Another year, another generation of phones. Asus unveiled the Zenfone 3 series to the world back in Computex 2016, to release it later in August, at Z3NVOLUTION India, New Delhi. The Zenfone 3 was the main star of the show, while phones like the Zenfone 3 Max mostly went under the radar. So now, we have the Zenfone 3 Max here with us. After the success of the original Zenfone Max, is the Zenfone 3 Max a worthy successor?
Box and Contents
Asus has played it safe with the package. A smooth classy white box, the packaging looks admirable at first glance. Cracking open the box, the packaging is very typical, we get the phone itself, a wall adapter (rated at 5V 2A), a microUSB cable and a USB OTG Cable.
While the packaging is very straightforward, and the contents are adequate, the USB OTG cable comes as a nice surprise. It’s primarily meant to reverse-charge other phones but works well for file transfers as well.
The new Zenfone 3 Max approaches design along the lines of the Zenfone 3. It’s a radical design change from the last generation, and it reminds us very much of the Redmi Note 3 or Lenovo K5 Note, with a metal unibody and Gorilla Glass front.
The front is dominated by a 5.5 inch IPS LCD Display of 1080p resolution. It is flanked by the earpiece, sensors and front camera on one side, and by capacitive soft keys on the other side. Asus has done away with the typical chin design this time, and minimized the bezels heavily.
The front of the device is Corning Gorilla Glass 4, while the rest of the phone is unibody aluminum. It feels much more premium than any older Zenfone models. There is a slightly brushed texture in the back panel, which looks neat and classy. The design in itself is very generic, but we must admit that this is a very well put together device. Build quality is on par with other phones of this segment, and in hand feel is pretty amazing.
The rear of the device holds a new 16MP Sony camera with laser autofocus, LED flash and a fingerprint sensor resting below it. The build quality is really good. There is absolutely no flex, no bending, and it feels every bit its price. The metal surface, however, is really slippery, so you might want to slap a case on it.
On the hardware side of things, this year’s model replaces the aging Snapdragon 410 / 615 with the newer octa-core Snapdragon 430 chipset. It is accompanied with 3GB RAM and 32GB of internal storage. There are dual hybrid SIM slots with VoLTE support. Everything is juiced up with a 4100mAh battery, sadly, with no support for quick charging. The phone runs on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow with Asus’s ZenUI on top.
Screen: 5.5” IPS-LCD at 1920×1080, Corning Gorilla Glass 4
Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 MSM8937, Octa-Core A53 at 1.4Ghz, Qualcomm Adreno 505 GPU
RAM: 3GB LP-DDR3 RAM
Storage: 32GB internal + hybrid microSD/nano SIM slot
Cameras: 16MP rear camera, f/2.0 lens with Phase Detection and Laser Autofocus, Dual Tone LED Flash and 8MP front camera, f/2.2 lens with wide angle lens
Battery: 4100 mAh Lithium Ion Battery
Software: Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow with Asus ZenUI
Network: Dual SIM slots, with 4G Cat 4 (150Mbps) and VoLTE support.
Display, Sound and Call Quality
Asus has packed the Zenfone 3 Max with a 5.5 inch IPS LCD panel, sporting a 1080p resolution. This is a huge, I mean, huge leap forward from the meager 720p budget panel from the Zenfone Max. 1080p is sharp enough for everything, and secondly, the display looks colorful and crisp.
The Display itself is pretty good, with good viewing angles and punchy colors. The display, however, does not get bright outdoors, making it a hassle to use in bright sunlight.
Asus has included an app called Splendid, which allows users to fine tune their display’s Saturation, Hue and Color Tone. It really allows us to get that spot on look, that we might prefer. The app also includes a Blue Light Filter mode, which is useful for using the device in the night time.
Coming to Sound, the device comes with a single mono speaker on the bottom of the phone. Audio via the speaker is very good. Volume levels are loud, there is even a hint of bass to it.
Headphone output via the 3.5mm jack is average. The amp in the phone does an okay-ish job of driving headphones. It will do the job for regular listening, but do not expect audiophile-grade quality.
Asus includes their AudioWizard app to fine-tune your audio experience. It comes with presets for Music, Movie and so on, and a full 5 band Equalizer for all our tweaking needs. Just leaving everything on auto should be enough for most people.
Call Quality was good. We tested it over Vodafone and Jio 4G network in Kolkata, and we could clearly hear others in the built-in earpiece. Callers reported crisp audio as well. On top, it is certified for VoLTE too and works with Jio 4G out of the box. The Zenfone gets our approval.
Software and Performance
The Zenfone 3 Max runs on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow with Asus’s ZenUI. ZenUI is intrusive, changing a lot about stock android, and adding unnecessary stuff here and there. It comes with a lot of bloatware, and features which allow you to download even more bloat. After first boot, it auto downloads some games and apps. Asus has toned down ZenUI in Android 6.0, but we still prefer Stock Android any day.
ZenUI does bring a lot of useful features to the table, including a One-Handed Mode, Double Tap to Wake and Sleep, Camera Quick Launch, an inbuilt Mobile Manager application and a full-fledged Themes store. The amazing part is, it does all of it without affecting the speed or responsive of the device.
This time round, Asus has included a rear-mounted fingerprint scanner. However, unlike the Zenfone 3, we reviewed earlier, its not that fast or accurate. We believe it’s a last generation scanner. It does the job, its decently fast and it uses the standard Marshmallow API, so all 3rd party apps can utilize the sensor as well.
The Zenfone 3 Max runs very smoothly. App loading times are quick, multitasking is a breeze, and heating was nominal. Even during heavy gaming, it did not heat a lot. We observed a max temperature of around 44 degrees, while warm to the touch, its not uncomfortable to use.
Considering the fact that the Snapdragon 430 is essentially a lower range chipset, barely an upgrade from the older Snapdragon 615, we must say that Asus optimized their ZenUI for the processor really well.
Coming to battery life, this is the big selling point of the Zenfone 3 Max. Comparing to last generation, we see a drop in capacity from 5000 to 4100 mAh, but with the new chipset and more optimized software, real battery life is almost similar. In our testing, an average user could get around 2 day of usage. We were getting around 5.5 to 6 hours of Screen On Time, pretty good, but slightly worse than the last generation. The Zenfone barely eats any battery in standby. Overnight it would drain as low as 3-4%, and that’s with two Sims inserted. We also get a plethora of Power Saving modes.
Even this time around, the Zenfone 3 Max does not feature Quick Charge, but the normal charge support has been upped from 1A to 2A. A full charge takes approximately 3.5 hours, which is hugely reduced from the last model, which took over 6 hours for a full charge.
The Zenfone 3 Max is equipped with a PixelMaster branded 16MP Sony rear shooter, with f/2.0 lens. It is accompanied by a Hybrid Autofocus (Laser Autofocus + Phase Detection + Contrast Detection), and dual-tone LED flash.
On the front of the device, we have an 8MP selfie camera, with f/2.2 wide angle lens and various beauty profiles. Asus’s camera app has a boatload of features, starting from a full-fledged Manual Mode to Super Resolution (where it stitches 4 photos into a 60MP shot), to Low Light, Panorama, right down to tacky modes like All Smiles, Object Remover and so on.
While we personally prefer a simplified user experience, some users might like having a lot of features for them to tinker with. We get it, and Asus is aiming to please the general audience with its feature-packed camera app.
Coming to the camera quality, daylight shots are vibrant, if a little noisy. Dynamic range was acceptable, but shot to shot times are kind of slow.
In lower light, the camera falls flat on its face. It’s just a dark mess of noise and the phone trying to plaster up the noise with optimization algorithms. Just use the flash if ultimately needed, or don’t take the shot at all. It’s just not any good.
Video recording is good, the electronic stabilization works really well. It records 1080p at 30fps, pretty standard for today’s mid-rangers.
The front facing camera is very good. It’s a really wide angle camera, which is great news for group selfies. The pictures turn out detailed and vibrant. However, the slow shot to shot time still exists here, so you need to have a steady hand. There are several modes including a Selfie Panorama, which work good enough for the occasional shot.
Enough talk, let us get to the point.
Asus launched their Zenfone Max lineup for people who were always on the go, using their phones to take pictures, browse the internet and still return home with a decent charge left. It delivered on all fronts and was good value for the target customer.
It’s not like the Zenfone 3 Max is a bad product. It definitely has its perks, it has a great build and design. The software runs smooth and the camera does a decent job. It is a well-balanced phone, it’s just that one thing leads to another, and a good device is no longer attractive.
But where Asus faltered is in the prices. It costs 18000 INR. That’s an 80% hike from the previous generation. That’s in range of phones like the Lenovo Z2 Plus, LeEco Le Max 2 and Xiaomi Mi5 which come with superior Snapdragon 820 chipset and flagship grade specifications.
The Asus Zenfone 3 Max is a good device, but unfortunately, we cannot recommend it. Not at this price point. We recommend you all look elsewhere, there are similar alternatives for half the price and much better phones at this price range.
Overall Score: 6 / 10