Asus introduced Zenfone Max smartphone for consumers who gave long battery life priority over everything else in a budget smartphone and managed to do that with the first generation of Zenfone Max (Read Review). The company followed with an upgraded Zenfone Max (Read Review) few months later which came with same awesome battery life but with greater processing power. Both these devices offered great battery life with decent specs at an affordable price.
The company is now back with its next generation of the device with Zenfone 3 Max, which again promises to offer long battery life with decent specs, better design but at a higher price compared to previous variant. In this review, we check out how it fares. This review is based on our experience with the review unit of Zenfone 3 Max, as our primary smartphone for more than a week. The variant that we tested came with Model No. ASUS_X00DD( ZC553KL) Silver color.
Zenfone 3 Max Technical Specifications
- Display: 5.5 inch full HD 1080p, 2.5D curved glass display
- CPU : 1.4 GHz octa-core Snapdragon 430 processor
- GPU: Adreno 505
- RAM : 3 GB
- Storage: 32 GB, expandable up to 128 GB with microSD
- OS: Android 6.0 Marshmallow with Zen UI 3.0
- Misc: Hybrid Dual SIM, FM Radio, Fingerprint sensor
- Camera: 16 MP main rear camera with dual-tone LED flash, f/2.0 aperture and a 8 MP front-shooter, f/2.2 aperture, 84-degree field of view
- Dimensions: 151.4 × 76.24 × 8.3 mm
- Weight: 175 gm
- Connectivity : 4G LTE, WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.1, GPS
- Battery : 4100 mAh (embedded)
Design and Build Quality
With Zenfone 3 series, Asus migrated the design & build quality of the smartphone drastically giving it a much-needed premium design. The Zenfone 3 Max looks premium and if compared with earlier variants, it looks miles head in terms of design and build. Smartphones in this price range already come with some great design and build quality. It comes with unibody metal design with aluminium chassis and sturdy to hold in hand. The main camera is seamlessly integrated at back without any bulge and fingerprint sensor is placed below the main camera. Antenna lines are visible along the bottom and top.
The Power & Volume rockers buttons on same side place and look great with concentric circles design on them. Dual Sim card with Hybrid SIM tray is on the other side and can be accessed using the ejector pin. Thanks to a 4,100 mAh battery, it feels a bit heavy to hold at 175 grams though the earlier variants with more than 200 grams with 5000 mAh battery. Again, Menu buttons are not back-lit which is always the case with Asus smartphones, which makes it uncomfortable to use in dark.
Speaker grills are placed at the bottom of the device which is better placement except in cases of playing games when your hand may cover them resulting in low sound. For every other case, this speaker placement results in better sound levels. The battery at the back is non-removable.
Display, Performance and Benchmarks
The phone sports 5.5 inch full HD 1080p, 2.5D curved glass display. The display looks good, produces sharp pictures with contrast and brightness even under direct sunlight. The visibility under direct sunlight is good enough for normal usage. If you remember, earlier Max devices came with just a 720p HD display and not a full HD display, which Asus has managed to address but this upgrade also comes with a higher price.
Zenfone 3 Max is powered by 1.4 GHz octa-core Snapdragon 430 MSM8937 processor with 3 GB of RAM. As you know, Snapdragon 430 is an entry-level processor and it reflects in performance of the device in spite of 3 GB of RAM. Even though performance of the device is better than the earlier Zenfone Max variants, yet it lacks punch and feel sluggish at times considering the price range.
The device managed to score only 46,000+ on Antutu benchmark, which is just average if you consider devices in the similar price range. LeEco Le 2 managed to score much more in the range of 60,000+ which is priced lower than Zenfone 3 Max. When we played some heavy games like Asphalt 8 on it simultaneously with other games and using other apps on phone, we did feel a bit of lag or frame drops at random after continuous usage for more than 15-20 minutes.
The graphics details in the games and HD videos was good. There was a bit of heating of the device while playing intensive games, multitasking or using the device for too long or in any other scenario.
We also faced issues like the UI getting hanged a bit at random, including the dialer and the camera app. The camera app gets slow or starts to freeze if you shoot too many pictures in one go
Zenfone 3 Max comes with 32 GB internal storage with support for MicroSD cards using the Hybrid SIM slot. There is no dedicated microsd slot which may be a bad thing for many users. It also supports USB OTG and hence you can use an external USB storage to add more capacity to the device on the go.
The call quality during voice calls was pretty clear without any issues. The dialer app also gives you an option to record calls without installing any additional app or rooting the device.
The sound coming out from speakers is not loud enough and many of you may want louder output.
Problem with JIO VOLTE network
Even though Zenfone 3 Max supports VOLTE, yet we faced issues while using JIO. VOLTE didn’t work when the SIM is placed in slot#2 and it only worked in slot#1. While there was no issue while making a call from the device using VOLTE, we never managed to receive a call on JIO network. The moment a call arrived on Jio network, the Phone app crashes and the UI restarts. The problem remained even after a full Factory Reset of the device. Asus needs to fix this using a OTA update unless only our review unit was faulty which seems unlikely.
The phone comes with a 16 MP main rear camera with dual-tone LED flash, f/2.0 aperture and a 8 MP front-shooter with f/2.2 aperture & 84-degree field of view for selfies. We tested the camera under different lighting conditions and found that it produces better pictures under normal lighting conditions compared to earlier variants thanks to a f/2.0 aperture, yet isn’t good in low light conditions. The great amount of noise is clearly visible in those low light images. The laser focus does a good job, yet the camera app needs some fixes as it often freezes while using it for long time.
Once again, the camera app comes with loads of modes such as Low Light mode, Selfie mode, night mode, super resolution mode, HDR mode, Panorama mode and much more just like most of the ASUS smartphones. It also comes with a manual mode which lets you adjust different camera settings on your own. If you are a professional photographer or geeky enough to play with those settings, it can produce some good shots.
The front 8 MP camera produced some good selfies with “Face Beauty mode”. and wide viewing angle. Once again, you need good lighting conditions for those selfies to actually look good.
Checkout the images below taken under different light conditions and different modes. Click on the images to enlarge to original full size image. Click on the images for full resolution images on Flickr.
ASUS Zenfone 3 Max comes with 4,100 mAh embedded battery which is 900 mAh less compared to the earlier variant of the device. Yet, the device managed to offer good battery performance. Even with heavy use, we were able to keep it away from charger for almost one and half day easily. During our normal usage, it lasted for two days. Keep in mind that we always had a working 4G connection with Dual SIM, during the day and WiFi during evening & night.
We did miss the fast charging support and it takes about 3-4 hours to fully charge the device.
The fingerprint sensor at the back can be used to answer incoming calls, launch Camera app, or take a picture. The fingerprint sensor is not fast enough compared to others and even it is not so accurate. It misses if you do not apply a bit of pressure. Apart from that, we expect a fingerprint sensor to offer much more, including customisation option such as ability to use different finger for opening different apps or using different fingers to call pre-configured numbers. Just in case if you are wondering that it is even possible now, then you can check the Coolpad Note 3 Lite Review which offers all these features with fingerprint sensor.
Operating System and UI
The Zenfone Max is powered by Android 6.0 Marshmallow with ASUS’ own user interface, ZenUI 3.0 on top of it. Thanks to ZenUI, you won’t feel any difference even if you have earlier never used a smartphone with Android 6.0 Marshmallow. It looks exactly same as Android 5.0 Lollipop with ZenUI.
It comes with Power saving modes such as the ultra saving mode, optimized mode or customized mode for battery which actually work. You can get a better battery life if you switch to one of these modes, obviously with some compromise in performance of the device
Once again, It comes with loads of bloatware which ASUS terms as useful apps. In our opinion, they need to get rid of these pre-loaded bloatware in its smartphones. The device came with loads of pre-installed apps, and some apps got installed on their own the moment we connected to Wi-Fi for the first time. It may irk consumers like me. The good thing though, ASUS lets you uninstall any or all the bloatware pretty easily without the need to root the device. And the first thing we did was of course, uninstall all the bloatware.
Overall performance of the operating system was just fine but with random lags or freezes.
Asus ZenFone 3 Max ZC553KL is priced at Rs. 17,999 and perhaps the pricing puts the device into a different category than it should be. Excellent Battery life was the selling point of the earlier variant, but with a price bump and not so good battery life, the ZenFone 3 Max suddenly doesn’t look like a good option anymore in spite of better design & build quality.
It still comes with a premium design and build, a decent camera with laser focus and excellent battery life. Other brands offer better options at lower price such as Redmi Note 3 which comes with a 4000 mAh battery and similar design & build. Asus may need to reconsider its pricing strategy, as it faces some stiff competition in this price segment and consumers may pick other devices such as Redmi Note 3 instead of Zenfone 3 Max.