When you are looking out at some of the quick upgrades to smartphones, it is easy to recall some of the flagships in 2016. The OnePlus 3 was succeeded by the OnePlus 3T, and then the Xiaomi Mi5 by the Mi5 Pro. But, there is rarely a mid-range phone corrected by the brand to make it better. ASUS has attempted at one, but the ZenFone 3s Max that we are talking about here confuses us more because it is not an upgrade but a variant that is ought to balance out things while offering something better in one of the particular aspects.
The ASUS ZenFone 3s Max, as said in our hands-on, is a different approach from ASUS where the company has bumped up the battery while making the interface based on the latest Android OS version. It was too early to comment on the performance, so here we are with the review of the ZenFone 3s Max, which packs a bigger battery and also runs the latest Android OS, i.e. Android Nougat.
First, let’s take a look at the specifications of the ZenFone 3s Max.
- Display: 5.2-inch, 1280 x 720 pixels resolution
- Processor: 1.5GHz Octa-core MediaTek MT6750 processor
- RAM: 3GB
- Storage: 32GB (available storage around 24GB)
- OS: Android 7.0 Nougat, ZenUI 3.0
- Rear camera: 13-megapixel, Dual LED flash, F/2.0 aperture, phase detection AF, two-tone LED flash, 1080p@30fps video
- Front camera: 8-megapixel
- Battery: 5000 mAh non-removable
- Sensors: Fingerprint sensor, Proximity, Orientation sensor, Magnetometer, Accelerometer, Light sensor
What’s really changed?
We’ll strictly keep this comparison between the ZenFone 3s Max and the ZC520TL variant of ZenFone 3 Max, which has the same screen size.
|ASUS ZenFone 3s Max||ASUS ZenFone 3 Max ZC520TL|
|MediaTek MT6750 SoC, octa-core CPU 1.5GHz, Mali-T860 MP2 GPU||Mediatek MT6737M, Quad-core 1.25 GHz Cortex-A53, Mali-T720MP2|
|Android 7.0 Nougat, ZenUI 3.0||Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, ZenUI 3.0|
|Fingerprint sensor on the front||Fingerprint sensor on the back|
|8-megapixel front camera||5-megapixel front camera|
|13-megapixel rear camera with F/2.0 aperture||13-megapixel rear camera with F/2.2 aperture|
|5000 mAh battery||4130 mAh battery|
Design, Form Factor
The design element is already mentioned above, with the fingerprint sensor now being located on the front and thus, the capacitive navigation buttons are pushed into the display area. Just like how it used to be in the past for Apple iPhones, you need to press and activate the home button first to register the fingerprint and unlock the phone. Also, the same physical buttons works as a home button, even though there is one as a part of the navigation set.
The gold color on the ZenFone 3s Max looks subtle and feels smooth enough, and with the size that is not so big for a phone with a 5000 mAh battery, it makes the comfort even better.
The compromise with the display on this phone adds up as an advantage on the other side. A great 1080p resolution would’ve made it much sharper for sure. But on the positive side, the lesser resolution would drain battery lesser and that pretty much sums it up about how ASUS has looked into things while giving you a phone that does the best with the battery life.
Ignore the resolution and you’ll find a very decent, colourful and neat display that has a good sunlight legibility, though not offering the best to read under direct sunlight conditions.
Interface and Performance
What strikes first here is the OS version running in the ZenFone 3s Max. The device comes with Android 7.0 Nougat out of the box and the ZenUI 3.0 is layered over it, as usual. While most of it is what you’d see on any other ASUS phone, but there are subtle changes and the Android Nougat OS brings in the aggressive Doze feature to kill anything that might use the battery when the device is resting.
ASUS had mentioned earlier about the number of pre-installed apps getting lesser but that isn’t the case here as we see a junk load of apps in a new phone. Otherwise, there are tons of features, customization options and ways to change the way you can use the interface on the ZenFone 3s Max, and it should fit well if you are not fond of the standard Android interface.
Not sluggish, in short, is what we can describe about the performance of the phone. The ZenFone 3s Max is tough enough to handle multitasking and a bit heavy graphic tasks, but at the same time, it isn’t anything that can beat the likes of Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 and LeEco Le 2, thanks to the Qualcomm chipset in the former and the better MediaTek one in the latter.
To add about the benchmarks, if we taken them into a serious consideration, the phone doesn’t hold up enough in these tests and in its price range, even the Lenovo K6 Note and the two others mentioned above easily beat the ZenFone 3s Max with the scores. Still, for a general use with not a need for huge multitasking, the device holds up well without breaking a sweat.
The ASUS ZenFone 3s Max has a 13-megapixel rear camera with the Dual LED flash support and there seems to be a Phase detection autofocus too packed into the module. If we’re talking about the devices from a few months ago, the 3s Max would’ve given a tough fight, and it is a good reproduction of colors without washing out and having a perfect balance. But, we’re in 2017 and the market of mid-range phones has so much to offer in every segment, especially the cameras.
Here are a few scaled-down capture samples.
In the same price, you are getting the Huawei Honor 6X, which arguably is one of the best cameraphones in its price range. Focus locking is not easy even if we are seeing the Phase detection autofocus, and that is largely because of the app, which pushes itself to brighten the captures by adjusting the exposure in almost every condition. There are, of course, a lot of features within the camera app and the manual mode can be taken advantage of if you wish to let your knowledge of camera adjustments rather than taking the help of the automated camera intelligence.
The captures are not so bad but there are a lot other smartphones offering better cameras without asking you to increase your budget.
Check ASUS ZenFone 3s Max Camera Samples: Link
What defines the ZenFone 3s Max is its battery life. A 5000 mAh capacity is what we’re looking at, and the phone can last for over a day on a single charge, even with some heavy usage. That includes connected accounts syncing all the time, occasional social media usage and web browsing, and the day-to-day activities.
The standby is great with the UI eliminating most of what would’ve drained the battery in the background, and with a full charge and good usage, over 6 hours of screen-on time is recorded on average.
Final Verdict – Battling in a tough price range
We’re talking of a price range where the competition seems to be the toughest and where only a small margin would be looking at a single feature at its best. The ZenFone 3s Max, no doubt, marvels with its battery life and can beat the others with ease in that aspect. But, not everyone would want to have a phone that is not outperforming others in day-to-day usage and in camera capabilities.
The competitors like Xiaomi Redmi Note 4, the Honor 6X, Moto G4 Plus, and LeEco Le 2 might not offer such a great battery life but they have better performance, cameras, and a better screen to look at. It still goes with the fact the 3s Max is the go-to choice for those who want a phone that lasts for a couple of days while traveling and doesn’t let them down at the crisis time.
Best Alternatives – It is hard to choose an alternative if you are looking out for a powerful phone that has a real-strong battery, but the alternatives are strong in most of the other aspects. The Xiaomi Redmi Note 4, Lenovo P2, Honor 6X, Moto G4 Plus, and the LeEco Le 2 are the five best.