ZTE Max XL review

Big phone for a small price

Great Value

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Interface and reliability

  • Android 7.1.1 Nougat pre-installed
  • Stock Android experience
  • Tremendous amount of bloatware

While we expected to see ZTE’s skin found on its bigger brothers like the ZTE Blade V8 Pro and 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 settings.

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.

Now, the bad news. The ZTE Max XL comes a tremendous amount of bloatware, rivaling even the HTC Bolt. Boost Mobile loads up the phone with a bunch of its own apps like its music store, TV and “Dealz” apps. It’s no wonder that this phone is so cheap.

Beyond the carrier-installed bloatware, ZTE bundles the Max XL with apps like Facebook, Instagram, Amazon Kindle and Amazon Prime video, just to name a few.

On the home screen, there are a number of “apps” like the game Mobile Strike that appear to be pre-installed but simply link to the Google Play Store to download. Thankfully, you can delete or disable most of these apps, but it’s a frustrating introduction to the phone.

While it’s great that ZTE shipped the Max XL with the latest version of Android, we don’t expect this budget phone to be updated to Android O in a timely manner. ZTE says its software resources are prioritized for its flagship Axon phone but is still committed to updating its budget phones with monthly Android security updates. 

Specs and performance benchmark explained

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 435 puts it just above the Moto G5
  • 2GB RAM, 16GB onboard storage with microSD expansion up to 128GB
  • Graphics quality is lackluster with 3D games
  • Headphone jack sounds good, but its speaker is terrible

A Qualcomm Snapdragon 435 chipset and 2GB of RAM work in tandem to power the phone and overall, it’s adequate for browsing the web, listening to music and watching video but it won’t win many benchmark battles, unless you pit it against other popular budget phones like the Moto G5, which houses a Snapdragon 430.

As mentioned earlier, we were pleasantly surprised that the Max XL had no problem with split-screen multitasking a YouTube video while chatting in Google Hangouts. The phone did stutter when returning to full screen YouTube, taking a couple of seconds to catch up.

There’s 16GB of onboard storage with the ability to expand up to 128GB via microSD. This is a great option to have, especially if you take a lot of photos or have a big local music library. You can add a microSD card by popping out the phone’s SIM tray.

If benchmarks are your thing, the ZTE Max XL received Geekbench 4 scores of 679 and 1,917 for single-core and multi-core respectively. This makes the ZTE Max XL slightly slower than the Nexus 5X

Gaming on the ZTE Max XL worked just fine but expect long load times and reduced graphics with demanding games like CSR2. We noticed a dip in texture quality as well as painfully slow menu loading. For lighter games like Super Mario Run, the Max XL played just fine with slightly reduced graphics quality. 

Watching video on the large 6-inch display is great as the resolution is high enough that you won’t see individual pixels. However, you’ll want to watch video with headphones as the rear-firing speaker sounds awful. Its tinny, quiet, prone to distortion at high volumes and easily blocked by your hand. Thankfully, the 3.5mm headphone jack sounds quite good with the included Dolby Audio enhancements built in. 

Lewis Leong
Lewis Leong is a freelance writer for TechRadar. He has an unhealthy obsession with headphones and can identify cars simply by listening to their exhaust notes.