ASUS Zenfone 3 Max Review – An incomplete package

by Karthik Iyer 6

For most people, the biggest consideration when a buying a new smartphone is not how powerful it is or how many pixels does the display has. Now, you may argue that the numbers on the benchmark scores are really important and what not. But think about it again. What good is it if your smartphone can’t hold up for a day when you need it? Of course having a powerful smartphone with a beautiful display is important but is it going to solve any purpose, if your battery is dead even before you pull it out of the pocket? No, that is definitely not something that you want. And this is where the race for having the biggest battery inside a smartphone begins. And the Zenfone 3 Max is the newest participant here, trained and raised by the Taiwanese manufacturer, ASUS.

This is not an uncharted territory for ASUS, as they have already launched the Zenfone Max previously. But at the same time, you cannot declare them as the champion here since the Zenfone Max failed miserably in the other departments. With not so appealing looks and poor performance issues, it didn’t take much time for people to start hating it. And now, the follow-up device, the Zenfone 3 Max is here to pick it up where the predecessor left off and tried to improve it further. How does it improve? Well, for starters, it looks good, if not the most beautiful thing out there. But is that enough? Let’s answer all of that questions in our full detailed review.

First of all, before proceeding, there’s some air, which needs to be cleared here. There are two different Zenfone 3 Max models, and both of them are quite different. One of them holds the model number ZC520TL, while the other which we are reviewing here is the ZC553KL variant. The differences are quite significant, both in terms of design as well as internal hardware components. While the company is launching this same variant which we are reviewing here in India, but in case you happen to get your hands on the other one, this review will not be of much help. With that being said, let’s see if even this unit is worth buying or not.

Build & Design

The Zenfone 3 Max is not a flagship device from the company, and hence, you should not be having high hopes with the design of this smartphone. If you are expecting a classy design with premium material choices for the build, then you are about to the be disappointed. The ASUS Zenfone 3 Max is just another average looking smartphone out there that just solves the purpose. It looks great for what it is and doesn’t have below average build quality. The smartphone is mostly made out of metal and feels like just another any other metal built smartphone. It feels nice and secure in the hand and has a decent amount of weight to it.

On the front, there is a huge display along with the front facing camera and capacitive keys at the bottom. At the back, we have the camera sensor along with the LED flash and a fingerprint scanner. While the volume rockers and the power button sits to one of the devices, the other holds the SIM card tray where you can put in two SIM cards and a microSD card as well. It also has a 3.5mm headphone jack. USB port and speakers at the top and the bottom respectively. Despite having a huge 4100 mAh battery inside, the device doesn’t feel as heavy as I expected it to. Coming from Galaxy A9 Pro, I was expecting yet another chunky smartphone, but surprisingly that is not the case here.

We have a silver variant here, but the smartphone also ships in black and gold color variant. The bezels are noticeably bigger here, and the sensors and the earpiece look distinctly visible. But probably the black variant would do a better job of hiding them. Also, do make a note that the capacitive buttons at the bottom are unlit just the one found on the Zenfone 3. Overall, the build quality and the design of the smartphone is not bad at all. The 2.5D curved glass on the front gives it a nice feel in hand. The only thing you need to know is that it’s symmetrical, built very well and strong enough to last for a long time.

Display

The Zenfone 3 Max sports a 5.2-inch FHD display on the front with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 which gives it a good pixel density. The display looks nice and crisp for what it is. If you are very particular about the experience, then let me tell you that you will not be disappointed here. The display is good enough, and most of you will not have any issues whatsoever in using it as a daily driver. You will have problems reaching out to all corners of the display, but if you use your smartphone with two hands, then you should not worry about this as well. I got used to quickly and had no issues here. Now many of may argue that 2k display would have been nice here since we have a bigger battery as well. But hey, the whole point of putting a bigger battery and making a smartphone like this is to make it last for a long time. And putting a 2k display on the front is the last thing which you should expect here.

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The brightness of the display is also decent here, and i didn’t have any issues using it outdoor but don’t expect it shine brightly under direct sunlight. It is a nice and colorful display and surely the UI does a great job of taking advantage of it by throwing in a lot of colors as well. The glass on the front has fared well and so far upto this point in my review period, there are no scratches. But again, I take a good care of my devices, but if you are a hardcore user, then maybe you will end up with a couple of scratches or so. Also, i prefer black bezels on the front, just because it compliments the display and the overall media consumption experience becomes better. With that being said, the display is good, and you don’t have to look anywhere else if the display is your main priority.

Hardware & Performance

Coming to the hardware side of things, let’s take a look the specs that we are dealing with here. The ASUS Zenfone 3 Max is powered by a Snapdragon 430 SoC, which is an octa-core processor clocked at 1.2GHz along with Adreno 505 GPU. It packs 3GB of onboard memory offering 32GB of internal storage as well. And as mentioned earlier, this storage can be expanded by putting a microSD card on the left side tray and get 128GB of additional storage. This smartphone packs a huge 4,100 mAh battery which is basically the USP of the smartphone. And now talking about the camera optics, it features a 16-megapixel primary shooter with PDAF, laser autofocus, f/2.0 aperture; Dual LED flash. On the front, there is an 8-megapixel shooter for the selfies and video calls. We will discuss the camera and the battery separately, shedding more light on the performance there.

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The smartphone also houses a fingerprint scanner at the back. Apart from this being the ideal position to have the fingerprint scanner for me, it is a square shaped sensor and one will have no issues finding it while holding the smartphone in hand. The company claims that it can unlock the smartphone in just 0.3 seconds. However, i will not vouch for it since most of the time it did not recognize my finger for some reason. Yes, maybe if it manages to read your finger properly, then the chances are that it will quickly take you to home screen since there is no animation in between.

With all the specs out of the way, let’s talk about the performance now. We all know that Snapdragon 430 is not the best SoC available in the market. Hence we should not expect a great performance here whatsoever. I am not even going to talk about the benchmarks here. Not because you can find them easily on the internet, but first of all, I don’t believe in Benchmark numbers, and secondly, i know for a fact that this smartphone will not perform well in benchmarks. Why? Well, i hate to say this, but there are performance issues here. The device lags here and there while browsing through the interface. Most of this could be due to the heavy interface, but considering the fact that it is custom UI by ASUS themselves, i expected them to at least optimize the device with the software. Unlocking the device and going to the home screen lags most of the time and bringing the notification shade down also stutters. This is not something that I report with all the devices, but unfortunately, that is not the case here. This is not something that will bother every time, but when you notice it, it becomes very annoying.

Now will that bother you and stop you from using it as a daily driver? No. It is not that bad. But common, this is 2016 and Android has evolved so much that no device deserve to posses the lags and the stutters from the past. If the hardware you put into a smartphone is not capable of handling your heavy skin on top of stock Android, then you either give us a better hardware or maybe get rid of your heavy UI elements which no one likes. RAM management is also decent here. Most of the basic apps manage to remain in the background and ready to go when i need them. While it has Adreno 505 GPU on board for graphics performance, if you are planning on playing graphics intensive games, then you will notice stutters and lags in between. Mostly these will be noticeable once you are in the game for about 20-30 minutes. Since the back is metal, you will feel the heat but not upto a point here it is uncomfortable.

But again, most of the issues could be solved like loading a 3rd party launcher to get away from the stutters from the interface. In fact, software updates are also something that can be very useful here in most cases. I am expecting the company to push more and more updates one by one to kill the bugs and clear the software. While testing the Zenfone 3 in the past, ASUS was very aggressive with software updates, but then again, this is not a flagship here like that one, and hence i doubt if the support will be that intense. Although frequent patches can be expected and I believe the user experience will get better over time.

Software & UI

This is something that I want to cover quickly. The ASUS Zenfone 3 Max is running Android 6.0 Marshmallow out of the box, but it is wearing a heavy coat of ZENUI 3.0 OS. The company claims that it has removed most of the bloatware and has managed to optimize the UI, but the proof sitting in front of right now says something else. The UI is still very heavy, and still, all the unnecessary UI elements are very well present here. The phone came with such bloatware beyond my imagination. Pretty much all the apps that it came with are totally unnecessary of me at least. Most of them can be removed, so that is good news here for a change. The home screen itself which i was greeted with for the first time came with a bunch of app icons which was a turn off for me and would be the exact unpleasant feeling. It feels as if someone was already using the smartphone and installed all the apps here. If you have ever used any other ASUS smartphone before, then you know what I am talking about here.

Battery & Camera

Good or bad, the 4,100 mAh battery is running the show here, and it does a good job. The 1080P display on the front doesn’t need that much juice and hence the SoT is not something that you should be worrying about. However, the user experience will be different for each person depending on how you use the device and hence SoT will completely differ in most cases, However, if you are a power user like me, then you will still struggle to kill this thing in one day. But that said, it is not as good as the 5,000 mAh battery that the Galaxy A9 Pro comes with. Yes, definitely by the end of the day, depending on how you use the device, you will need to charge it or maybe go and extra mile and use it until the next morning. Well, if you are not able to kill it, then you can always use the reverse charging feature here and use that juice to charge your other device.

Now coming to the camera, the 16MP rear-facing shooter is decent enough to capture the images. It has a f/2.0 aperture and hence it is still comparatively better than some of the other devices with wider aperture size. But numbers are not what matters here. Day to day performance of the camera is what we set out to look for. Let’s just say that the camera is not bad by any means. But at the same time, it is worth mentioning that it not all that great. But then again, for this price point, should you be expecting anything else? No. The front facing 8MP selfie camera is also good enough for those snap chat selfies or Duo hangout. Not going to discuss much here, since it is not really a camera-centric smartphone, but instead I will let you see the samples and let you decide the winner.

Verdict

To sum the overall experience, I would say that the smartphone does what it claims to do well. Its Unique selling point is the powerful battery, and one will not have any issues there. But just because it has a bigger battery, doesn’t mean the other aspects don’t matter. What good is the battery anyway if the user experience is not good and users don’t even feel like taking advantage of the bigger battery here. Now you may argue that. For 17,999 for this variant, we are getting a good package. But sadly it is not. There are other smartphones out there with smaller but efficient batteries that offer good performance as well. Xiaomi Redmi 3s Prime or the LeEco LeMax 2 offers better performance and bang for your buck. You don’t have to sacrifice on everything while trying to deliver something specific. With that being said, there is still a lot of room for improvement here, and for the price, you should take a look at some other options before fixing your mind on this one.

Karthik Iyer

Karthik is a Computer Science Graduate and a Tech Aficionado who has always found himself fascinated or playing around with all the latest and the best from the world of smartphones and beyond. When he is not working on any smartphone or covering the latest scoop, you can often find playing his favorite PS4 titles.

  • Arpit Porwal

    It talks only about one of the variants, what about the other variant?
    Also I hated ZenUI in my Zenfone 5, so many bloatwares. The phone doesn’t seem promising at all. Shouldn’t have priced about 12K.

  • Prashanth

    Loved this review! Very clear cut without any half measures! If the new mobile lags then it’s better not to talk about it!Will only get worse! Seriously Snapdragon 430 SoC? That’s poor!

  • Vishal Giri

    great review!! the title suits the phone perfectly!!! it’s an incomplete phone for 18k…

  • Very disappointing from ASUS!

  • Kallu Mal Koyle Wala

    Aaa Soosh Tunay yeh ya kiya

  • diveek

    Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 and Coolpad leEco 1 does a better job in my opinion