Our Verdict

The ZTE Max XL proves that you can get a lot of phone for not a lot of money. That said, there are plenty of compromises made to be at this price point but none are deal breakers. Most disappointing is that ZTE hasn’t fixed some of the issues plaguing last year’s ZMax Pro.

For

  • Very affordable price
  • Excellent battery life
  • Android Nougat pre-installed

Against

  • Stale design
  • Stutters occasionally
  • Tons of bloatware

The ZTE Max Pro impressed us with just how much phone you can get with so very little money. This year, ZTE is back with the Max XL, which improves on the formula with a few notable upgrades and keeps the ridiculously low price of $130.

For 1/8th the price of a flagship smartphone like the Samsung Galaxy S8, you still get a fingerprint sensor, sizable 3,990mAh battery, fast charging and Android Nougat pre-installed. Sure, you won’t get waterproofing, NFC or a good camera but for those looking for a phone to do just the basics, the ZTE Max XL is an excellent choice. 

The biggest disappointment of the ZTE Max XL is that the phone doesn’t remedy the complaints we had about last year’s near-identical ZTE ZMax Pro, which was a MetroPCS and T-Mobile exclusive. The dim screen is still there and the Google Nexus 6-like design feels extremely dated today and the rear-firing speaker is particularly bad.

But it all comes back to the bargain-bin price. If you can live with compromises in specs and design, the ZTE Max XL is an incredible phone for doing just the basics.

Price and release date

  • Only $130
  • You’ll only find this US exclusive at Boost Mobile

The ZTE Max XL will cost $130 and is a Boost Mobile exclusive. Much like the ZTE ZMax Pro, its latest phone is a US-exclusive and will not be coming to the rest of the world.

At the time of this writing, Boost Mobile is having a promotional offer on the ZTE Max XL for $102, but is currently sold out.

Design and display

  • 6-inch Full-HD display offers a lot of bang for your buck
  • Rear fingerprint sensor is a nice addition, but the speaker is lousy
  • Includes modern niceties like USB-C charging and 3.5 headphone jack

ZTE Axon 7, we were pleasantly surprised that ZTE opted for a stock Android experience. The notification shade and settings are stock Android with a few added features like the ability to swap the back and multitasking buttons, and custom network setting.

Even split-screen multitasking, one of Nougat’s marquee features, is available on this budget phone. Surprisingly, the phone didn’t bog down when using this feature to watch a video while chatting with friends in Google Hangouts. This is a nice surprise since the phone comes with a low-end processor and only 2GB of RAM.

On the front of the phone you’ll find the 5MP front facing camera, and capacitive touch buttons at the bottom. The home button doubles as notification light with a pleasing white glow. ZTE thoughtfully allows users to swap the back and multitasking buttons in the settings if you prefer Samsung’s reversed orientation. 

On the back, you’ll find the Max XL’s 13MP rear camera, LED flash, fingerprint sensor and rear-firing speaker. The speaker sounds tinny, quiet and is in the worst position possible on the phone, as it’s easily covered up by your hand and any sound that manages to leak out is pumped away from you. It’s disappointing ZTE didn’t address this as last year’s ZMax Pro suffered from the same unforgivable speaker issue.

For a budget phone, it’s nice to see the inclusion of USB-C charging port that supports Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 technology. This means the large battery of the Max XL can be charged relatively quickly with the included fast charger, so you don’t  have to buy your own. You also get a 3.5mm headphone jack at the top of the phone for using wired headphones without an adapter.

All of the phone’s buttons are located on the right with volume up and down rocker above the nicely textured power button. The button placement is comfortable for such a large phone with buttons nearing the belt line of the phone.

Since the ZTE Max XL is a huge phone, it comes with an equally huge 6-inch display. The panel is an IPS LCD type, which looks good but just can’t match the brightness and vibrance of phones with AMOLED panels.

The 6-inch display comes sports Full HD (1920 x 1080) resolution which is high enough that you won’t notice individual pixels with the naked eye. This resolution makes typing and reading text a pleasure. While resolution could be higher for a display of this size, it was actually quite nice to have bigger elements on the screen which made typing easier. 

Although the Max XL doesn’t have an AMOLED panel, ZTE built in an “adaptive display” feature in the operating system that briefly turns on the display to show  notifications in black and white as they appear. Whereas AMOLED displays can light up only the pixels that are needed, the LCD of the Max XL turns on the entire display to show you notifications, which will take up some extra battery life.

Overall, the display is perfectly fine for a phone of this price range but it is quite dim outdoors. With the brightness slider all the way up, the display still struggles to be visible outdoors.