Cricket Wireless Chirps, Launches Exclusive ZTE Grand X Max+

Cricket Wireless has been around for a long time, offering inexpensive prepaid mobile wireless service (with the caveat of limited coverage). When AT&T snapped up the company back in May 2014, many around the industry were intrigued by the possibilities such a powerful parent company could open up for Cricket.

Now, mere months later, Cricket seems to be enjoying those benefits partly in the form of a very large and exclusive ZTE-made handset.

Cricket worked with ZTE to develop a midrange but rather impressive-sounding phone dubbed the ZTE Grand X Max+, which is currently a Cricket exclusive. The phone boasts a massive 6-inch Full HD display as well as 4G LTE capabilities, and there are 16 GB of internal storage (with support for up to a 32 GB microSD card) and 2 GB of RAM.

The rear-facing camera is a 13 MP affair, and the front-facing camera is a solid 5 MP. There's also Dolby Audio on board (with a single speaker), and a nice, big 3200 mAh battery to better handle the demands of that large display. To get the battery powered up faster, they've enabled Qualcomm Quick Charge 1.0 technology.

And yes, the Grand X Max+ runs on a Qualcomm chip -- the Snapdragon 400 (quad-core 1.2 GHz Cortex A7 CPU with the Adreno 305 GPU). It's a midrange chip to be sure, powering handsets including the Moto G, Moto G 2014, and Lumia 830; however, all of these phones have smaller screens than the Grand X Max + and use a lower 720p resolution. We wonder what sort of performance hit the Grand X Max+ might take, then, in the GPU department.

While the Snapdragon 400 is going to be phased out in favor of the Snapdragon 410 (Cortex A53) at some point, considering the other specifications and features, the Grand X Max+ may still pique buyers' interests with its low price tag. The device will sell unlocked for $199.99.

So why a beastly 6-inch phablet? "We currently have in our lineup a Windows Phone [the Nokia Lumia 1320] with a 6-inch screen and have had really good success with that product," said Andy Smoak, Head of Product at Cricket Wireless. He also noted that this Grand X Max+ will compete with the likes of the Samsung 6.3-inch Galaxy Mega and 6-inch Mega 2, and he wants to beat them on price.

"Historically, those products [like the Mega] have been $399," said Smoak. "You're getting a lot for [the price], yes, but it's not like you're getting a Galaxy S5."

"We worked really hard with ZTE on the Grand X Max+ that comes with the LTE technology, that comes with the big 6-inch screen, that comes with the big battery, the big camera," he added. It's geared for those who want a higher-end phone but don't want to drop $600-$700 on one.

The Grand X Max+ runs Android 4.4 KitKat. One might hope that it would get the Lollipop treatment at some point, but Smoak noted, "One of the ways that we drive a better cost basis is by not doing a lot of OS updates and maintenance releases. We are very strategic about the decisions we make around that." He did say, however, that a product in the class of this handset is likely to see an upgrade to Lollipop, but he wasn't able to confirm either way.

So, fine then; there are lots of other prepaid offerings out there, and one exclusive mid-tier handset is only going to go so far in persuading buyers to switch to or stick with Cricket. But Cricket knows that, and the company is pushing its network as the main attraction.

Cricket enjoys the reliability and wide coverage area of AT&T's network. The company does use AT&T's towers and LTE and 3G networks, but Cricket has its own packet core, data speeds, and so on.

Cricket coverage map (but you need to go to the site and zoom it to see the LTE vs. 4G coverage)

The main difference is data speeds. Cricket's service offers lower LTE speeds than AT&T. Although the company wouldn't give an exact number, Smoak did reframe that issue by saying that what you get is still "head and shoulders" above legacy LTE Cricket speeds.

He also stated that Cricket customers aren't as focused on speeds as they are on coverage area (which it has in spades thanks to AT&T), reliability, and price.

To top off the value of Cricket's offerings, the company offers Wi-Fi access to 13 million "curated" AT&T Smart Wi-Fi hotspots around the U.S. When customers are in range, their data access automatically switches over to the hotspots using AT&T's authentication protocols to ensure security. However, voice calls over Wi-Fi are not supported.

Cricket plans

Cricket offers several plan tiers. There's a simple unlimited talk/text plan for $25 per month, or you can opt for the $40, $50, or $60 per month plans that net you 1 GB, 3 GB, or 10 GB of 4G LTE data, respectively.

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