NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Big, bold, top-of-the-line smartphones from Apple, Samsung, LG, HTC and others get most of the publicity but there are also some pretty amazing smartphones manufactures in the Far East that are begging to reach the U.S. market and are well worth considering.
These other new devices don't have the most super-impressive specs on paper that you've ever seen but, in increasing numbers, offer competitive, solid smartphones at amazing low prices.
The Zhongxing Telecommunication Equipment Corporation's, better known here as ZTE, ZMAX is one of the new breed of affordable smartphones made in China. It's one of the few being sold by a U.S. carrier - in this case T-Mobile (TMUS) - Get T-Mobile US, Inc. Report . That means you have someone to help if you need it and you can pay out the phone over the life of a contract (zero down and $10.50 per month). If you buy it outright, it'll only cost $252.
Spec wise, the ZMAX can compete with some of the better smartphones out there and its components inside are pretty good quality. The TFT LCD touchscreen measures 5.7-inches (1280 by 720 pixels) and is protected by Corning (GLW) - Get Corning Inc Report Gorilla Glass 3. There's a quad-core, 1.2 GHz Qualcomm (QCOM) - Get Qualcomm Inc Report Snapdragon 400 processor, 2 GB of RAM, 16 GB of user memory, a microSD card slot, plus an 8 MP camera on the back and a 1.6MP forward facing camera.
ZMAX runs on Google's (GOOG) - Get Alphabet Inc. Class C Report Android KitKat operating system. It's not the latest Android system, version 4.4.2, but it's not horrible either. The phone has lots of the connectivity goodies you would expect such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and 4G/LTE. Since it's a T-Mobile phone, it can make and receive voice calls over Wi-Fi.
The most impressive feature is the rechargeable, but non-removable battery pack. ZTE promises up to 14 hours of talk time (and 15 days of standby) on a charge. In our tests we were able to squeeze out nearly two days worth of normal use (talking, messaging - social and otherwise, Web surfing, video watching and game playing). That's quite impressive for a device with such a large display.
The handset measures 6.4 by 3.3 by 0.35 inches and weighs-in at a hefty 6.7 ounces. Even though the ZMAX has edges that curve toward the back of the handset, it comes off as one very square, very flat device. There's an on-off switch on the right, a volume rocker on the left, headphone jack on top and a microUSB port on the bottom. Sound output is very loud and clear. There's nothing fancy about the device, but everything is very functional and well done.
There are the usual T-Mobile apps installed as standard equipment such as Mobile Hotspot and T-Mobile TV but not all that many to get in the way. And, ZTE doesn't burden the ZMAX with lots of add-on bloatware of its own.
It may not be the thinnest or lightest big smartphone on the market, and some users may have problems holding it in one hand or putting it in their pockets. The display is very good but not up to Apple (AAPL) - Get Apple Inc. Report , Samsung, LG or HTC standards. Lastly, the quality of pictures taken with either of the cameras are not the best you've ever seen.
However, for a total price of $252, this is one very good phablet. If you don't mind the size and are looking for a 4G phablet bargain, ZTE's ZMAX should definitely be on your shortlist.
-- Written by Gary Krakow in New York.
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Gary Krakow is TheStreet's Senior Technology Correspondent.