After reviewing phones for close to 2 years, I’ve been bombarded with lots of questions about smartphones. Is this phone good for the price? Will this phone get software updates? There are two questions that I get asked a lot— Does it heat? and How’s the battery life? I always thought people wanted to have their phones run the latest software and the best possible hardware, boy I was wrong. The one thing they really want is battery life — the phone must go on, pun intended.
Battery life has been a major issue with most smartphones, especially Android. In an attempt to fix this Google introduced Project Volta in Lollipop and Doze in Marshmallow. While this is a software tweak, the only other alternative is to pack in more battery and that is exactly what smartphone manufacturers did. The Asus Zenfone Max is one such smartphone that packs in a huge 5000mAh battery. Traditionally all phones that had a massive battery were very bulky. I wouldn’t call the Zenfone Max bulky, at 10.55 mm it sits just about right in the palm while managing to hide its weight very well. While it does weigh 202g, the mass is evenly spread around and is well balanced. Asus already had a phone called the Zenfone Max and calling the new one the same might not be a really good idea as it might just confuse people. The newer phone comes with an Octa-Core Processor (Snapdragon 615) and with an option to choose between 2GB or 3GB of RAM.
Asus has stuck to a familiar design for all its phones in the Zenfone 2 line-up and the Zenfone Max is no different. The phone sports a 5.5-inch display with a resolution of 1280×720 pixels. There is no mention of any protection for glass and I would recommend buyers to purchase a glass protector for it. That said the screen is an IPS panel, has good viewing angles and is one of the best-calibrated LCD displays I’ve seen in this price range. Sunlight legibility is good and content is viewable even under direct sunlight. One needs to ensure that none of the power saving options are ticked to keep the phone from aggressively lowering the brightness. The bright display isn’t a pain at night thanks to the provided Blue Filter option that applies a tint on the display.
Asus used to position the volume rockers on the back and thankfully that isn’t the case with this phone. The buttons have been moved to the side of the phone and the power button sits just above the midway point making it easy to hit. While this is very ergonomic, Asus has also enabled double tap to wake gesture in case you get too lazy to reach for the power button. The Volume buttons are positioned higher up and will require a bit of a shuffle to reach them. The curved back houses the 13 Megapixel camera flanked by the Dual Tone LED Flash and the Laser Autofocus on either side. There is a huge speaker grill at the bottom which hides a smaller speaker on the right side. The phone is a Dual SIM device and has a MicroSD card slot for memory expansion. The phone comes with 32GB of internal storage as default which is quite good if you store a lot of your stuff on mobile. If that’s not enough, that MicroSD card slot can take cards up to 64GB giving it a significant bump in storage.
The software is where Asus has made a few minor changes. The Max comes loaded with Android Marshmallow and has the ZenUI on top of it. The UI is very clean and is good to use, coming from a Nexus 6P the Zen UI didn’t feel a whole lot different. Its simple to use and you’ll find things where they are supposed to be. Asus, however, has been a little lenient with the bloat and you get all sorts of memory cleaner apps and browsers pre-installed. While they aren’t a hindrance, I kept the phone bloat free by uninstalling these. Asus has earned some brownie points for shipping Marshmallow out of the box and we really hope they ship the Android N release to this as well.
With 2GB of RAM onboard there is no slowing this phone down and the performance is expected to be better on the 3GB variant. The Octa-Core Snapdragon 615 processor works efficiently as well. The phone does heat up a little under heavy use but nothing unusual. Light users also have the option to pick the 2GB version of this very phone to save a few bucks. Asus still gives the same 32GB of storage with the 2GB version as well unlike other manufacturers that reduce the storage.
The camera on the Zenfone Max is strictly average. Asus ships it with a 13 Megapixel camera aided by Laser AutoFocus. It does a good job of quickly locking focus on the subject and ensures a focused image. The phone is loaded with different types of modes that one can choose from before clicking the image. The Auto Mode is what a majority would be using to quickly point and shoot. HDR images do take some extra time to click and process the image. We noticed the phone does get a little warm when using the camera for a long time. In daylight, the camera clicks acceptable images and I wish the colour accuracy was a little better. Even in the sample image you can see that the red on the car is way off.
The camera performance at night is average as well, there is a lot of noise and triggering the flash just makes it worse. The selfie camera clicks images well enough to go on Instagram and Facebook. Switching over to the front camera activates the Beautify mode which smoothens the skin and makes the person look fairer. One has to keep disabling the mode every single time to click a natural picture. I found this to be highly annoying and it does ruin the overall experience. The phone can do Full HD video recording and Slow Motion Video. The SloMo seems to be a little odd since the only option it shows is 1/4x and not in FPS that we are used to.
The battery is what this phone is all about. I used the phone for a week and charged it only 4 times. The massive battery size is only one of the reasons for the phone to last that long. The software has also been tweaked to extract the most juice out of the battery. There are Power Saving modes that let you set the phone up for use. Asus has also put in a scheduled power saver option where it can go to ultra power saving modes based on the time you set. This lets it save some more juice when you won’t be using the phone actively. Even if you do forget to set it up or ignore it all together Android’s Doze kicks in to save precious battery. This has a huge impact on the battery life of the Max.
While the battery on the phone is the best thing to talk about, the charger is the exact opposite. Someone at Asus thought it was acceptable to put a 5W(5V,1A) charger in the box to charge a phone with 5000mAh of battery. A result of this is a massive 4 hour time to charge the battery from 0-100%. I would start the day with 50% of battery and be fairly confident that I would reach home with the phone still working. On many days, it would survive but on an odd day, I would have to sit back a little longer waiting for it to charge. Asus should’ve provided the fast charger they sell with some other models would’ve made this an even better deal. While we are at it, Asus was more than happy to provide an OTG cable in the box. This cable can be used charge your secondary phone or a friends phone that is low on power. One other hint of the massive battery is when you hit the power button and see the ‘Reverse Charging Mode’.
The Zenfone Max finally got the update it deserved, a powerful processor and the battery to keep it going. It jumps ahead of the competition thanks to the latest Android OS it runs out of the box. The Dual SIM functionality allows you to keep two SIMs on the go. Both are 4G compatible but don’t have VOLTE support at the moment. The Max proves to be a good pick for a phone priced below Rs 10,000. The phone offers phenomenal battery life and good performance with the upgraded chip. The camera is just about all right and the charger is simply not acceptable. If you can overlook these then the Zenfone Max is worth the price it is asking for. So if are on a budget and looking for a phone with good battery life the Max should check all your boxes.