ASUS Zenfone Max Pro M1: Hands-on, First Impressions

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Earlier today ASUS took covers off India’s newest budget handset – the ASUS Zenfone Max Pro M1. Clearly targeted to challenge the domination of the Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 twins that have been selling like hot cakes in India, the Zenfone Max Pro M1 does boast of an impressive spec sheet and has a great price to boot. While the true capabilities of the device can only be explained in a detailed review, I did get the opportunity to use the Zenfone Max Pro M1 briefly at ASUS’s head office in Mumbai last week. Two days ago, I also received my review unit of the handset, and since then I have been using it as my primary handset. I hope to pen down my thoughts on the Zenfone Max Pro M1 in the news few weeks. However, for now, you will need to be content with my first impressions of the phone. Please note that the device that I had used at the ASUS office was a pre-production unit with an early firmware on it. Naturally, you cannot expect the handset I used to be free of bugs. In fact, even the review unit I am using right now does not have the final firmware on it. I expect ASUS to update the firmware to the final, stable version in the days to come.

ASUS Zenfone Max Pro M1: Design, Display

 

The Zenfone Max Pro M1 gets a large 5.99-inch IPS LCD display. The pre-production unit that I had with me had the colours on the panel set to a warmer tone. The display was obviously not calibrated, and the colours will get better when the final production variant goes on sale starting May 3. The display had a resolution of 1080 x 2160 pixels and was in the tall 18:9 aspect ratio. The phone felt really well-built thanks to the metallic body. While not lightweight by any margin at nearly 180 grams, it is noticeably the same weight as the Redmi twins but with a higher capacity battery. According to ASUS, the Zenfone Max Pro M1’s display has a contrast ratio of 1500: 1 – which is best in class. With 450 nits of brightness, the panel has great visibility under direct sunlight.

ASUS Zenfone Max Pro M1: Software, Performance, OS Updates

As mentioned earlier in this article, I have been using the Zenfone Max Pro M1 as my primary handset for just over 24 hours at the time of writing this. In fact, I have only charged the battery once, and the handset is yet to discharge fully. Even though I was on a beta version of the firmware, the handset felt extremely stable during normal usage. The only issue faced was with the display calibration part – that too during my time with the handset last week. While a subsequent firmware update did fix the same, I still feel the default setting is a bit on the warmer side.

The Zenfone Max Pro M1 runs Android 8.1 Oreo at launch and as you are already aware by now, comes without ASUS’ ZenUI interface. This is the first handset from ASUS to come with the stock Android. In fact, the company went on to add that they will update the handset to two subsequent Android versions – Android P and Android Q (whenever it arrives). These kinds of promises are unheard of in this segment.  

ASUS Zenfone Max Pro M1: Camera and Imaging

The Zenfone Max Pro M1 uses a dual camera setup at the rear. The primary camera is a 13-megapixel unit while the secondary camera is a 5-megapixel depth sensing unit. I did manage to take some pictures from the handset while I had the unit at ASUS’ office. Image quality generally was very good even on the handset with a pre-production firmware. It is currently a bit too early to compare the image quality with the likes of the Redmi Note 5 series. We should, however, be able to do the same in the next few weeks. The camera UI on the Zenfone Max Pro M1 is the Snapdragon Camera UI and is very easy to use with intuitive controls. It will not take most users a long time to get used to this user interface.

Here are a few sample shots, a few of then taking at the ASUS office in Mumbai. The rest of the images were taken in Kerala.

In case you are interested to know about the video recording part, here is the good news first. Not only does the Zenfone Max Pro M1 record 4K videos at 30 fps, but it can also do 4K DCI videos (which is wider than ‘normal’ 4K videos). The Zenfone Max Pro M1 is one of the very few handsets that I am aware of that can do 4K DCI. The last handset that I used with 4K DCI video recording capability was the OnePlus One. The handset currently does not record 1080p 60 fps videos, and I am hopeful it arrives with a firmware update soon. You do get 1080p 30 fps and 720p video recording support. One thing I found missing was a slow-motion mode. That said, I would rather have ASUS perfect the slow-mo mode rather than implement and a half-baked version that is difficult to use and ends up with bad results. The front camera is an 8-megapixel unit. It can also record full HD videos in the maximum settings.

ASUS Zenfone Max Pro M1: Conclusion

There is no doubt about the fact that the Zenfone Max Pro M1 is a serious threat to the Redmi Note 5 series. Not only has ASUS seriously taken note of feedback from users and us reviewers, but the company also went ahead and implemented the same in a brilliant overall package. Sure, there are some areas of improvements that can be easily implemented with subsequent software updates. But hardware wise, the Zenfone Max Pro M1 ticks all the right boxes. The feature-set on the Zenfone Max Pro M1 clearly shows how ASUS has targeted the Redmi Note 5 series and addresses some of the latter’s; shortcomings (like the inclusion of a dedicated microSD card slot).

The Zenfone Max Pro M1 will initially arrive in two versions – an entry-level 3GB RAM + 32GB version that will cost you Rs. 10,999, and a higher priced 4GB RAM + 64GB version priced at Rs.12,999. The company will also launch a faster, more expensive version with an upgraded camera (16-megapixel rear camera instead of 13-megapixel) and 6GB of RAM shortly.

In our full review, I should be able to tell you if the ASUS Zenfone Max Pro M1 is really the Redmi Note 5 challenger you have been waiting for.