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ASUS ZenFone Max Pro M1 Review: The New Mid-range King?

The latest member of the Max family isn’t just about having a big battery

What do you get when you stuff an 18:9 display, massive battery, and a capable processor into a phone and slap a sub 10K price tag on it? You get the ZenFone Max Pro M1, the latest budget big-battery phone from Taiwanese manufacturer ASUS. The phone is very obviously meant to take the fight to Chinese rival Xiaomi, and surprisingly it manages to hold its own, providing excellent value and undercutting the competition by a few thousand pesos, a feat previously thought impossible by tech pundits.

But like anything in life, the ZenFone Max Pro M1 is an exercise in compromise, and ASUS had to skimp out on a few things to get the phone to slip under that mythical Php 10,000 price barrier. The phone has its quirks, but someone looking for a phone that delivers the most bang for their buck probably won’t mind them.

What is it?

The ASUS ZenFone Max Pro M1 is the latest iteration of the company’s “battery king”, offering increased longevity via a larger than average battery compared to similar devices. Most of the phones under the Max lineup offer battery capacities of 4000mAh above, with the Max Pro M1 coming in at 5000mAh.

 

What’s it feel like?

The Max Pro M1 feels chunkier and heavier than most phones we’ve handled in the past, owing to the massive power pack that gives it its moniker. It doesn’t feel as heavy as a brick though—it just feels weightier than your typical mid-range smartphone.

While most brands nowadays clothe their phones in either glass, or plastic meant to look like glass, the Max Pro M1 sports a metal back like its older brothers. The metal panel gives the rear of the phone better scratch resistance if you decide to run it naked without the included silicone cover.

Styling-wise the Max Pro M1 doesn’t break new ground, sporting a vertically stacked dual-camera module tucked in the upper left side, with a fingerprint scanner in the middle where your pointer finger naturally sits during use.

Take a closer look at the rear of the phone and you’ll notice that the top and bottom areas where the antennas sit are made of plastic. That’s not all: the entire frame of the phone is plastic as well though it’s been made to look like metal via clever coloration.

It’s not a big deal breaker though if you’re the sort that’s used to handling full metal or metal and glass phones, it’s something you’ll notice right away.

 

Does the display have a notch?

Notch-haters will be happy to know that the Max Pro M1 does NOT have a notch in front. The phone’s 6-inch 18:9 aspect ratio, full HD+ IPS display is completely notchless. The downside here is that the top and bottom bezel of the device is a bit thicker than phones that do have the dreaded notch.

As for the display quality, it’s alright. Colors and contrast are good but not amazing. The display is bright enough for use in daylight but you’ll sometimes struggle to see it directly under the noonday sun. Long story short: the display is completely average—it won’t blow you away, but it gets the job done.

 

Is it fast?

Yeah, it is. The Max Pro M1 is equipped with Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 636 processor, hardware that’s also present in the company’s more expensive ZenFone 5 smartphone that’s nearly twice the price. We’ve already done our review on that phone (which you can read here) but the key takeaway here is that the SD636 chipset excellent performance for what it is. It’s fast, capable of keeping whatever phone it’s in running incredibly quickly and doesn’t drain a lot of energy to boot.

Because of the phone’s beefy internals, ASUS is positioning the Max Pro M1 as a budget Android gaming phone. And we don’t blame them—most of the games we tried on the Max Pro M1 ran pretty well, with minimal lag and stuttering. You’ll still won’t be able to play the hottest game in town, Asphalt 9: Legends on it but to be fair no SD636 equipped device has support for the new AAA title anyway.

While the Max Pro M1 comes in a variety of configurations, at least according to ASUS’ website, the phone that’s available to buy in the Philippines will only be the 3GB/32GB variant. Storage may become an issue, especially since many Android games nowadays have large space requirements. There is expandable storage on top of the ability to use two SIM cards at once, but obviously built-in storage will always be more desirable than add-on space.

 

How’s the rest of the phone?

Remember when we talked about compromises to get the price down? Well, there are quite a few, and depending on how you value the add-on features they’ll either be annoyances or outright deal breakers.

Let’s talk about the fingerprint scanner first. It’s not as fast or responsive as we would have liked. There’s certainly a noticeable delay from when you put your finger on the scanner till the phone unlocks, which takes a bit of getting used too, especially on a device like this. ASUS pushed out a software update that supposedly fixed this problem but honestly, it’s still slower than we’d like.

And then there’s the facial recognition feature, which should at least alleviate the problems of the fingerprint sensor. Sadly it’s hit or miss, even in areas with bright light. As slow as the fingerprint scanner is, it’s faster and more reliable than the facial recognition feature.

Sound quality is good but not great. The bottom firing speaker does the job but distorts on higher volumes. You also won’t be able to connect to faster 5GHz wireless networks, which is a bit of a drag.

On the upside, the phone comes with mostly stock Android, without ASUS’ ZenUI layered on top. You’ll be getting more or less a pure form of Android Oreo 8.1 with it, though the phone isn’t part of the Android One program. Phones that are part of Google’s Android One initiative adhere to a strict set of rules of what can and cannot be tweaked, and ASUS wants a free hand with the ZenFone Max Pro M1.

 

Are the cameras any good?

They’re a mixed bag. You get a different set of cameras depending on the version of the phone you buy from ASUS. In our case, the ZenFone Max Pro M1 gets a 13-megapixel rear camera with a secondary 5-megapixel sensor that provides depth information for depth of field shots, AKA artificial bokeh shots. There’s an 8-megapixel camera up front for selfies.

The phone is capable of taking decent shots outdoors, with good clarity and detail, as well as accurate color reproduction. Highlights tend to get blown out which isn’t surprising considering the price of the phone.

Low-light shooting isn’t the phone’s strong suit, as details in images tend to disappear and focus becomes challenging. To be fair, phones in the Max Pro M1’s price category tend to exhibit the same flaws—it’s just the nature of the beast when it comes to budget phones.

 

Is it really a “battery king?”

Yup! We’re currently in Ho Chi Minh city in Vietnam, and the Max Pro M1 naturally became the home of the SIM card that we’re using for data. With the hotspot on, we recorded around a day of run time with the phone before it hit 20 percent. With regular non-hotspot use, that usage usually extends to around 2 days with moderate use.

While we usually rely on battery benchmark data to evaluate phones, we were surprised to see that the Max Pro M1’s PCMark battery benchmark results fall short of what we expected. We stand by our usage results though; actual use still trumps benchmarks after all.

ASUS ships the phone with a 10W charger, and while the phone is able to charge quickly for the first few minutes, a full charge takes well over two hours.

 

Should you buy it?

If you’re the sort that values a non-bloated UI, pure performance and battery life above image quality, we say go for it. The ASUS ZenFone Max Pro M1 is a pretty capable phone, though its cameras struggle a little bit with low-light, as do most phones in its price range.

Should you buy this over Xiaomi’s Redmi Note 5? It really depends on what your priorities are. The Redmi Note 5 has slightly better cameras, has faster face and fingerprint unlock and has double the storage, though it has a smaller battery and higher price tag.

ASUS ZenFone Max Pro (M1) Specifications

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 processor
  • Adreno 509 GPU
  • 3GB RAM
  • 32GB of expandable storage
  • 6-inch Full HD+IPS display; 18:9 aspect ratio
  • 13-megapixel main rear camera and 5-megapixel secondary rear camera with PDAF, LED flash
  • 8-megapixel front camera with LED flash
  • 4G, LTE
  • Dual SIM
  • WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, A-GPS, Fingerprint scanner, NXP Smart Amplifier, facial recognition
  • 5000mAh battery with 10W fast charging

 

John Nieves

John is a veteran technology and gadget journalist with more than 10 years of experience both in print and online. When not writing about technology, he frequently gets lost in the boonies playing soldier.

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3 Comments

  1. Not a comment about the article – just to commend the Unbox team for a much more organized layout, a cleaner look and a simply better redesign of Unbox. Keep it up.

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