Like the whole ZenFone lineup, the ASUS ZenFone 3 is a decent smartphone. However, even with the premium pitch, there’s no stand out factor running for it. It looks good on paper, but the real-world functionality is limited – and would only meet the demands of less discerning users.
ASUS has a crowded ZenFone batting order, but the business buckets its offerings in well-rounded classes. Like the ZenFone Max, with a focus on marathon battery life.
However, since last year together with the start of ZenFone 3 portfolio, the Taiwanese company has upped the ante in design and positioning and instead of focusing on hardware specifications, aims to bring a superior experience to its users. That also means that the majority of their latest mobiles are not exactly run-of-the-mill value-for-money devices, but distinguish themselves in layout, camera, battery life, etc.
ASUS launched the first ZenFone Max in 2015, and it brought nothing else to the table while it delivered on its USP of long battery life. The follow-up variant had more memory and faster processor, but both devices were chunky plastic smartphones that didn’t impress many.
On the other hand, the ZenFone 3 Max (ZC553KL) aims to change that with a well-rounded smartphone experience coupled with premium design, while continuing the focus on battery life.
ASUS has finally brought an all-metal design to the ZenFone set, later than when most folks would’ve liked. Even entry-level budget smartphones in 2016 boasted of an all-metal design. Better late than never, though. There’s nothing astonishing about the design, but neither is it run of the mill.
The homogenous design language of the ZenFone string is noticeable, a superior one at that, bringing the flagship layout to the budget smartphone. It is well-built and the aluminum chassis gives it a solid feel. It’s not really slippery, yet, as it is an all-metal cell phone, you’d have to get used to the smoothness and take care of the phone slipping out of the hand.
Unlike the original ZenFone Max, this one is not a brick and neither does it sport big bezels (it could’ve had even smaller bezels, though, on top and bottom) and boasts of a pretty great 73 per cent screen-to-body ratio. It’s not very slim at 8.33mm, and at 175 grams, it’s not the lightest smartphone out there. Yet it’s among the lighter phones to pack a big battery along with a sizeable display, and you also wouldn’t feel the heft lugging it around. Also, the gradual curves and rounded corners make it a very comfortable and ergonomic phone to hold, and it’s also easily pocketable unless you can’t stand larger smartphones.
Display and Multimedia
This new ZF3 Max variant gets an update in the screen department. It now has a bigger 5.5-inch IPS LCD with a Total HD resolution. Props to Asus for putting in more pixels as they increase the display to not lose clarity. With that, it’s a sharp screen at 401ppi pixel density and exceptionally bright even outdoors. Although, the panel isn’t as saturated as it like it to be and there’s no available tweak for it in the settings.
As for the down-firing speaker, well, it’s alright. It does get in the way when playing games but it than having it placed on the back. The quality is good with a good amount of volume and clear output.
ZenFone 3 Max was used for the better part of a week and never really faced any major problems. The phone runs pretty smoothly for general tasks and some multitasking. It doesn’t have any overheating issues either, whether it is gaming or using the camera. The earpiece has great volume level and 4G functions nicely.
Videos appear excellent thanks to the energetic display, as well as the telephone handles high-bitrate videos just fine, at up to 1080p. Audio performance is particularly good through wired and wireless headphones. The volume can get really loud and audio has great separation with punchy bass. Even the bundled headset does a great job at isolating ambient noise and providing a good sound experience. The AudioWizard app lets you play around with equalizer settings as a way to fine-tune the sound.
Asus’s ZenFone Max models have always fared well in the camera section and also the same story continues here. The 16-megapixel sensor and f/2.0 aperture lens result in detailed landscapes and macros in a day. Colour reproduction is rather accurate too although it could have used a bit more sharpness in captured images, particularly around the edges of things. In the macro shot sample below, see that the edges of the bloom are a bit fuzzy when seen at full size. Low-light shots look good, with little sound, and the low-light shooting mode really helps here.
The ZenFone Max name no longer means you’re getting a one-trick pony, as this new model aims to offer a well-rounded solution to aspiring smartphone buyers. This shows in the new aesthetics, improved display and cameras, and of course, strong battery life. It would have made a perfect rival to Xiaomi’s Redmi Note 3, but Asus has priced the ZenFone 3 Max in line with higher aspirations. Keep in mind the ZC520TL form does fall in the Redmi’s price range but it doesn’t seem to match up to it, at least on paper. It’s also essential that you check the version number on the box carefully as its easy to confuse the two variants.