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ZTE Kis 3 Max Review: In Depth

The Good

  • Cheap as chips
  • Almost vanilla Android
  • Sturdy

The Bad

  • Plain design
  • Can be a bit slow
3.5

An Android KitKat smartphone for £64.99, including £10 of credit? You read that right. The ZTE Kis 3 Max builds on the Kis 3 with a few welcome improvements, but is it worth the extra dough? Here’s our full ZTE Kis 3 Max review.

Design: A face only a mother could love

From the front, the ZTE Kis 3 Max looks pretty dull. Even its white paintjob struggles to hide the oversized bezels, that odd blue detailing where the touch buttons are located and the dated angles. 

Still, it does at least feel comfortable and solid and from the back it’s a clean design, but the Kis 3 Max feels like a step back from the Kis 3 and its curvier approach. 

The volume rocker is a tad too close to the power/lock button, which can lead to some accidental mis-hits, but you do eventually get used to it. The buttons themselves, meanwhile, are also a bit flat can be a pain to press. On the flip side, the Kis 3 Max is small enough for most pockets. 

Screen: Hold it straight

The ZTE Kis 3 Max has a 4.5-inch TFT TN FWVGA display, which means it’s large enough for most content but the quality is sub-par. A resolution of 480 x 854 pixels is part of the problem, but it’s more to do with the colour. Everything looks a bit murky, as if you’re looking at your phone through a muddy pond. 

Fortunately the touch sensitivity is great. Crank up the brightness and the screen becomes pallatable, especially when you remember it costs less than some nights out (or all nights out in London, even if you stick to beer and skip the stagger-home kebab).

Wide viewing angles are a handy thing if more than one user wants to watch a video at the same time. Bad news then, as the Kis 3 Max performs badly as the display darkens at even the slightest angle.

OS: Vanilla Android

One strong point of the ZTE Kis 3 Max is the operating system. Unlike most Android smartphones, the Kis kisses goodbye to a custom overlay. Short of a funky press-and-hold unlock system and a few tacked-on Virgin apps, you get unfiltered Android 4.4.2, also known as KitKat. 

This means a much less cluttered user-interface and full access to the Google Play store. Some apps and games will be too much for the Kis 3 Max to handle, but most of the vast catalogue will be available and usable while the likes of Facebook and Twitter come preinstalled as usual.

One gripe is the inability to remove Virgin’s app collection, but you can unpin the folder if you’re that bothered and the space taken up is minimal. Plus one of the shortcuts is to My Account so you can check your balance and top-up on the go, which is actually useful for a pay as you go phone anyway. 

Performance: Adequate for the price

We feel a little harsh being too critical with the Kis 3 Max, because although the phone isn’t the prettiest bit of tech around and suffers a fair few shortcomings, it costs at most a quarter of the price of many other mid-range mobiles. And the good news is, the 1.3GHz dual core processor is anything but four times slower. 

Fair enough, there is the odd delay when, say, browsing a web page and then pressing the home page to go to the home screen, but hardly the stuff of nightmares. For the most part, general performance is acceptable.

Arguably, a little more than 512MB of RAM would help with the punchiness, but likely at the expense of bumping the price up. For those who care little about performance or have no benchmark to compare with, such as technophobes and younger users, it’s perfectly adequate. 

3G is supported so you can expect good data speeds in the right areas, but there’s no 4G support. Not that the average person buying this phone will be too bothered. If you want cheapy 4G, you’re best off with something like the EE Kestrel.

As for storage space, you get a measly 4GB packed inside, which most people will quickly burn through with apps, games and music. Luckily a microSD expansion slot means you can add up to 32GB extra, at quite a low cost.

Camera: Surprisingly capable

Another plus of the Kis 3 Max over the Kis 3 is the camera. At the back of the phone is a 5-megapixel snapper, an upgrade from the Kis 3’s three-megapixel offering. On the front is a two-megapixel camera for video calls and selfies. 

Our test shots came out better than we expected. There is a graininess to the photos but the colours are better than we’ve seen on most budget cameras. It helps there are panoramic and continuous modes for helping you get the shot you want. 

Video was also surprisingly good, with the focus quick to do its thing in bright conditions. Overall it’s better than the price tag would suggest, which is all we can ask for. 

Battery: Kiss my longevity

The Kis 3 Max gets a 1,850mAh battery, which is 450mAh bigger than what you get in the Kis 3. We saw between a day and two of life with moderate use and a good solid day when playing games and watching videos on our commute, definitely a great result compared with many low-priced rivals.

Verdict: Happy ending?

The ZTE Kis 3 Max benefits from a better camera, longer battery life and a different look compared with its predecessor, making it a solid device for those who want to keep their phone usage cheap. At £64.99 including a £10 top-up, it’s £20 more expensive than the Kis 3. However, that does give you improved battery life and a few other upgrades.

So what about other low-cost rivals? A Nokia Lumia 530 is a better choice for those who want a simple operating system, while the Motorola Moto E is similarly capable although a tad more expensive. A ZTE Blade Q Mini, meanwhile, is cheaper again if you can put up with the older, less feature-packed Android 4.2 Jellybean. 

For those looking for a second smartphone or one for younger or older users who are happy with what they’re given, the ZTE Kis 3 Max is a solid – if lacklustre – choice.

Specification

Screen size4.5-inch
Screen resolution480x854 pixels
Weight135g
OSAndroid 4.4.2 KitKat
Rear Camera5-megapixel
Front camera2-megapixel
ProcessorARM Cortex A7 1.3GHz dual core
Memory512mb of RAM
Storage4GB (expandable via microSD slot)
4G LTENo

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