Mar 12 AT 2:14 PM Brooks Barnard 18 Comments

A giant phone for a reasonable price: Boost Mobile’s ZTE Boost Max review

Boost Max Feature

It was announced at CES in January as the ZTE Iconic Phablet. Later that same month, Boost Mobile announced it would be carrying the Boost Max, which is simply the ZTE Iconic Phablet renamed. For now, Boost Mobile is the exclusive carrier of this ZTE phablet, and it’s got some interesting perks. If you’re not familiar with Boost Mobile, it’s a prepaid Sprint MVNO that has pretty cheap unlimited plans. Right now, Boost Mobile is offering a limited time deal for unlimited 4G LTE for the first six months for only $35 a month with the purchase of an LTE device, such as the Boost Max. The catch? You have to pay full price for the Boost Max. The twist? The Boost Max is only $299 off-contract. Boost Mobile does use the Sprint Network, which isn’t exactly the fastest or most available network. But this is a phone review, not a review of the network.

The Boost Max is an interesting niche market device that I think deserves some notice. Do I think it has mass appeal? No. Do I think it could make its target audience really happy? Yes. Who will it make happy? I will tell you:

  1. Someone who is looking for a BIG phone. This phone is huge. It’s not exactly easy to hold in the hand, but if you like the idea of a BIG phone, this will do it for you.
  2. Someone who wants a low cost device ($299) with a pre-paid, off-contract plan. If you’re a no strings attached kind of person, you’re probably already on a pre-paid plan or you’ve been thinking about switching for a while.
  3. Someone who is not concerned about speed. And I mean pretty much all the speeds. Phone speed and network speeds. This phone is for a patient person.
  4. Someone who enjoys a great media experience. This partially has to do with the phone’s size, but the display looks great, and it has a decent sounding and loud external speaker. I really enjoyed browsing the web and watching YouTube on the Boost Max.

So are you someone who might be the target audience for the Boost Max? The Boost Max is a phablet. That means in regards to its size, it’s in the same class as the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, the Galaxy Mega and the LG G Pro. Is the Boost Max in the same class as these devices with anything besides size? Maybe the Galaxy Mega. But where Boost Max can seriously compete is with price. ZTE is gunning for a market that thus far has been basically untouched in the mobile arena. The Samsung Galaxy Mega can be found on metroPCS for the reduced price of $350 right now with different phone plan, but Boost Mobile offers some interesting perks like “unlimited” data and shrinking payments. No one else is offering a package like Boost Mobile with the Boost Max. So are you on the hunt for a BIG phone with a budget price? Read on my friend.

1. Hardware

Comparing the Boost Max to its only real competition, the Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3, I’m giving the Boost Max average Spec hardware.  The Boost Max is thicker than the Galaxy Mega and has a smaller display, but that means it has a higher pixel density. The Boost Max also has a lower CPU speed and less RAM.

I feel like I probably don’t need to say it, but I’m going to anyway. The Note 3 or LG G Pro 2 will obviously blow this phone out of the water, but the prices are incomparable. For the price, I think the Boost Max is pretty interesting. Here are the hardware specs:

  • Height 6.5″
  • Width 3.25″
  • Depth 0.4″
  • 5.7″ 720p (258 ppi) IPS LCD display
  • Weight 6.87 oz
  • Non-removable 3200 mAh lithium ion battery
  • 1GB RAM/8GB ROM with an SD card slot
  • 1.2GHz Dual Core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor
  • 8MP rear camera, 1 MP front
  • Fairly stock Android 4.1.2
  • Dual mode 3G/4G LTE

2. Design

The design of the Boost Max is almost good, but it misses the mark. It feels solid in the hand, but it’s also not as easy to hold as it could be. The Boost Max has a two-part look with a faux metal middle and soft touch ends. I get that ZTE is trying to give the Boost Max a high-end look with the faux metal, but it just ends up being hard to grip. The faux metal isn’t grippy at all and it makes handling the behemoth more difficult than if they would have made the whole back of soft touch plastic.

One other thing that misses the mark is the dedicated camera button. It’s a dedicated camera button that can’t launch the camera unless the phone is unlocked. It does snap pictures, but I really wish it could let you launch straight from sleeping to the camera. There are still too many steps between sleeping and the camera for the dedicated camera button to be functional to me. I never used it. It’s cool in theory, but not that useful. It could be much more useful.

3. Build Quality

The Boost Max is really what you’d expect with a low-to-mid range phone. The Boost Max has a non-removable battery, so that back is nice and solid. No creaking. But there is nothing special about the build of the Max. The materials aren’t particularly special, but it seems well-built.

4. Display

I had pretty low expectations going into this review in regards to the display I wasn’t excited about having to look at a 5.7″ display with 720p resolution after becoming accustomed to the 5″ 1080p display on the Nexus 5. However, I wasn’t bothered at all. The Boost Max sports an IPS LCD display with 5.7″ 720p 258 ppi that provides great veiwing angles and does well in sunlight. Because it has a smaller display than the Galaxy Mega, it does have a higher ppi. Addtionally, this display with Corning Gorilla Glass is just great to use for media consumption or web browsing. If you’re one who doesn’t get the whole phablet craze (I was and pretty much still am with you), it felt a lot  like always having a tablet with you. And that was a lot easier on my tired eyes than my Nexus 5. There were two things that pleasantly surprised me about this phone and one of them was the display. (SPOILER: the other was battery life).

5. Software

Another point where I think ZTE did the Boost Max right is in the decision to stick with basically stock Android software. The Boost Max doesn’t have much to talk about under the hood, so it seems smart not to create a heavy UI. However, the Boost Max was announced and released in 2014, and it’s running Android 4.1 which is disappointing. So I reached out to ZTE to ask about what you could count on in regards to Android updates. What I heard back was encouraging, and I was told that the Boost Max would be receiving an update to Android 4.4 KitKat later in 2014. Now, I would never buy a device on a promise of what it could get, but if you’re fine with starting out with an old version of Android (which isn’t really a big deal), you should have a nice upgrade coming later in the year.

As we just stated, the Boost Max is running a mostly stock version of Android 4.1. The homescreen and app drawer are completely stock. You will find notification quick toggles that look similar to what you mind find on an LG device. I’m a big fan of notification toggles, so I liked that. The Boost Max also offers a multitasking capability, SmartView. It works. To engage SmartView, you hold down the back button. Then you’re given a list of apps you can use with the multitasking. It splits the giant 5.7″ display and you can adjust the split up and down. My only complaint with the multitasking feature is that the Boost Max lacks the horsepower to make the multitasking a smooth experience. However, we weren’t expecting a snappy multitasking experience, right? Let’s just say it works and it could be pretty convenient to have if you feel the need to do two things at once on your phone.

The lock screen on the Boost Max continues ZTE’s signature hold and press to unlock. It’s a little difficult to get used to; every other device has a swipe to unlock. But you’ll adjust quickly. Additionally, you can launch directly to the camera from the home screen as well as change the ringer function. I missed the ability to launch directly to Google Now from the lock screen or anywhere on the device, but most non-Nexus devices are like that.

The Boost Max does come with quite a bit of Boost Mobile/Sprint bloatware like Boost Music, Boost Zone and Mobile ID. A positive note on the topic of pre-loaded apps:  The Max comes with both Swype and the TouchPal Keyboard. Both of those keyboards are decent options, and once again with a ZTE device, I actually never installed my go-to SwiftKey keyboard. I’m not saying Swype or the TouchPal keyboard is better than SwiftKey, I’ve just noticed that the average users don’t install third party keyboards, and the stock options are pretty good ones.

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6. Performance

For the Boost Max’s performance I’m going to remind you that I believe the device has average performance for the price. If you compare this to a Note 3 or a Nexus 5, they blow the Boost Max out of the water with speed and fluidity. As you navigate around the device’s functions with the Boost Max, you’ll obviously notice stutter and lag as you swipe screens and open and close apps.

As for gaming, it wasn’t bad if you plan on playing something light like Flappy Bird. It wasn’t great either. The experience definitely wasn’t as smooth as what you’ll experience on a Nexus 5, but it didn’t stop me from getting some respectable scores. If you’re into gaming on your phone, I’d be pretty cautious about the Boost Max, especially if you’re into games with serious graphics.

For network performance, data speeds were very poor. Compared to being on the AT&T network in the San Francisco Bay area, Boost Mobile was a chore to be on. It took a lot of patience to use the Boost Max to look up directions or search the web not on WiFi. However, this is very location specific. Ask your friends how the Boost Mobile or Sprint network works in your area. If you live in an area with relatively good Sprint data speeds, this performance issue doesn’t apply to you. If you do live in a mediocre area, make sure you’re a patient person or around a lot of WiFi hotspots.

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7. Call Quality and Audio

This was a difficult category for me to judge. The Boost Max had pretty terrible coverage in my region of the Bay Area in California. Even with only 2 bars phone signal coverage, my phone calls came in clear enough. I didn’t have any serious issues with the call quality. The external speaker is also decently loud, once again helping out the Boost Max’s case for being a decent device for media consumption. It was louder than my Nexus 5, but the Nexus 5 isn’t known for having a loud external speaker.

In regards to audio quality, the Boost Max features what they’re touting as Dolby® Digital Plus sound. This includes a surround Decoder that creates a surround sound experience by converting two-channel stereo audio into 5.1 channels. Additionally, the technology uses a Surround Virtualizer which creates a virtualized 5.1 surround sound experience of stereo or multichannel content over built-in stereo speakers or over stereo headphones. Lastly, a Dialogue Enhancer that accentuates dialogue and specifically suppresses sounds that interfere with the dialogue. Now, when viewing YouTube videos or watching Hulu, I didn’t feel like the experience was much different that what I get on my Nexus, which isn’t a very high-end audio experience in itself. The Boost Max comes along with a Dolby Digital Plus app that has four preset profiles: Movie, Music, Game and Voice. You may find a different experience when switching it up while using different types of media, but I always forget to do that. An app like this could be really useful to me if it was smart and just picked the profile based on what app I was using.

8. Camera

The Boost Max’s camera is okay. Coming from using the Nexus 5, the Boost Max snaps pictures quickly, which is really nice. It feels like a luxury. However, the shutter speed seems a little slow and I’m finding a lot of slightly out of focus pictures. Additionally, low light such as indoor shots are full of artifacts and are nothing special. It’s an 8MP shooter, but it’s on a budget phone. So, camera performance is what you’d expect.

Boost Max Camera Boost Max low light Gas Pump low light

9. Battery Life

The Boost Max battery life is insane. If I had a tag that was better than good, such as amazing or outrageous, the Boost Max gets it with battery life. The combination of a good-sized 3200 mAh battery and a low performance processor yields outstanding battery life. The idle drain is amazing. You will easily make it through a full day’s worth of heavy use. I think the screens shots speak for themselves. You may think the 5.7″ display will hurt the battery life? No. I often used the Boost Max as a GPS with the screen on for hours at a time. The Boost Max is the Energizer bunny. It just keeps going and going and going. It required charging about as often as I typically need to charge my tablets–maybe every couple of days. I would definitely recommend this device to people who are often out and about and unable to charge their device often.

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10. Extras

This is a Boost Mobile device. It comes with the bare minimum. You get a wall charger and micro-usb cable. One item that doesn’t come with the Boost Max, but is a cool option, is a case that gives you wireless charging capability. I love wireless charging. The convenience of it is just so awesome, and a OEM option for wireless charging could be really cool. It wasn’t given to me for review along with the Boost Max, but I love wireless charging. Did I mention I love wireless charging?

ZTE Boost Max6.5 / 10

I hope you aren’t deterred by the average to below average number score I gave to the Boost Max. The Boost Max is not a bad Android device. It’s a budget phablet, and I think ZTE cut corners in the appropriate places to make the Boost Max a phablet you can buy for $299. This phone isn’t going to blow you away with performance, but it will likely impress you with its media consumption experience and battery life. If you’re into high specs and benchmark scores, steer clear. If you’re looking for a phablet on a budget, definitely consider the Boost Max. The Boost Max is a great offering on Boost Mobile if you’re looking for a giant phone on a prepaid service.

What are your thoughts on the Boost Max? Do you think there’s a big market for the budget phablet? Would you pick the Galaxy Mega over the Boost Max for a little more money? Let us know in the comments below!

Brooks is an engineer living in the Bay Area recently dislocated from the Great Northwest. He's an Android enthusiast who decided to start doing something (productive?) with his countless hours surfing the interwebz and addictive ROM flashing and began writing. He has a hot wife, is a father of two, an avid F1 fan, and enjoys watching sports when he can. His current devices include the Nexus 5 and 7 (2103) both running stock roms rooted and modded with Xposed Framework (but this is subject to change). You can follow Brooks on Twitter @Brooks_Barnard.

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