It's hard to imagine phones becoming any more affordable than they already are without making severe compromises to performance and build quality. Budget devices we've reviewed, like the Blu Life One X or the metal-clad Huawei Honor 5X, already seem to be packing in the most they can.
Not so fast. The $99 ZTE Zmax Pro proves them wrong. I checked it out at ZTE's launch event today, and I was impressed by the hardware, build, and software on the device.
Make no mistake, it's unapologetically a phablet, but it doesn't feel terribly heavy. While you won't be able to use it one-handed, it doesn't feel terribly unwieldy. A pane of glass covers its front, and the sides are metal. The back is polycarbonate with a soft-touch rubberized finish. There's a USB-C charging port on the bottom, a 3.5mm audio jack up top, volume button on the side, and a power button.
You'll also find a fingerprint scanner on the back, which is something that seems impossible at this price point. The most affordable fingerprint sensor-equipped device we've seen is the Honor 5X.
The Pro's front is dominated by a 6-inch 1,920-by-1,080 display, which appeared bright and with good viewing angles. Text and app icons were crisp, and while its pixel density won't match smaller 5.5-inch devices, the fact that it has a 1080p panel at this price point is remarkable.
Under the hood, the Pro comes with an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 processor and 2GB of RAM. I wasn't able to put it to the test, but by all appearances, it seemed to be a snappy device. There was no lag or slowdown when I was launching switching between apps. Based on the type of performance I've seen from other Snapdragon 617 devices, like the HTC One A9, I expect it to be capable of meeting the day-to-day needs of most people, though it's likely high-end gaming will be beyond it.
It comes with a total of 32GB of internal storage, of which 8.05GB is used. There's also a microSD card slot allowing for a further 128GB of expansion. I wasn't able to test the camera much, but there is a 13-megapixel rear sensor and a 5-megapixel front sensor, which sounds good on paper. The entire phone is kept juiced up by a 3,400mAh battery, which seems like it should provide a good runtime.
The device comes with Android Marshmallow, but you should expect to find pre-loaded MetroPCS apps on it, along with ZTE's custom UI changes, which alters the lockscreen, apps, and settings.
Overall, it's more than I expected to see from a $99 phone. The Zmax Pro is currently available for pre-order on MetroPCS and the phone launches in August. Stay tuned for our full review.