If you ask me to recommend an affordable smartphone with a good battery back up to you, I will, without a second thought, point you towards the Xiaomi Redmi 3s Prime (Review). However, if you ask for one with at least a 5.5-inch screen and a bigger battery, I might have to think a bit. I would definitely not recommend unwieldy phones simply for their larger battery capacities.
For this same reason, Gionee came up with the Marathon series, Micromax with the Canvas Juice series, and ASUS with the ZenFone Max line. The overall performance and the battery life are the only two features that distinguish these phones from one another, apart from the obvious, the custom user interface. But, that’s quickly changing now as phone makers are adopting new designs and materials to make smartphones slimmer and also cram larger batteries in them.
This year, ASUS tailors a premium look in its ZenFone 3 Max series and also makes a shift from budget segment to the mid-range. The ZenFone 3 Max comes in two variants – the ZenFone 3 Max (ZC520TL) with a MediaTek MT6737M chipset for ₹12,999 and the ZenFone 3 Max (ZC553KL) with Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 chip for ₹17,999. Both handsets sport different screen sizes and camera setups.
We received the ZenFone 3 Max (ZC553KL) with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 chip inside. I spent some time with it and here are my final thoughts.
ASUS ZenFone 3 Max: Design and Build
ASUS is finally bidding adieu to its boring plastick-y design of the ZenFone series. So, the ZenFone 3 Max is distinctive from other ZenFone models, and looks very similar to the ZenFone 3 Laser which comes in an all-metal build.
I couldn’t ignore the similarity of its design with that of other phones. The front of the ZenFone 3 Max resembles phones from Oppo and Honor. Meanwhile, the rear is reminiscent of the Xiaomi Redmi phones and Meizu’s M-series.
ASUS boasts of having a 73 percent screen-to-body ratio with the use of a 2.5D contoured glass panel on the front and narrow bezels of 2.25mm. The ZenFone 3 Max is a combination of a metal (back) and glass (front) packed in an 8.6mm thick body. The capacitive buttons lack LED backlight and therefore it might take some time for you to get used to using them in darkness.
The rear panel is made of aluminium alloy and has a sand-blasted finish that gives an excellent feel and grip. The corners are well-rounded. Overall, the phone’s build feels premium in hands and can handle a few drops, unless the screen is facing the ground, that is. My review unit slipped once, and now there is a tiny dent on it, which is barely noticeable though.
The phone weighs 175g including the 4100mAh non-removable battery. The ZenFone 3 Max feels like a premium beauty but which comes with no promise of sturdiness or screen protection.
ASUS ZenFone 3 Max: Display
As mentioned eariler, the 5.5-inch IPS display is crafted using a 2.5D curved glass panel. It supports a Full HD resolution that translates to a pixel density of 403 PPI. The lack of Corning Gorilla Glass protection had me worried. The colour production is fairly decent, but the screen does appear dull. The colour temperature was mostly on the colder (read: blue) side.
The screen’s brightness of 450nits helped a lot while using the phone under direct sunlight. However, the screen is quite reflective, so I often struggled to read text or view photos. The lack of oleophobic coating allows fingerprints and smudges on the screen.
The slim bezels don’t let you feel that the display is wide. In case you do, you can make use of the One Hand mode option in the Settings.
ASUS ZenFone 3 Max: Hardware
The ZenFone 3 Max (ZC553KL) houses a 64-bit octa-core 1.4GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 chipset with an Adreno 505 GPU for graphics. It is a significant step down from the ZenFone 2 Max which packs an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 processor. I expected a Snapdragon 625 chipset at least.
The 3GB of LPDDR3 RAM should let you work with large apps, games, and multi-task without any hassle. Out of the 32GB of advertised storage space, roughly 22.5GB for apps and other files is available.
The ZenFone 3 Max has a hybrid dual SIM slot. That means you can use either a second SIM or a microSD card at a time. The phone also supports micro SIM modules. I had a nano SIM with me and faced a tough time finding a nano-to-micro SIM adapter. Thankfully, the Indian variant supports both 4G LTE bands – Band 3 and Band 40 – along with VoLTE.
I was surprised to learn that the phone supports single-band Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n only. However, it was able to latch on to the 2.4GHz band on my home’s Wi-Fi network powered by a dual-band ASUS RT-AC66U router.
The built-in GPS chip works with A-GPS as well as GLONASS and BDS for quicker and more accurate navigation. But the phone still took a couple of seconds to lock the location and was slow in updating the location in a moving cab.
Overall, the hardware feels best-suited for an average budget device.
ASUS ZenFone 3 Max: Camera
Asus makes use of its PixelMaster 3.0 camera software for the 16-megapixel rear camera. The rear camera with F2.0 aperture packs features such as Laser Autofocus, Phase Detection Autofocus, and Continuous Autofocus which ASUS refers collectively to as Tri-Tech Focus. Thanks to that, the focusing is very quick, and the captured photos are saved instantly.
Photos taken in daytime tend to have noticeable amount of noise in them with a painting effect of sorts bludgeoned at the corners and borders of the object. The still shots captured in daylight produce good colours, but they don’t pop. The low-light images with the help of LED flash are merely passable to be uploaded on social media.
We played around with the 32-second shutter speed in manual mode but couldn’t get the desired results. You will have to use a tripod to get the shot right. Meanwhile, the Super Resolution mode captures four shots simultaneously and extrapolates them together to make a 52-megapixel larger image.
The front-facing 8-megapixel camera lets you use different beauty effects such as changing the skin-tone or slimming your face. All that happens in real-time before you take a picture. However, the selfies taken in artificially lit situations tend to carry a lot of noise.
Shooting a 1080p video is effortless, but the Electronic Image Stabilisation works only in 720p resolution.
ASUS ZenFone 3 Max: Software and Performance
The ZenFone 3 Max comes pre-loaded with Zen UI 3.0 based on Android 6.0 Marshmallow. With 3GB of RAM in-hand, we expected smooth experience. However, lag in the UI was evident right out-of-the-box, and a system update made a noticeable improvement. I won’t spend much time on this as Rahul has already written about the Zen UI 3.0 experience in our ZenFone 3 review.
However, I would like to add that ASUS continues to preload a lot of unwanted apps (read: bloatware). The Power Manager aggressively manages apps that are notorious for running in the background and quietly consuming data. The fingerprint sensor at the back takes a minute to set up and is a hit-or-miss affair. I’ve seen phones with faster fingerprint scanners.
The phone does get a bit warm while gaming or using the camera, but not scalding hot. There was lag while multi-tasking after I let the phone run for about ten days without a physical/software reboot.
In the synthetic benchmarks test, the phone received a score of 44, 194 in AnTuTu. We tested its graphics prowess to get a score of 260 in 3Dmark’s Sling Shot ES 3.1 and it scored 9465 in the Ice Storm Unlimited. That said, I didn’t enjoy playing Asphalt 8: Airborne or Modern Combat 5: Blackout at moderate settings.
The speakers sound mostly attenuated while listening to music, and the vocals feel a bit pronounced. Voice call quality was fair over the earpiece, and the noise-cancelling microphones did a decent job of delivering clear audio.
The overall performance of the phone was acceptable but not as snappy as most devices after the first boost.
ASUS ZenFone 3 Max: Battery
The battery is the standout feature of the ZenFone Max line. The 4100mAh battery of the Zenfone 3 Max is yet another trade-off if you pit it against the predecessor model that features a 5000mAh battery. The real dampener though, is when you discover that ASUS still doesn’t offer Quick Charging technology support. The phone takes about three hours for a complete charge using the bundled 10W charger. Surprisingly, the phone doesn’t charge properly with other chargers or cables.
My typical heavy usage involves replying to several emails for the two Gmail accounts synced, watching two TV show episodes of 40-minutes each, hundreds of Whats and Telegram messages, web browsing for an hour, and using Twitter-Facebook often. With such usage, the phone lasted me almost a day and a half. If I replace video playback with an hour of gaming, then the phone makes through just a day. Also, the bundled OTG adapter enables reverse charging another phone. That could come in handy at times.
The ZenFone 3 Max is a stylish phone with a large battery. It progressively moves away from the boring design of the previous ZenFone Max devices. That said, the phone’s design fails to leave a distinct impression. The ZenFone 3 Max is available in Glacier Silver, Titanium Grey, and Sand Gold colour options.
It looks like ASUS managed to build a new shell for the ZenFone Max series but decided to follow the same old budget-grade recipe for the hardware. There’s no way an entry-level chipset, single-band Wi-Fi, hybrid dual-SIM slot, no Quick Charging support, and lack of Gorilla Glass protection are justifiable at a mid-range price.
Also, the price slots the ASUS ZenFone 3 Max in a highly competitive segment. The Lenovo Z2 Plus (review) and the LeEco Le Max2 with their blazing fast performance are good alternatives in the sub ₹20,000 segment. The Samsung Galaxy J7 Prime is yet another good option for those who wish to rely on a ‘reputed’ brand (we get asked this a lot during our Facebook AMAs).
All these options put me in a fix as I still struggle to find a compelling reason to recommend the ZenFone 3 Max. The only respite is that this phone is available offline, but this is still not good enough to recommend the ASUS ZenFone 3 Max at its current price.
ASUS ZenFone 3 Max (ZC553KL)
- Decent display
- Reliable battery life
- Good build quality
- New design in the ZenFone Max series
- Fingerprint scanner is a hit-or-miss
- No Gorilla Glass protection
- Below average gaming performance
- A bit on expensive side