Hands On With the Zenfone 3 Max (ZC520TL)

The Zenfone Max was known for its humongous battery of 5000 mAh, and for Rs. 9999, it was quite a steal for users looking for a long-lasting battery. With Zenfone 3 Max, and a bump in price, has Asus done enough to pull of a worth successor for the Zenfone Max?

There are two variants of the Zenfone 3 Max. A 5.2 inch variant with the MediaTek chipset for Rs. 12,999 and a 5.5 inch variant with the Snapdragon chipset for Rs. 17,999.

We received the 5.2 inch MediaTek variant for review.

Along with the reduction in raw battery capacity from its predecessor, what has Asus done to justify a purchase? Overall, is it really a good buy for someone looking for a phone in this price range?

Design & Build

At a first glance, the Zenfone 3 Max doesn’t do good job of standing out. With the Asus logo on the bottom and the usual earpiece and front facing camera flanking the top. The glass seems to be curved off at the corners of the device, which gives a premium feel to the device. However, it is not Corning’s Gorilla Glass which we have come to love. It weighs around 148 grams and is 8.6mm thick, which is quite a small footprint. Along with the brushed Aluminium unibody build, it tends to get slippery and throwing on a case is probably a good idea.

The Power and Volume buttons flank the right side of the device, making it comfortable for one-handed use. On the back of the device, the 13MP camera along with its LED flash, reside with the fingerprint sensor just below it.

Display

Here, we have 5.2 inch IPS Panel which outputs a resolution of 720×1280. It is understandable Asus had to cut down on the display for the price and the battery usage, but a 720p display in 2016 is almost unacceptable. With the 5.2 inch screen size, the pixel density reaches 282 PPI, which might throw off most users. Colors seemed washed out and wasn’t really accurate to the source files. Viewing angles and outdoor viewing is decent, but nothing to be excited about. Competitors like Honor and Xiaomi provide better displays for about the same price bracket.

Storage and Performance

Asus offers a 16GB, 2GB RAM variant and a 32GB, 3GB RAM variant. Both of these are capable of accepting microSD up to 256GB, albeit with a catch. The device does accept Dual SIM cards (a micro-SIM and nano-SIM), but an SD card can only be used if you give up the micro SIM slot. This a huge compromise if the user wants to have the best of two cellular carriers, but also requires a lot of storage. This issue is very evident, especially on the 16GB variant.

The Zenfone 3 Max packs a MediaTek MT6737M Quad Core processor, clocked at 1.25GHz. Performance is decent and the phone doesn’t tend to heat up. Multitasking is snappy and the UI is smooth in general.

Audio

The Zenfone seems to perform the worst in the Audio side of things. Speakers are positioned at the behind, which is inconvenient. The sound quality is extremely tin-ish and could probably only pass off as a ringer. Music from the speaker is not something to be excited about and you’re probably better looking somewhere else. The built-in DAC also seems to suffer the same problems, as the output quality from the headphone jack wasn’t up to the mark either. Audiophiles ought steer clear away from this device as they will be disappointed.

Connectivity

Flanking the bottom of the device is the micro USB v2.0 port and a microphone pin-hole. The 3.5mm headphone jack resides on the top of the device, which would’ve been preferred at the bottom for symmetry. On the left hand side of the device, there exists a Dual SIM and microSD card tray, but with a catch. The tray accepts a nano SIM and a micro SIM, but the micro SIM card slot also acts as micro SD card slot. Basically, you will have to give up on one of the SIM slots for expandable storage and vice-versa.

On the wireless side of things, the Zenfone 3 Max supports LTE, although with no VoLTE support. VoLTE is being pushed rapidly in countries like India, especially from carriers like Jio, and it looks like Asus made a very poor decision of omitting this feature. It can be supported via a software update, but Asus isn’t really known for its updates either, and it can take while for VoLTE to be supported, if it will ever be.

WiFi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth v4.0 are present here, which we had no problems with. It also includes a FM tuner, so if you’re in the mood for tuning into a nearby FM Station while travelling, this is a nice addition.

Battery

The Zenfone 3 Max sports a non-removable Li-Po 4130 mAh battery. Although this is a step down from its predecessor, it seems to perform quite well in this department. The phone can easily last a day or two, depending on one’s usage, and the 720p screen seems to assist it by not drawing as much of juice.

It also has a feature Asus touts as Reverse Charging. Basically, with the help of a OTG cable, you will be able to charge other devices using the Zenfone 3 Max. This can be helpful in emergency situations if another device runs out of battery, but it’s probably something you won’t use it that often.

Camera

The Zenfone 3 Max rocks a 13MP autofocus primary camera sensor with f/2.2 aperture and a LED flash. The shots are decent in outdoor situations but tend to become noisy as the amount of light decreased. It does not handle low-light imaging well and the shutter speed is also nothing to be excited about. Camera shouldn’t really be your priority if you’re planning to get this device. It also records 1080p video at 30fps. RAW Image support is also absent here.

The front camera is 5MP, f/2.0 sensor which is acceptable for video calling and an occasional selfie.

ZenUI

Software is handled by Asus’ ZenUI which is built upon Android Marshmallow (6.0.1). The skin will probably throw off some users who are used to the stock Android treatment. It does include a Themes section which lets you customize your phone as you fancy. Apps like ZenCare, ZenTalk, Game Genie etc. are also included and so is NFS: No Limits. Other than the game, bloatware cannot be removed/uninstalled from the device. You will probably need to dedicate a separate folder to hide these apps in.

The built-in fingerprint scanner is behind just below the primary camera. Although this is a great place for a fingerprint scanner, as the hand naturally rests in the spot, it also seemed like a hit-or-miss with its accuracy. Fingerprints do not register accurately and may take a try or two to unlock the device. It is nice to have a fingerprint scanner, but in a word, we’d sum it up as average.

Looking at Asus’ track record, you might as well be not so optimistic about updates. Thanks to the heavily skinned ZenUI, updates may take their own sweet time to arrive. An update to support VoLTE would be great as its adoption is increasing rapidly.

Verdict

At Rs. 12,999, the Zenfone 3 Max is aiming for a very much populated crowd right now, and does not offer anything substantial to make itself stand out of the crowd other than it’s 4100 mAh battery. With the omission of VoLTE, this may be turn off for most users. You are probably better off looking at offerings from Xiaomi, Motorola before spending your hard-earned money on the Zenfone 3 Max.