Boost Mobile rarely gets its hands on all the latest flagship phones, but you might be surprised to hear that, up until now, the carrier offered no options for those craving the spacious screens of phablets. The ZTE-made Boost Max is the first big-screen Android smartphone to arrive on the MVNO. Its 5.7-inch, 720p display should satisfy phablet fans, but it struggles with lower-end call quality and camera performance. For $299.99, though, you’re getting a lot of phone for not a lot of money. That coupled with the good build quality and surprising multitasking ability help buoy the Max. Our Editors’ Choice on Boost remains the year-old Samsung Galaxy S III, which still offers better performance and plenty of screen for most people.
Design, Features, and Call Quality
If you’re looking for a small, pocket-friendly phone you can go ahead and stop reading. The Boost Max is a handful at 6.5 by 3.25 by 0.4 inches (HWD) and 6.87 ounces. That puts it on par with the HTC One Max (6.48 by 3.25 by 0.41 inches), which packs a larger 6-inch display into its aluminum clad body. While not quite as impressive as the HTC, the Boost Max is a good looking phone, covered in a combination of faux-metal and soft-touch plastics. It feels well-built, with Power and Camera Shutter buttons on the right side and Volume buttons on the left. You’ll also find the micro USB port and microSD card slot on the left, the latter of which requires an included tool to access.
The 5.7-inch, 720p IPS display isn’t quite as sharp as the 1080p displays we’re seeing on higher-end phablets this size, but it still looks good, even at only 258 pixels per inch. Viewing angle is wide and the screen gets pretty bright at maximum brightness. Contrast could be better though, as blacks look a bit washed out, especially towards the corners where I noticed some backlight bleed.
The Boost Max connects to Sprint’s 3G EVDO Rev. A and LTE networks. In my tests in New York City, the Max averaged 7-10Mbps down and 2-4Mbps up when connected to LTE. The Max also connects to 802.11b/g/n networks on the 2.4GHz band only, while the Bluetooth 4.0 radio had no issue connecting to a wireless headset. The 3200mAh battery was good for over 12 hours of continuous video playback with screen brightness set to max and Wi-Fi on.
Call quality isn’t a strong suit for the Max. Earpiece volume is solid, and incoming calls were of average clarity. Transmissions through the mic, on the other hand, were a muddy, static-riddled mess. It was downright unintelligible at times, and the poor noise cancellation made matters worse. I’m guessing the target audience for phablets doesn’t necessarily hold call quality as a top priority, but it was pretty disappointing here.
Performance and Android
The Max is decidedly midrange thanks to its modest dual-core 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400 processor and 1GB RAM. It didn’t perform particularly well on synthetic benchmarks, notching low scores for graphics and Web browsing. In real world usage the Max held up pretty well, but there’s a noticeable delay for even basic tasks like opening the app drawer or launching the dialer. That’s pretty typical of phones in this class, though, and definitely don’t hold your breath when it comes to high-end games like Asphalt 8. The Max can play them, but expect dropped frames and generally choppy game play.
ZTE and Boost applied a light skin to the Max, running atop Android 4.1.2—that’s three versions behind, and I wouldn’t expect any updates here. There are some subtle changes, like adding Dolby sound profiles, but one big feature that I was frankly surprised to see. ZTE calls it “Smart Viewer” but it’s essentially the same thing as Samsung’s multi-window multitasking feature. It lets run two apps at the same time, splitting the screen into top and bottom halves, which really helps take advantage of the bigger screen. The best part is that you can run any app in Smart Viewer mode, unlike Samsung which limits you to sanctioned apps. It’s not quite as smooth as Samsung or LG’s iteration, but I was able to load up Chrome and YouTube at the same time. I tried running Asphalt 8 and Chrome, but the game would crash before I could get any playing time in.
There’s a good amount of bloatware pre-loaded onto the Max, but luckily most of it can be uninstalled. This includes things like Boost Music, eBay, iHeartRadio, Kingsoft Office, and NextRadio. A few things can’t be removed, though, like Boost Zone and the really annoying Lumen Toolbar (a dubious browser extension that serves no real purpose).
Media, Camera, and Conclusions
Of the 8GB of total storage, only 4.07GB is available out of the box, but our 64GB microSD card also worked fine. The Max had no issue playing back our media test formats, including FLAC and OGG audio files and DivX videos at up to 1080p resolution.
The 8-megapixel rear-facing camera came up pretty short in our tests. Images looked flat, even in ideal lighting, and venturing into lower-lit indoor scenes resulted in noise-riddled shots. The camera had a tough time locking into an accurate focus point, leading to soft images even with a steady hand. Video tops out at 1080p, but footage stutters under low light, struggling to maintain frame rates above 20. The front-facing 0.9-megapixel camera is suitable for quick video calls, but don’t rely on it for anything else.
The Boost Max is the most phone you can get on Boost Mobile, and while it’s no barn burner, it serves as a nice stand-in for a phone like the year-old Samsung Galaxy Note II. You get a nice 720p IPS display, solid build quality, and LTE speeds all for $300 without a contract. If you don’t need so much phone, we still like the Samsung Galaxy S III better on Boost, but its screen is nearly an inch smaller and it’s still $50 more than the Max at $349.99 at the time of this writing. The Boost Max has its shortcomings, but it’s a solid phone and good value for phablet fans on Boost Mobile.
|Phone Capability / Network||CDMA, LTE|
|Screen Resolution||1280 x 720 pixels|
|Dimensions||6.5 x 3.25 x 0.4 inches|
|Video Camera Resolution||1080p|
|Available Integrated Storage||4.07 GB|
|Processor Speed||1.2 GHz|
|CPU||Qualcomm Snapdragon 400|
|Total Integrated Storage||8 GB|
|Screen Type||IPS LCD|
|Operating System as Tested||Android 4.1.2|
|Camera Resolution||8 MP Rear|
|0.9 MP Front-Facing|
|Screen Pixels Per Inch||258 ppi|
|Form Factor||Candy Bar|
|Screen Size||5.7 inches|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc