lasting battery (and it’s good at living up to both of those things, in case you wanted to know before I ramble on about my experience). However, at $130 ($99 currently on Boost Mobile, which is the review unit I have) one should reasonably expect corners to be cut to make the device so affordable.
So where were the corners cut? For starters, there’s the RAM. With just 2GB of RAM, this device isn’t going to do a whole lot of multitasking or graphic-intensive work without experiencing some sluggish response. I decided to test out Hearthstone, a game I enjoy playing casually from time to time on my phone. While it can play Hearthstone, there is noticeable lag often. It pretty much went without saying, but after testing it out I can say for certain that this isn’t a smartphone you want to buy for a good mobile gaming experience.
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that the phone only offers 16GB of internal memory, which is forgivable considering A.) the price and B.) the fact that a microSD card allows the user to add up to 128GB of additional storage.
The 13-megapixel rear-facing camera is (surprise!) average at best. No professional photographer is going to say that the ZTE Max XL is their camera of choice, and at $99, nobody would expect them to. Like most components of this phone, it gets the job done and it isn’t too terrible at it. Low light isn’t great, but the flash seems to do a decent job of fixing low-light situations. The 5-megapixel front-facing camera is also nothing to write home about.
On the software side of things, the biggest downside was the amount of Boost Mobile bloatware that automatically downloads to your device upon activation. Fortunately, most of it can be disabled or uninstalled if you don’t intend to use any of them. I found ZTE’s MiFavour UI to be fairly unintrusive on its own, and as this is my first time using a ZTE device extensively I also found it rather intuitive.
I learned to appreciate its ambiguous capacitive button designs. I was even able to swap out the functionality of the two buttons adjacent to the home button. Initially, the device was set up for the button on the right to manage the apps, and the button on the left to go back. This set-up makes sense, but thanks to a year with the Galaxy S7 my muscle memory assumes the opposite, so I was grateful that there was a setting there to enable my backwards habits.
Sound-wise, the ZTE Max XL seems to be hit or miss. With a single speaker located on the back of the device, sound is dependent on the video or music player in use. I watched two live streams in different video players; the one on YouTube had adequate sound, but the one on C-SPAN was super quiet. Netflix and Google Play were decent as well, leading me to believe that C-SPAN may have been an isolated case.
Speaking of, you know what goes great with sound? Videos. And let me tell you, thanks to the massive battery in the Max XL, you can watch a lot of videos, or at least one lengthy one without having to worry about your battery running out of juice. You can do a lot of things, in fact, and not have to worry about battery life. I watched two congressional hearing live streams (I’m just that fun) for a total of about 4 hours, watched some YouTube, played a good 45 minutes of Hearthstone, browsed the news, listened to music, checked e-mails, messed around with the UI, downloaded a few apps, used social media before the battery finally died after about 2 days. It was foreign to me because right out of the gate I decided to leave all features – location, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, the works – on to really test the endurance of the battery. I expected it to drain quickly. After all, my Galaxy S7 Edge only gets decent battery life if I disable this and that and turn on battery saver, but the ZTE Max doesn’t need all of that. I did turn it off for about 6 hours one night, mostly because I wasn't paying attention to what I was doing and I didn't realize it until the next morning, so that may be worth taking into account.
I don’t have much to say about the look and feel of the device. Looks-wise, it’s pretty boring. It’s black and gray and there aren’t any other color variations to choose from. It’s plastic and lightweight; however, it does have a finely textured back that gives a decent grip. If I could put this back on my Galaxy S7 Edge, I would. It’s much more dependable. It’s not great eye candy, but it does feel pretty good in the hand.
Honestly, I view phones like the ZTE Max XL like I do Chromebooks, which is that they do the basics, and they do the basics well. In the end, if you’re looking for an extremely affordable smartphone that can do the basics (and not expect much in the way of anything more than that), has a large screen and excellent battery life, the ZTE Max XL is certainly worth considering.