ZTE Blade Max View review

After some time on the sidelines, Chinese manufacturer ZTE is back in the US. Staging a comeback of sorts, the phone maker has seen its fair share of troubles after running afoul of the government for doing business with Iran. With that in the rear view mirror, and a promise to keep things on the up-and-up, ZTE is ready to tackle the unlocked market again in the United States.

One of its first efforts as it dips its toes in the water, is the Blade Max View, an inexpensive phone that work on AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon networks. Had things gone differently in the past, we’d probably have seen this one paired with one more of those carriers or their respective prepaid brands.

As often is the case with ZTE, the Blade Max View is a low-cost alternative to brands like Motorola and Samsung. For US consumer it’s in the same wheelhouse as Blu and Alcatel.

What is the Blade Max View?

The Blade Max View is a big phone, offering up a 6-inch display with a 2:1 aspect ratio. It’s tall and narrow and fits the hand quite well. Its overall footprint it not unlike the Samsung Galaxy Note 9; however, its build materials are far below that of the tier-one counterpart.

The phone isn’t exactly glamorous, but doesn’t quite tread into the space where we’d call it “boring”. It’s slim, black, and is comprised of metal and plastic. The rear employs a matte finish with chrome accents that sparkle in just the right lighting. The display is protected by Gorilla Glass so it will take on pocket and purse scuffs without breaking a sweat.

We noticed early on that the matte finish is prone to pick up fingerprints, smears, and smudges. Not only that, but they don’t wipe away as easily as they might were it made of glass. There’s no wiping this against your pant leg or sleeve to clean things up. It’s really unsightly stuff.

Tall, at nearly 6.5-inches, the Blade Max View sits in your hand better than we expected. Moreover, it’s a little bit lighter than anticipated, so we were pleasantly surprised at how well it works in one hand — even with smaller fingers.

First Impressions

Fresh out of the box we like to give our phones a once-over to check for any imperfections or things that don’t look right. It’s also here where we’ll squeeze, press, tap, and blindly listen and get a true feel for the device.

We found the glass and metal to be solid and strong, but the plastic around back was a slightly different story. Pressing on it and applying some slight pressure in the bottom middle we were reminded of phones from a few years back — just before the industry adopted what’s commonly referred to as “premium” materials. Sadly, this is how we added all the fingerprints and smears.

If anything, the phone feels a smidge cheaper than most others of the day. For lack of a better description, it feels like an entry-level prepaid phone. But, given the $200 price tag, it sits just fine with us.

Design and Build

Although the 6-inch display counts for most of the front side of the Blade Max View, there’s a slight bit of space above and below. The selfie camera and sensors are tucked away neatly and are hardly visible. The bezels to the sides are acceptable and do not distract.

As for buttons, the power and volume are found on the right edge. Each has a decent amount of travel and feedback and signal to the user that they’ve been pressed. Instead of a toggle or rocker, ZTE opted for separate buttons for volume up and down.

The SIM card and memory card slot are on the upper left hand side. At the top edge you’ll locate the 3.5mm headphone jack while down below is the USB-C port.

Around back the fingerprint reader is found fairly high up the panel. The dual-camera setup is just above the reader and is ever so slightly raised.

The 6-inch screen has a 2,160 x 1,080 resolution with a 2:1 aspect ratio. The LCD panel delivers sharp and vibrant colors with accurate tones and a modest amount of brightness; things look great indoor and outdoors. Considering the cost of the phone, we were impressed with the display size and overall picture.

The ZTE Blade Max View has an incredible battery tucked inside, giving us some 4,000mAh worth of power. That’s a lot more than most phones at this price and is on par with some flagship models from more prominent US players.

This is the sort of phone that doesn’t make lofty promises. It’s not geared toward gamers and heavy users. Instead, it’s an excellent option for less-demanding consumers who don’t care so much about how a phone looks or performs just as long as it works when needed. To that end, the Blade Max View does that for days at a time. The 4,000mAh battery routinely had power left over at the end of two days.

While other phones now employ Quick Charge 3.0 and wireless charging, this one offers Quick Charge 2.0. Spend 15 minutes plugged into the wall and you’ll get around 15 percent of life but it somewhat slows after that. It’s certainly slow by comparison but on it’s own works just fine. Besides, most people are plugging in at night. And, again, we’re dealing with a generous capacity.

Software

In a rather interesting, and somewhat befuddling move, the Blade Max View runs Android 7.1.1 Nougat. It’s a straightforward, nearly untouched version of the software, but it’s certainly behind the times.

Included in the suite of apps is your standard fare of Google titles as well as a handful of other helpful apps. Our review unit came with a web browser, file manager, email client, music player, sound recorder, and video player. There is some overlap, of course with Chrome, Google Play Music, and Gmail. There’s also an FM radio app but it only works when headphones (not included) are plugged in.

Reportedly, the Blade Max View will receive an update to Android 8 Oreo before the year ends, so that’s a positive sign. Would 9 Pie be appreciated? Sure, but that’s not at all what we expected in a $200 phone. As long as security updates and important bug fixes are pushed out, we think the target demographic will not care about the OS.

ZTE does offer a decent amount of personalizing and customization. Users can swap the button configuration, adjust font and icon sizes, and tweak a few other small settings. These aren’t presented at the time of setup and aren’t hard to find, if you feel so inclined.

Camera

The camera experience is okay and borders the line of acceptable and nearly acceptable. To be transparent, we use much pricier and more robust phones as our daily driver and the camera is one area where things are noticeable. Going from a Pixel 2 to this is quite a step down.

Getting to the camera isn’t a streamlined process — it’s at least a two-step process no matter where you are in the phone. You can get to it from the lock screen but you need to press the power button and then swipe from the bottom corner.

We’d really like to see a double-tap of the power button to open, or a flick- the-wrist action like Motorola. About half of what we shoot on our phones tends to be spur of the moment stuff and we prefer not “thinking” before snapping.

There are a variety of shooting modes including photo, video, portrait, and bokeh. The latter two are fairly similar while the former is more for people while the latter is for objects. Nothing spectacular happens in any of these modes however we’ve seen more expensive phones shoot worse.

In the camera mode you’ll find secondary settings for time lapse, panoramic, manual, and mono. As expected, the manual mode gives you control over white balance, exposure, and ISO. Unfortunately, shutter speed and focus controls are not present.

Mono mode is interesting and doesn’t strictly deliver monochrome results. It’s possible to adjust a dial to retain a specific color and to varying degrees.

The main camera has a 16-megapixel sensor with an aperture of f/2.0 while the 2-megapixel camera captures depth and contrast. In theory this produces an admirable result. Sadly, it doesn’t.

Generally speaking, when the pictures aren’t what we’d term as acceptable, we found color, exposure, and focus to be lacking. Unless you are in an ideal setting, chances are good you’ll get grain or a soft image.

Performance

The Blade Max View is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 435 processor with 3GB RAM. It’s adequate for most tasks and represents the price point well. Do not ask it to do much more than your standard daily tasks, though, as it’s not optimized for gaming.

What are the differences in Snapdragon processors?

In terms of the target user base, the phone has what it takes to handle duties. It’s not a fancy, powerful, or overly ambitious phone but that doesn’t matter much. There is a huge market full of people who will be fine with such an experience.

Conclusion

We’ve entered into a period where there’s a sizable gap in adoption between the entry-level phone and high-end flagship experience. There’s always been a divide in hardware, of course, but it seems now that users tend to gravitate to one of the extremes more so than in years past.

The ZTE Blade Max View finds itself on the lower end of things, in both specifications and price tag. It’s a great option for parents looking to save money on purchasing multiple devices. There’s plenty here to satisfy casual users.

The ZTE Blade Max View makes sense as a phone that’s paired to a particular carrier, such as Verizon. The brand is often found at prepaid providers and this would be right at home for a Boost or Metro customer.

Sold on its own, it requires a touch savvier shopper and we suspect that such a person would compare this to other models in its range.

As much as we appreciate what is put forth here, this area of the smartphone space belongs to Motorola and its G and E series of phones. It is still the leader when it comes to affordably priced unlocked phones with great performance.

The phone ticks a couple of boxes that are often important to buyers: big screen and long-lasting battery. These are primary reasons to consider a handset for a lot of people and, to that end, the Blade Max View will not disappoint.

 

On the other hand, a lot is made today about picture quality on phones. The bar keeps raising and we expect more from our mobile devices. If you’re primarily shopping because you want a nice camera in your pocket, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

We would have really liked to see Android 8 installed out of the gate, but a timely update essentially nullifies this complaint. Let’s hope that ZTE handles patches and security updates in a respectable and consistent manner.

Lastly, we’d like to remind of the first thing we noticed about this phone. You are going to smudge the back and it’s going to be nearly impossible to clean. It’s ugly. There’s no way around it and you’d be wise to get it into a protective case as quickly as possible.

The Blade Max View can be purchased for $170 through ZTE’s website as part of what appears to be a limited time promotion. That’s a great price point and we’d like to see it stick around. At this cost it goes from being just another device to consider to something more appealing and even borders on a “steal”.