ZTE Grand X Max 2

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The ZTE Grand X Max 2 may have a name that makes you scratch your head, but fortunately, its performance won't. The $199.99 Grand X Max 2 on Cricket Wireless is the successor to last year's Grand X Max+. The 6-inch Max 2 retains the plus-sized dimensions of its predecessor, but makes some major improvements to the processor, screen, design, and software. It's a highly capable Android smartphone, and you'll be hard pressed to find another device this good-looking for the price. That earns it our Editors' Choice award on Cricket.

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Design, Display, and Features
Make no mistake, the Grand X Max 2 is most certainly a phablet. Measuring 6.46 by 3.30 by 0.35 inches (HWD) and weighing 6.07 ounces, it's significantly bigger than both the 5.5-inch Alcatel Idol 3 (6.01 by 2.96 by 0.29 inches, 4.97 ounces) and the 5.7-inch LG Stylo 2 (6.10 by 3.13 by 0.29 inches, 5.11 ounces). You can't use it one-handed and it may not fit into your pocket, depending on the kind of pants you wear.

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That said, the phone isn't entirely unwieldy. The Max 2 has a sleek glass-and-metal build, with an arced shape that recalls the Google Nexus 6. The edges are rounded so it conforms to your hand. It's a significant improvement over the very rectangular, plastic-clad Max+.

The phone has a 6-inch 1,920-by-1,080 display. It's not as sharp as the Quad HD panels you'll find on high-end phones like the Samsung Galaxy Note 5, but it outstrips the 720p display of the Stylo 2. The pixel density is 367ppi, which makes for plenty crisp text and video. Viewing angles are good, but screen brightness isn't very high, which means visibility isn't great in direct sunlight.

A metal band connects the two front and back of the phone, both of which are made of glass. A set of capacitive buttons run along the bottom of the front. You'll find a volume rocker and power button on the right, SIM and microSD card slots on the left (the latter of which worked with a 200GB SanDisk card), a USB-C charging port and dual speakers on the bottom, and a 3.5mm audio jack up top. The back features a unique dual camera setup (more on that later), and a dark blue body that sparkles like a Twilight vampire in the sun.

Network Performance and Audio
Cricket Wireless operates on AT&T's network, so if you're in an area with good AT&T coverage, you'll get good coverage on Cricket. The Max 2 supports GSM (850/900/1800/1900MHz), WCDMA (850/1900/2100MHz), and LTE bands (2/4/5/12). In testing the phone in midtown Manhattan, I found connectivity to be on par with other AT&T-based devices we've tested, like the ZTE Grand X 3. The Max 2 also supports dual-band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1.

Call quality leaves something to be desired. Transmissions are generally audible, but voices have a harsh edge to them and there are occasional skips. Noise cancellation is acceptable, but car horns and other loud background noise can still break through. Earpiece volume could afford to be louder, as it's difficult to hear a caller in a noisy environment.

The bottom-facing speakers don't get particularly loud and sound fairly tinny, but wired audio is excellent. The Max 2 supports Dolby Digital Plus sound enhancement for headphones. There are different modes to choose from including Movie, Music, Game, Voice, and two Custom modes. I tested with a pair of standard earphones and used Gaming mode while playing GTA: San Andreas and Music mode while listening to Spotify. Sound was rich and vibrant in both instances.

Processor and Battery
The Max 2 has a capable Snapdragon 617 processor clocked at 1.5GHz and 2GB of RAM. It's a solid midrange chipset, scoring 45,763 in the AnTuTu benchmark, which measures overall system performance. It far outstrips both the Snapdragon 615-powered Idol 3 (28,990) and the Snapdragon 410-powered Stylo 2 (26,822). In terms of real-life performance, the Max 2 handles day to day applications smoothly, launching apps and multitasking without any significant instances of lag. Gaming is equally good; Asphalt 8 and GTA: San Andreas run fast and look good on the super-sized screen.

Battery life is solid, especially taking into account the 6-inch display. The Max 2 clocked 5 hours and 30 minutes in our rundown test, in which we set screen brightness to maximum and stream full-screen video over LTE. That's more than double what the Idol 3 (3 hours, 12 minutes) eked out, and roughly on par with the Stylo 2 (6 hours, 6 minutes). The battery is sealed-in, so you'll want a battery pack if you need some extra charge on the go. The phone supports Quick Charge 2.0 with the included power adapter, which lets you charge the battery to 50 percent in just 30 minutes.

Camera
The phone has a unique dual-camera setup, boasting a primary 13-megapixel sensor with a secondary 2-megapixel sensor underneath. The twin lenses are supposed to add increased depth and sharpness to pictures, but as far as I can tell, it performs like an average midrange sensor, and not much different from the Idol 3. Generally, pictures outdoors are crisp, with minimal noise and grain.

That said, performance can be inconsistent. The camera sometimes oversaturates colors when pictures are taken under bright lighting conditions and slightly washes out the background. Other times the autofocus fails to lock, resulting in muddiness and blur. Fortunately, manual controls are available, allowing you to tweak white balance, shutter speed, and exposure, so it's possible to take some very good shots.

You can also record 1080p video at 30fps. It's clear and stable, but nothing to write home about. The 5-megapixel front-facing sensor performs adequately in good light, but looks muddy in darker settings.

Software
The Max 2 comes running Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow out of the box. ZTE has made a fair number of changes to the UI, primarily to app icons, the notification shade, and the settings menu. The lock screen has also been altered, and requires you to hold your finger down, rather than swipe, to unlock.

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There are a couple of useful new features. A Battery Saver mode limits background services to save battery. And Mi-POP helps one-handed use by adding an on-screen button to the left edge of your screen, replicating the Back or Home button. This spares you from having to stretch your thumb all the way down to the capacitive buttons.

Pre-installed bloatware is a given with most carrier devices, and the Max 2 is no exception. Apps include AskMD, Candy Crush Jelly, Clean Master, Deezer, Dice with Buddies, Mobile Strike, Selfie, TouchPal 2016, Words, and Yahtzee, among others. The games can all be uninstalled, but most of the rest can only be disabled. Of 16GB of internal storage, you're left with 8.33GB. That's a pretty hefty chunk of unavailable space, but you can always throw a microSD card in there to give you more room.

Conclusions
The ZTE Grand X Max 2 is one of the best phones you can buy on Cricket Wireless. For $200, you get smooth performance, an attractive design, solid battery life, the latest Android software, and some useful additional features. It gives you more bang for the buck than the Stylo 2 and the Idol 3, and aside from the significantly more expensive iPhone 6s Plus ($749.99), you won't find a better Cricket phablet. That makes the Max 2 our Editors' Choice.

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