Boost Mobile ZTE MAX XL: Budget Doesn’t Always Mean Basic

With so many mobile phones costing upwards of $600 or (much) more, it’s easy to think that there aren’t any good deals to be had on mobile devices with decent specs; the Boost Mobile ZTE MAX XL proves that this simply isn’t true.

Boost Mobile ZTE MAX XL: Budget Doesn't Always Mean Basic

Running Android 7.1.1, and boasting a 6″ display, a huge 3990 mAh battery, 2GB RAM and 16GB ROM, and a 1.46Hz Octa-Core processor, the ZTE MAX XL also has a 13-megapixel rear camera with a 5-megapixel front-facing camera.

The box and packaging are nothing spectacular, but let’s be honest — you’re just going to recycle it, anyway. Inside, you’ll find the ZTE MAX XL, a USB Type-C to USB cable, a wall charger, and a SIM card pin.

The ZTE MAX XL is a large phone; make no mistake about it, we’re talking phablet territory here … not that there’s anything wrong with that. Measuring 6.5″ long by 3.35″ wide by 0.4″ thick, the XL weighs 7.2 ounces. It’s sturdily built with a Gorilla Glass front and textured plastic back. There are the typical three Android buttons at the bottom: back, home, and recent apps.

Boost Mobile ZTE MAX XL: Budget Doesn't Always Mean Basic

On the left side of the phone, you’ll find the SIM and microSD slot.

Boost Mobile ZTE MAX XL: Budget Doesn't Always Mean Basic

The bottom of the phone has a microphone and a USB Type-C sync & charge port.

Boost Mobile ZTE MAX XL: Budget Doesn't Always Mean Basic

On the right side, you’ll find the power, volume down, and volume up buttons.

Boost Mobile ZTE MAX XL: Budget Doesn't Always Mean Basic

At the top, you’ll find a second microphone and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Boost Mobile ZTE MAX XL: Budget Doesn't Always Mean Basic

The back of the ZTE MAX XL has the 13mp camera, an LED flash, and a fingerprint sensor. I found the fingerprint sensor to be highly accurate with no false readings. At the bottom of the textured plastic back, there is a single speaker. The sound produced is not great by any stretch of the imagination, but since you’ll have the option of using Bluetooth headphones or wired headphones when listening to music, it’s not too big of a bother.

Boost Mobile ZTE MAX XL: Budget Doesn't Always Mean Basic

Although the ZTE MAX XL is large, it has a gently curved design that fits well in my hand. the front glass is rounded on all sides, and there are no sharp corners or edges. It’s just a little too wide for me to comfortably use one-handed.

Boost Mobile ZTE MAX XL: Budget Doesn't Always Mean Basic

The first thing that I want to point out about this phone is its exceptional battery life. If you are used to having to carry a portable battery around with you every day or topping off your phone anytime you’re near a charger, that won’t be an issue when using this phone. The 3990 mAh battery lasts me well into the next day with regular use, and that’s something that can’t be said for many other phones. If you are streaming a lot of videos, however, you’ll get around 5 solid hours.

Watching movies on a 6″ screen is always a much better experience than watching on one that’s smaller; whether it’s streaming content or loaded movies, the MAX XL performs well. The HD (1920 x 1080) IPS LCD display on the ZTE MAX XL is decent overall; it’s not as sharp and color rich as many flagships, but those phones are in an entirely different price range (and for the most part they have smaller screens, too). If you turn the brightness up all the way, you’ll find it is easy to see the screen in direct sunlight.

Boost Mobile ZTE MAX XL: Budget Doesn't Always Mean Basic


I realize that the ZTE MAX XL only has 2GB RAM, and some phones are touting as much as 6GB (OnePlus 3 comes to mind), but I haven’t noticed any lags when a lot of apps were open, and I haven’t seen any low memory warnings. How much RAM does a phone really need? Well, I’ll digress for a moment. The iPhone 7 Plus has 3GB and the iPhone 7 has 2GB; 9to5Mac did a speed test that showed there really wasn’t that much of a difference between the two. So keep that in mind if you feel unsure about there only being 2GB RAM. While I realize that processing speed makes a difference, too, I found that the MAX XL ran well in every scenario I threw at it. Granted, I’m not a gamer, so I can’t speak to its performance running a processor intensive game like GTA5, but it did capably handle running in split screen mode.

The MAX XL is quite capable when playing games like Plants vs Zombies and the like, surfing the internet, consuming media, and when snapping pictures. Speaking of the camera …

There are no weird “beauty” filters on the front facing camera, which I appreciate.

The 13 mp rear camera on the MAX XL is pretty good, albeit no frills; the ability to add watermarks to all of your pictures taken is cool, though.

Take a look at all of these unretouched pictures; they aren’t awful. The ability to take decent closeups is a plus, and I like how the outdoor colors look true to life. There is a bit of distortion, but it’s not too terrible.

Low light photos aren’t great, but that is to be expected in a budget phone. Use it in good light and outdoors, and you’ll be fairly happy with the results.

The ZTE MAX XL arrives with a load of bloatware including the games Mobile Strike, Solitaire, Wheel of Fortune, and Terminator, as well as the Walgreens app, Boost Dealz app, Boost Music, boostTV, Playphone, NextRadio, airG, and the utilities Caller ID, 1Weather, Gadget Guardian, and Boost 411 on your home screens. There’s also an entire folder of Amazon apps: Amazon, Prime Photos, Prime Video, Amazon Music, and Amazon Kindle. Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and Hulu will also show up. Right out of the box, your phone will be using 8.42GB of the 16GB internal memory, so it would be prudent to install a memory card. I tested the MAX XL with a 256GB MicroSD, and it worked just fine.

The ZTE MAX XL is available from Boost Mobile, which runs on the Sprint Network; if coverage is good in your area, then this is a great deal. Boost offers a $50/month unlimited data plan which isn’t bad at all. If you are in the market for a new phone and you aren’t already tied to another provider, you might want to wander into a Boost store and take a look at the ZTE MAX XL. For the money, it’s pretty unbeatable!

The Boost Mobile ZTE MAX XL retails for $129.99, and it is available from Boost Mobile (with a $30 discount) and from Amazon [affiliate link].

Source: Manufacturer supplied review sample

What I Like: 6″ display; Accurate fingerprint sensor; Long battery life; Solid build; Android 7.1.1; Very affordable; Decent camera

What Needs Improvement: Rear speaker is not great; There is a lot of Bloatware pre-installed; Only available on Boost/Sprint network; Less than 8GB internal storage available due to the inclusion of so much bloatware

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About the Author

Judie Lipsett Stanford
Judie is the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of Gear Diary, which she founded in September 2006. She started in 1999 writing software reviews at the now-defunct; from mid-2000 through 2006, she wrote hardware reviews for and co-edited at The Gadgeteer. A recipient of the Sigma Kappa Colby Award for Technology, Judie is best known for her device-agnostic approach, deep-dive reviews, and enjoyment of exploring the latest tech, gadgets, and gear.