Review: Asus ZenFone 3 Max
Asus’s ZenFone range can be a bit confusing at times, primarily because of the number of different devices and product codes. However, each phone fits into a specific niche, and Asus indeed has something for everyone on offer. In this case, the Zenfone 3 Max packs a huge battery, for those who are always on the go. Now, the company has slowly started entering the premium segment. With this comes, better designing and hardware.
Asus launched the first ZenFone Max in 2015, and while it delivered on its promise of long battery life, it brought nothing else. The follow-up version had more memory and faster processor, but both devices were chunky plastic smartphones that didn’t impress many. Bring in the 3 Max (ZC553KL) and everything changes.
The ZenFone 3 Max looks a lot like an Asus smartphone as it follows the same design principles. It is a very stylish smartphone with a slim aluminum unibody design that gets an extra edge thanks to the 2.5D glass panel up front. The review unit we had, sported a grey matte feel metal finish, which made it look very premium. It comes with a fingerprint scanner in the rear panel. The phone does not feel heavy despite it carrying a giant 4,100 mAh battery. Though given the fact it’s a metal body, the phone does tend to slip easily.
The curves are very ergonomic and comfortable to hold, while the 73% screen-to-body ratio is commendable. The right side of the phone has the power and volume buttons, the bottom has the microUSB port and speaker grille, while the top has the 3.5mm jack.
The ZenFone 3 Max comes with a 5.5-inch full HD IPS display which is par for the course and has good viewing angles and punchy colors. Sunlight legibility is also decent with a pixel density of 401 ppi. It’s a decent screen in terms of sharpness, but the colors do appear a bit unnatural and over saturated. Right below the screen are the three Android software keys, which are in the form of capacitive buttons rather than on-screen keys. Unfortunately, the keys aren’t backlit.
The ZenFone 3 Max comes with a 64-bit octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 CPU that is clocked at 1.4GHz paired with the Adreno 505 GPU, 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage which can be expanded via a micro SD card (of upto 128GB). The phone feels sluggish at all times.
The Snapdragon 400 series has always been one of Qualcomm’s go-to options for affordable devices, with a focus on power efficiency. Naturally, this comes at the cost of performance. It is fine for basic use such as calling, texting, browsing mobile websites and so on but you can’t help but notice how sluggish it gets sometimes. Browsing through a heavy web site is not a smooth experience, with slight jitters and jerks abound. You’d be unable to play graphic-intensive games at maxed-out settings and experience frequent frame-drops.
Switching to performance mode under Power Saving options noticeably speeds up some actions, but the overall experience is still a jittery one. Animations are rarely smooth and there’s a perceptible lag to everything. The Rs 8,999 Redmi 3S Prime offers almost the same specs as the ZenFone 3 Max.
Although the Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 SoC is Quick Charge 3.0 compliant, Asus has bundled a slow charger with the phone, which comes across as a disappointment, especially considering the price and battery capacity itself.
The fingerprint scanner can be used to answer incoming calls, launch the camera app, or take a picture, but is not quick enough.
The Asus ZenFone 3 Max runs on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, with the company’s Zen UI layered on top. There is no stock Android in sight, everything has been completely revamped. Though there is no annoying bloatware, the in-built Asus Apps feel almost useless. I’ve hardly used them. ZenUI 3.0 features an app drawer, and there’s a built-in search functionality.
All in all, the skin won’t win any beauty contests and is also extremely messy and not optimised well. Honestly, I feel everything is very cluttered. The icons look to big, and the option to resize is non-existent. The most useful app from the entire ZenUI suite is the Mobile Manager. With slick animations and intuitive UI, the app offers quick ways to free RAM and storage space, and manage apps as well as app permissions.
Functionality such as double-tap to wake or sleep, motion gestures like placing the phone on your ear to answer a call and even a glove mode to increase the sensitivity of the screen can be enabled or disabled at will. You can also download themes from Asus’ Themes store.
The ZenFone 3 Max sports a 16-megapixel rear camera with f/2.0 aperture, Phase Detection Autofocus and laser auto-focus, Electronic Image Stabilization for shooting videos, and dual-LED flash. The camera performs well in outdoor situations, producing detailed and well balanced images. Just like the ZenFone 3, the camera is more than capable in low light situations and produces clear and crisp images, albeit with a little loss of detail and some noise.
The camera app is a bit confusing at first, but has plenty of tweaks and settings to let you set the camera up to your preferences. When it comes to modes, the app offers most of the popular options, including HDR, time lapse and panorama, but I couldn’t locate a slow-motion video mode.
Focusing is quick regardless of whether you’re shooting objects up close or at a distance. Videos are a mixed bag. While the quality is not bad at all, with punchy colors, good dynamic range and decent audio, the lack of optical image stabilisation hurts a little bit.
Apart from having large batteries, the phones have also used hardware that is efficient to ensure that the battery life issue is adequately addressed. While the battery has seen a decrease in size from previous models (4,100mAh as compared to 5,000mAh), it will still easily last you two days of moderate to slightly intensive use.
Even with heavy use, a full charge will last you over a day-and-a-half, and it’s refreshing and satisfying to see the battery percentage drop slowly even while playing heavy games. The battery life was the most pleasing aspect of the ZenFone Max in the time I used it as my daily driver.
The ZenFone 3 Max strikes a better balance between power-efficiency, performance and hardware quality. It has a few positives such as stellar battery life, a decent camera and a great design but they are all undone by the extremely low-end Snapdragon 430 processor. What pulls the device down further is the excessively cluttered and unoptimised Zen UI.
In India, the device is priced at ₹17,999 ($265) – a tad higher than what everyone would’ve liked. At this price, it feels a little out of place. The use of Snapdragon 430 SoC for a smartphone at this price is quite baffling considering there are better performing phones such as the LeEco Le 2, Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 and Motorola Moto G4 Plus available for quite less. But those who are looking for stellar battery life should definitely go with it!