Asus ZenFone 3 Max design and build
The design is one of the first things that will attract your attention. It’s not as busy as the other high-end ZenFone 3 models, but in the end, it looks really good. It feels resistant too when you hold it, which is partly thanks to the unibody aluminum chassis. The grip is ergonomic and the buttons aligned nicely against our thumb.
Asus has gone with a full-HD 5.5-inch IPS screen that fixes one of the biggest complaints we had with its predecessors. It produces sharp images, and the brightness is very good, even under direct sunlight. The slim bezel reduces the width of the phone, making it a little easier to use with one hand. There is also a one-way mode that you can activate in case you want to do some serious typing while moving. Fingerprints are not a major problem, as there is an oleophobic layer on the glass. What is disappointing, though, is that there is no form of scratch protection for the screen, which is something we normally take for granted in this price segment.
The ZC553KL is a hybrid dual-SIM phone, which is a bit of a let-down considering the previous model had true dual-SIM functionality. You can choose a microSD card up to 128 GB instead of the second SIM card. There is a mono speaker on the bottom, right next to the Micro-USB charging port, while the headphone jack is placed on the top. There is a notification LED on the front and the capacitive navigation buttons below the screen, which are annoyingly not backlit.
Around the back, we have a fingerprint sensor just below the camera module. You can use it to answer incoming calls, launch the camera application, or take a picture, but you can not use it to block applications or hide files. The biggest problem here is that fingerprint recognition is often not fast enough for us. Do not misinterpret the fingerprints, marked by a slight vibration, but it seemed more to do with the hardware not being able to authenticate fingerprints quickly. The problem was intermittent, but it was really frustrating when we stumbled upon it.
Asus has done a commendable job in spilling the budget image of the series with the new Max. It looks and feels premium and has a much better screen that we definitely appreciate. There is the thinnest phone around 8.3mm, and it is quite heavy at 175g, although you really do not feel the weight too much when carried around. The phone comes with a headset, a 10W charger, a data cable and an OTG cable. You’ll also get 100GB of free Google Drive space for two years as a promotion.
Asus ZenFone 3 Max specifications and features
The latest ZenFone Max model used a Snapdragon 615 SoC, so naturally, we expected the new to feature at least a 652 or a 625 Snapdragon. Unfortunately, Asus has gone with the Snapdragon 430 octa-core, as with ZenFone 3 Laser, which is disappointing. This chip handles everyday tasks pretty well but lacks punch when it comes to heavy applications and games. Even the Asus Zenfone keyboard begins to linger after a while.
In benchmarks, ZenFone 3 Max works similarly to its predecessor. We have 43,573 points in AnTuTu; 9326 points on 3DMark Ice Storm; And 16fps in the GFXbench T-Rex graphic test. The GPU is the weakest link here, and that means you can not play heavy games like Dead Effect 2 smoothly, with all the settings ripped out. The phone also has 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, Wi-Fi b / g / n single-band, Bluetooth 4.1, FM radio and GPS. There is 4G support in band 1, 3, 5, 8 and 40 in India as well as VoLTE.
The software is managed by Android Marshmallow but with the own treatment of Asus called ZenUI 3.0. The skin is a bit too much for our liking, and will probably be daunting for someone who has never used an Asus phone. There are plenty of customization options to suit your fancy. The ‘Themes’ app has some decent free themes to choose from and there are also several utilities that come preinstalled and are almost identical to those we discussed in our ZenFone 3 (ZE552KL) review. The Mobile Manager application is one of the most useful, allowing you to manage notifications, clean up unused files and manage application permissions, all in one place.
You also have applications like Instagram and Puffin, and games like Need for Speed: No Limits and SimCity preinstalled. The ZenFone 3 Max has what is called the Game Genie toolbar, which can be configured to automatically activate on any game you choose. You can then use it to close background applications to enhance framerates, record or stream live playability to YouTube or Twitch, or search the web for step-by-step guides and videos for the game.
Asus ZenFone 3 Max performance
We used ZenFone 3 Max for most of a week and never had to face any major issues. The phone works quite well for general tasks and some multiple tasks. It also has no overheating problems, whether it’s games or using the camera. The handset has good volume level and 4G works well.
The videos look great thanks to the vibrant screen, and the phone handles high bit-rate videos very well, up to 1080p. Audio performance is particularly good through wired and wireless headphones. The volume can get really noisy and the audio has good separation with low pitched. Even the included headset does a really good job of isolating ambient noise and delivering a good audio experience. The AudioWizard application allows you to play with the equalizer settings to fine tune the sound.
Asus ZenFone Max models have always gone well in the camera department and the same story continues here. The 16-megapixel sensor and f / 2.0 aperture lens result in detailed landscapes and macros in daylight. The color reproduction is quite accurate too, although we could have used a bit more sharpness in the captured images, especially around the edges of the objects. In the macro shot sample below, note that the edges of the flower are a little blurry when viewed at full size. Low light shots look good, with low noise, and low light shooting really helps here.
Video recorded in 1080p also looks great. There is electronic stabilization for video, but only with a resolution of 720p.
The 8-megapixel front camera captures some pretty detailed selfies under good lighting and you get different effects and shooting modes including HDR. The manual mode allows you to push the shutter speed up to 32 seconds, which is not seen too often on smartphones. The Super Resolution mode essentially stipples four instances of the same scene together, resulting in a much higher resolution image. The focus is fast thanks to laser autofocus and PDAF, and images are saved almost instantly unless you are in a special mode.
Battery life has been the hallmark of the Max series and still is, but not as impressive as we had hoped. Our HD video loop test lasted 14 hours and 7 minutes, which is really good, but we have seen similar results (or better) on phones with more powerful SoCs and smaller batteries. With real heavy use, we easily get through until the day and a half. There are customizable power modes that can automatically start at the designated times of the day. There is no quick charge, but the 10W charger manages to recharge the phone in a couple of hours. Reverse charging, ie charging another device with the ZenFone 3 Max is also possible using the packed OTG adapter.