Not too many more smartphone companies have been more effective at getting decent, low-cost smartphones into the hands of users than ZTE. Last year, they brought the 6″ Z Max Pro to MetroPCS at $100, and unsurprisingly, it sold pretty well. ZTE is following up that act with the Blade Z Max, and while it’s a little more expensive than last year’s model, it’s still looking like a practical choice for budget shoppers.
Usually when a phone gets refreshed after a year, we see the same gradual spec improvements across the board. That’s not exactly the case with the ZTE Blade Z Max Pro — it does appear to take a slight step back in some ways, although on paper, it looks like larger improvements in other areas could make an upgrade worth considering.
The design of the phone is a little more practical this year. It’s still got a plastic build, but the faux-metal look on the back has been swapped out for a textured back that should be a bit more comfortable to grip — not for nothing when dealing with a 6″ phone.
The backside fingerprint sensor is in the same spot, but above that is where you’ll find the biggest change on this year’s model — the Blade Z Max has a dual camera array. ZTE has used a 16 MP sensor and a 2 MP sensor with phase-detect autofocus, enabling depth-of-field shots. It’s probably not going to be anything near a top-flight smartphone camera, but the new modes should prove fun to play with. ZTE’s camera app is particularly beginner friendly, too — all the modes and settings are listed with sample shots that give you an idea of what kind of pictures each one makes possible.
The dual camera is enabled by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 435 SoC, Qualcomm’s low-end mobile chipset from last year. Last year’s Z Max Pro had a 617 SoC from 2015, so we’re curious to see if there’s any step down in performance from last year. It’s also got 2 GB of RAM, 32 GB of storage, and a microSD card slot supporting cards up to 128 GB in capacity.
Besides the dual camera array, the hardware makes the Blade Z Max look a lot like the 6″ Blade X Max ZTE released with Cricket earlier in the year, but there are a couple more key differences. Both have a scratch-resistant 6″ 1080p display, but MetroPCS’s Blade Z Max has a better IPS display instead of TFT. The Blade Z Max also has a much bigger battery at 4,080 mAh. Pair a battery that big with modest hardware, and you can expect a smartphone that can almost certainly last a couple days with mixed use.
The phone has some nice extras, too. There’s Dolby Surround audio processing and a dual-mic array that can cut down on background noise. The phone is also compatible with voice over LTE, HD voice, and Wi-Fi calling through MetroPCS. It’s worth noting that the phone only has single-band 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, so it won’t work with faster, shorter-range 5.0 GHz Wi-Fi networks.
The ZTE Blade Z Max is available for preorder starting today for $130 and will ship out on August 28, when it can also be found in MetroPCS stores. Expect it to only work with GSM carriers — that’s AT&T, T-Mobile, or any prepaid carriers like MetroPCS that use one of those two networks (note that MetroPCS requires you to use the phone on their network for 90 days before they’ll unlock it).
The phone is $30 more than its predecessor, and while it doesn’t figure to be more powerful, the new dual camera array and the huge boost to battery life should make the extra cost worth it. We’ll find out for sure when we give the phone a full review. Keep an eye out for that in the weeks to come!