ASUS is in no-rest mode in the past few months and there have been a flurry of smartphones launches from the brand that has been catering to almost all the price brackets, and doing considerably well in the mid-range segment. One of the ways the company has been able to keep the buyers interested is by offering smartphones with certain important USPs highlighted in them. Take the Laser, Max, and Deluxe for example. The flagship offers all the needed specs, but for someone seeking a much better battery can consider the Max variant, while the one who loves quick captures can consider having a look at the Laser one.
The latest offering from ASUS is the ZenFone 3 Max, an addition to the ZenFone 3 series that has been growing this year. Earlier, the company had released the flagship ZenFone 3 and the ZenFone 3 Deluxe, which was the first one in the market to have the Snapdragon 821 chipset, and then came in the ZenFone 3 Laser, which is finally followed by this new high-capacity battery powered ZenFone 3 Max.
Two things the company faced a backlash last year for, were the design and the interface. The design was not really bad, but at a time when the competitors had solid metals or shiny glass, ASUS had stuck to the traditional polycarbonate offering some patterns on it. This time, we see a complete transformation and the entire series is devoid of that plastic back. It is either glass, or metal. And to be fair, each of the model this time looks and feels solid and different from its predecessor.
The ZenFone 3 Max is made for a good battery life but it doesn’t compromise with the other specifications. Let’s check out what’s on offer in the device.
- Display: 5.5-inch, 1920 x 1080 pixels, 403 PPI pixel density
- OS: Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, ZenUI
- Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 (MSM8937) octa-core, Adreno 505 GPU
- RAM: 3GB
- Storage: 32GB internal, expandable with MicroSD on second SIM slot
- Battery: 4100 mAh
- Rear Camera: 16-megapixel, Laser autofocus, Dual LED flash, 4K video recording
- Front Camera: 8-megapixel, 1080p video
The internal hardware is almost the same as in the ZenFone 3 Laser, as the phone is powered by the 1.4GHz 64-bit Snapdragon 430 processor from Qualcomm, but there is 3GB of RAM and 32GB internal storage. It is clear that while offering a good battery capacity, ASUS is not compromising with the other important specs, especially the RAM capacity and storage.
It’d to be a bit hard to differentiate between the ZenFone 3 Laser and the ZenFone 3 Max. They have a metal body, similar camera combination and almost the same design, but then, one of the things where I’d prefer the Max is the dug-in camera on the back. The 16MP camera on the back of ZenFone 3 Laser pops out and could be the first point of impact on flat surfaces but the Max has the camera about half a millimeter inner from the surface.
The phone looks solid, feels the same and holds no sharp edges, which can become a reason for it feeling a bit slippery. The silver antenna lines that run horizontally above the camera and below the ASUS branding on the back add to the good looks on the gray variant that I got for review.
On the front is a 5.5-inch display, the same size as in its predecessor but it is a good looking 2.5D curved glass that falls down towards the side frame, which adds to the good design and comfort of holding the device. There are navigation buttons below the display and these have a silver border, not lighting up even in use. ASUS has decided to go on with the MicroUSB connectivity for now, with the port sitting in the bottom alongside the speaker grill and the primary microphone. The top has a headset jack and the secondary microphone.
The flat back, the 2.5D glass on the front and the perfected slots and inclusions on the side frame – these are all a welcome change for someone who’ve used the previous gen. device from ASUS, as it offers a much better form factor, but the ZenFone 3 Max is, indeed, a bit slippery and might need you to protect its screen.
The display has a Full HD resolution, which although isn’t the sharpest, it is nothing to worry about as it still is sharp enough to make the content look good, with a decent color output. Rich blacks and high brightness made reading easier in bright conditions, though, unlike only a few handsets in the market, the reading under the stroke of direct sunlight is challenging.
Viewing angles are good as well, and the overall display quality is well maintained by the company. Under the display settings, you can have the Bluelight filter turned on if you are a nocturnal user and spend time with the phone in low light conditions.
It is the Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow OS that the ZenFone 3 Max is running, and over it is the ZenUI that still has some scope of improvement, as it doesn’t pose as a bold interface, though to be fair to it, there are loads of features available to the user.
As is the case always with ASUS smartphones, there are loads of pre-installed apps but on the brighter side, you are free to uninstall a lot of them. The “Manage Home” section that shows up when you either swipe up from bottom on the home screen, or pinch in, offers a lot for the users to customize the look of the interface. Changing the icon packs, locking the apps, changing the theme, and editing the home screen and wallpapers is possible from there.
There’s parallax motion effect on the wallpaper, Zen Motion gestures to get some quick and unique functions done, and the app drawer can be customized. But in the end, it is hard to like this interface given how filled and confusing it gets for a new user who doesn’t prefer having a lot at offer and would want to install only the things they want to use.
As for the performance, while on one side you feel like the ZenFone 3 Max is a bit of underperformer when compared to devices priced at that range in the recent time, but on the other side, it feels solid with gaming and even though that doesn’t show with the benchmark scores, the phone doesn’t show any issues or lags while using it regularly with several tasks on the background. For the graphics performance, I wouldn’t give it a cent percent score because there are clear lags and frame drops noticed when high-end games were played with no compromise on the graphic quality.
Sometimes, slowing down of the device is due to the heating of the device under different conditions. With the ZenFone 3 Max, there is no such lag seen because even after a good amount of time of gaming and camera usage, the device didn’t heat up and only slight warming is noticed. To add about the benchmarks, here are some of the regular ones that we do – AnTuTu Benchmark: 43555, Geekbench 4 CPU Benchmark Single-core: 639, Geekbench 4 CPU Benchmark Multi-core: 2058, Geekbench 4 Compute Renderscript Benchmark: 1667, and Quadrant Standard: 20254.
One would expect the device to compromise with the other aspects when the company is focusing on marketing one particular feature – the battery, but ASUS has tried to manage it well with the camera here on the ZenFone 3 Max. The phone has a 16-megapixel rear camera that is equipped with a F/2.0 aperture and EIS and a 5p Largan lens system. On the front as well, a good 8-megapixel shooter with F/2.2 aperture is seen. But, let’s talk about the quality. It is not the best when you are talking about the low-light or artificial light performance. The Pixel Master technology from the company does help in lighting up the picture in dark conditions, but that comes with a big compromise – the noise that takes away anything that might seem natural.
If you are manually focusing on a particular object in the view, the final result is very much appreciable, but rely on the camera to do that by itself and the exposure balance goes off. The Electronic image stabilizer doesn’t work so well when videos are being captured and even a small shake is evidently seen on the captured video. Focusing is quick, as the rear camera is also assisted by the Laser autofocus system and PDAF adds to it. For some who prefer playing around with the manual settings to get a better capture in the end, there is a scope for good results as the app offers shutter speed for up to 32 seconds among some other important manual settings.
Following samples are scaled down. Click the link below to check out the full resolution samples.
Check Camera Samples Full Size: Link
While we did see some compromises with the low light performance, the performance in bright light is very good and the pictures when zoomed in too are very appreciable. The 8MP front facing camera as well takes good selfies and with both the cameras, if you are taking the pictures without any manual settings, the saving too is instant and doesn’t take an extra second.
The phone is named for its battery, which is said to be one of the main USPs of the ZenFone 3 Max. Unlike the predecessor, this does have a lesser battery capacity but that is to keep up with the new design strategy that is in place for the ZenFone 3 series. But a capacity of 4100 mAh is not bad, by numbers, or by performance. The battery performs well even with 4G connectivity and a full charge is able to give over 6 hours of screen-on time on average, with loads of time in that spent while using the data connectivity and not just on Wi-Fi all the time.
While you can use the phone with an OTG connection to charge the other phones around, one fact that you should have in mind is that the ZenFone 3 Max does not have fast charging capability. Though, using a 10W charger does fasten the charging speed but there is no direct support offered in the device.
Final Verdict – How good is the ZenFone 3 Max?
This isn’t like the ZenFone 2 Max, or the one even before it. The design has changed, so has the battery capacity, but the thing that is interesting to note is that ASUS has managed to keep it so well that on the other side, except for the better bit of performance, the ASUS ZenFone 3 Laser too seems irrelevant. But, both serve different purposes and the Max has the upper edge with a better battery and a not-so-different design, and an obvious advantage of having the camera within the frame and not popping out.
But on the other side, the ZenFone 3 Max is not a clear winner when we talk of the competitors from other brands. The Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 is still a very good choice having a similar battery capacity, and the Moto G4 Plus is another one that anyone with a need for better, faster UI that doesn’t have a lot of fuss. The Max is priced at Rs. 17999, keeping it away from all these affordable mid-range options, and if someone is looking to shell out that amount from their budget, there are some challenging smartphones that can throw it out of contention, namely Lenovo Z2 Plus and the LeEco Le Max2.
Of course, if you have bought one of the ZenFone devices earlier, you will be at ease with this one and are going to hold a better device in hand if you are deciding to go with this latest series. Sometimes, the brands do have to set the price based on the place where it sells, and since the ZenFone 3 Max is being sold in the offline markets as well, the high price can be related to that. But, if the device is priced lesser in the coming days, it should be one you cannot ignore as a choice.