ASUS Zenfone Max 18

We review ASUS’ Zenfone Max!

Many new smartphone buyers nowadays don’t look at display size, performance or even a phone’s camera when they decide to buy a new phone. For many, a smartphone’s battery life is the most important metric when shopping for a new device. This trend isn’t lost on manufacturers – many companies are now offering phones with larger than average batteries in them to satisfy the cravings of consumers who value battery life above everything else.

It’s no surprise then that ASUS has come out with their own version of the big-battery phone concept in the form of the Zenfone Max. Armed with a 5000mAh battery and modest specs, the Max delivers amazing battery life but does come with its own caveats.

ASUS Zenfone Max specs:

  • 1.2GHz 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 quad-core processor
  • 2GB of RAM
  • 5.5-inch HD display, Corning Gorilla Glass 4, 1280 x 720 resolution
  • 16GB of storage, expandable via microSD
  • 13-megapixel rear camera f/2.0 aperture with laser AF, dual LED flash
  • 5-megapixel front camera with f/2.0 aperture
  • Dual-SIM
  • 3G, Dual LTE
  • WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, A-GPS
  • 5000mAh battery
  • Android Lollipop with ZenUI

ASUS Zenfone Max 17

A new tweaked design that makes it stand out

ASUS has kept the design of their Zenfone series of devices pretty much the same ever since the Zenfone 2 came out. That ends with the Zenfone Max – while the front of the Max looks very much like a Zenfone, the back has been suitably tweaked. ASUS has removed the rear volume key, putting it back in its traditional spot on the right side of the phone.

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The rear of the phone is a lot flatter than most Zenfones, in an attempt to try and keep the Max’s already portly thickness under control. The 3.5mm jack and the USB port are located on the top and bottom, respectively. The frame of the phone looks metallic, but is plastic.

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The front of the phone still features physical Android navigation keys on the bottom, as well as ASUS’ trademark Zen-inspired chin. The display is a 5.5-inch HD display with Corning Gorilla Glass 4 protection that keeps the panel scratch-free. The 5-megapixel front facing camera sits on the top of the phone.

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Once you turn the phone over, you’ll clearly see the textured rear cover of the device, as well as the 13-megapixel rear camera and its LED flash and laser AF module. The cover looks like leather but feels a little rubberized, which gives you better purchase on the device when you’re holding it. While our review unit was dark brown, there’s also a white variant available for the Max.

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Like most of ASUS’ other phones, the back of the Max is removable which reveals the two SIM slots and microSD slot. The 5000mAh is non-removable, which isn’t a big surprise.

The phone’s 5.5-inch HD display is big, bright and colorful, and has generous viewing angles. Unfortunately the resolution of the Max works against it, since the size of the display means individual pixels are easy to pick out, and images aren’t as sharp compared to their other devices. There’s an upside to the lower resolution display though – it consumes far less energy, which means better longevity on a phone that already have heaps of it.

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Snapdragon 410 processor is good enough, but don’t expect miracles from it

In the heart of the Max sits Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 410 quad-core processor, paired with 2GB of RAM. While Qualcomm’s 410 processor is getting a little bit long in tooth, there’s a reason why ASUS used that particular processor in the Max. The 410 is an economical processor, which sips rather than drinks battery life. If processors were cars, the Snapdragon 810 would be a particularly hot Mustang, while the 410 would be a 1.3 Vios driven by the stingiest driver known to man.

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The hardware configuration of the max is similar to another Zenfone model, the cheaper 5.5-inch Zenfone Laser. As such, it performed much the same way. It’s not a serious gaming machine, and you’ll frequently run into lag spikes when you try to play graphically-intense games.

Just like other Zenfones, the Max comes with ASUS’ ZenUI that adds added functionality to the phone. Unfortunately, it’s still a bloatware-ridden mess, and updates the pre-installed apps every chance it gets. While it’s not that big of an issue for people who have fast internet connections at home, people with metered connections will run into their monthly allocation faster because of it. If you’re reading this ASUS, please, for the sake of our sanity, remove half of the things that are preloaded in your UI.

As far as call quality is concerned, calls made to and from the Max are clear without any problems. Since this is a Qualcomm chip, GPS and LTE signals locked on fast and stayed locked on without any issues.

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Camera as good as the Laser

The Max doesn’t just share the processor of the Laser – it shares the camera too. The 13-megapixel rear camera with a laser AF module locks on to subjects surprisingly fast, important when you want to take a shot right away. We weren’t expecting stellar performance under low-light, but the Max surprised us during our weekend trip to Hong Kong and China.

Most of the shots we took were all in low-light conditions while wandering the streets of HK at night, and a lot of them turned out surprisingly good. Obviously you’ll still get the odd blurred shot or two, but overall we’re happy with the performance of the Max.

Video recording on full HD is also rather good, though the phone does suffer from a case of the shakes, which is a direct result of not having OIS in the device.

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Best battery life we’ve ever seen, but charges really, really slow

ASUS has been deliberate in choosing the components for the Max to ensure maximum battery performance for the user. The result of the parts picking? Insane battery life – the Max recorded a PCMark battery benchmark result of 18 hours and 12 minutes, which is the highest we’ve ever seen so far. That translates to more than three days of battery life on a single charge, more if you’re careful with your battery. As with anything, there is a catch to that battery life.

And that’s super slow charging time. Seriously, the Max gains power slower than Goku in an episode of Dragonball. That’s primarily because of the dinky 1A/5V charger that ASUS includes with the phone. If there’s a device that’s woefully in need of fast charge capability, the Max is it – it charges from 0 to 100 in about 5 hours. While the Max has a lot of juice under the hood, your best bet is to charge it as soon as you have the chance to and never, ever let it get down to 0.

Verdict: If you don’t want to run out of battery, this phone is for you

Ultimately the Zenfone Max is an exercise in compromise. If you want a long-lasting phone that won’t ever run out of battery on a single day when fully charged, then it’s definitely something you need to look at. If however, you prefer a phone that has a little bit more oomph, then the Max may not be for you.

The Zenfone Max retails for Php 8,495.