Simple. Slick. Surprising!
There you go. That is perhaps the best way to describe the newly upgraded Asus Zenfone Max or as many people refer to as the Android Power Bank.
The original Zenfone Max was a pretty neat device. Asus had packed a huge battery at a very affordable price point, but it came with a few tradeoffs and left a lot to be desired. Enter the Zenfone Max 2016. I don’t know how to exactly refer to the new phone, people call it the Zenfone Max 2, Asus calls it the new Zenfone Max. To end the confusion between the new and old, we decided to refer to it as the 2016 edition. After using the device as my primary phone for the past two weeks, I must say it has left me smitten.
The Zenfone Max 2016 builds up on its predecessor. The design remains largely unchanged but the device sports major changes under the hood. While the original Max was powered by 1.2GHz quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM, the Zenfone Max 2016 comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 Octa-Core processor clocked at 1.5Ghz and provides an option to opt for a 2GB or 3GB RAM variant. The internal memory of the phone has now been increased to 32GB as the base storage.
The new Max carries the same 13MP primary camera on the rear and a 5MP front shooter for selfies but Asus claims that the camera has been optimized for better shots. Skip to the camera section to know if that’s the case. The Max 2016 runs on Android Marshmallow as opposed to Lollipop on the Max 2015. The battery capacity has been left unchanged but Asus has introduced new power saving modes and claims that the Max can deliver 900 hours of standby time.
In a world largely dominated by the numbers game, smartphone manufacturers add more fuel to the fire by packing in more than 400ppi displays and creating a hype around their oversaturated colors. Thankfully, Asus has kept the feature list on the Max 2016 to the bare necessities. The 720p display may turn off a few perspective buyers, but the display works great for general usage. Lesser number of pixels also reduces the toll the battery life takes when driving that many pixels. People will argue about the text/pictures being not as sharp as the competition but just ask yourself, do you really need a 1080p or 2k display?
Asus has targeted the Max at travellers and it delivers on its promise. The colors look good and the device comes with the built in options for various color filters. Asus calls it TruVivid technology which provides “superior clarity, brightness and touch responsiveness.” To be honest, the touch response is as same as almost every other smartphone but the panel used does look a bit better than most 720p phones. The Bluelight Filter for Eye Care protects the users’ eyes from strain during prolonged usage. You can even set the screen temperature as per your convenience. The viewing angles are good however direct sunlight legibility is not something to write home about. The display is very reflective and even at full brightness it is hard to view.
Just below the screen sit the usual capacitive buttons which are again, not backlit, what is with Asus and unlit buttons? It’s high time Asus traded these buttons in favor of on-screen ones and increase the screen size a bit in the process. Oh wait, they did that with the Zenfone 3. Thank you, Asus.
The display comes with Corning Gorilla Glass 3 coating but the surface scratches pretty easily, so do get a screen protector as soon as you get the device.
The back has a faux leather finish which gives the Max a very premium feel. While the smartphone is thicker and bulkier than the rest, the solid in hand feel and the boardroom looks make up for the fact and your hands adjust to the weight pretty easily. We received the Black and Gold version of the Max and it does look the part. The Max is also available in two funky(read loud) colors, namely Blue and Orange, targeted towards the youth.
The upgraded processor on the Max makes a lot of difference in the performance. Everything loads quickly. The 3GB of RAM ensures that switching between apps is not an issue and the UI transitions are smooth. The phone WILL warm up if you game for extended periods of time but not to an extent that it becomes uncomfortable to use.
If you are a regular reader of CryBytes, you’ll know we cannot stress enough against the use of benchmarking applications for smartphones. All they do is put a score based on your device’s performance which may or may not reflect in your daily use cases. The Snapdragon 615 is sufficient for mundane tasks but does stutter if you have multiple apps open in the background.
If you’ve ever used an Asus device before, you’ll feel right at home with the Max. The Asus ZenUI sits atop Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Software is one area the Max really shines. Asus bundles almost every essential app you may need right from Notes to a to-do list to secure file sharing and an Auto Start Manager. If you are like most users, you won’t feel the need to download any third-party alternative.
However, if you have your personal set of app preferences, the built in apps will look like a lot of bloatware. You do get an option to disable stock apps but will need root access to completely remove them. The ZenUI has not received any major design changes and honestly feels a bit dated. But the beauty of an Android device lies in the availability of a vast of array of customization options. As I do with most of my devices, I installed Google launcher on the Max and it worked flawlessly.
With Android Marshmallow, you now have access to Now on Tap, a very novel feature that gives you access to a lot of information. Apps now ask for permissions as and when they require access which eliminates the possibility of fraudulent apps stealing your personal information.
What the Max lacks in terms of raw specs or benchmarks, it makes up for it in terms of battery life. The Max comes with a 5000mAh non removable battery which is rated to deliver up to 38 hours of 3G talk time. After using the device for nearly three weeks now, we can safely say that the Max easily delivers up to two days of mixed usage with casual gaming thrown in the mix. Even the review unit came to us powered on and was kept on standby mode for over ten days in the box. Once we finally took it out, it still had over 20% charge left in it.
Before people start bashing us up with their claims that their phones don’t last for a day, let us make something very clear, everyone uses their phones differently. Some use it solely for the purpose of media consumption, some use their phones sparingly while some remain constantly online. It is virtually impossible for us to replicate every use case scenario but we do ensure that the we cover all the important ones.
Whatever user you may be, the Max will surely last you at least for the better part of the day. To push the Max to its limits, I did unplugged the device at around 8AM in the morning with a 100% charge. With 3G connected throughout and WiFi switched on the phone dropped to 21% at around 1PM the next day. Out of habit, I did plug it in a few times when I was at my desk but even after 18hrs of on-screen time, the device still had 30% of juice.
With the built in power saver modes, you can easily get even a 10% charge to last for 4 hours. This is actually a boon for people who travel a lot. But the extended battery life comes with a tradeoff. The charging time of the Zenfone Max 2016 is painfully slow. It took us a little over 4 and a half hours to charge it from 0 to 100 using the stock charger. However, we had the fast charger of the Zenfone Zoom handy and it drastically reduced the charge time. If you don’t have one, remember to plug the device in while you sleep in case you have a very long day ahead of you.
There is no fingerprint sensor on the Zenfone Max which might turn off buyers. A trend that Coolpad started back with the Note 3, almost every budget smartphone incorporates a fingerprint sensor now. The arch rivals of the Max, the Redmi Note 3 and the LeEco Le 2 come with a pretty fast fingerprint reader.
The Max 2015 came with a 13MP primary camera but the picture quality left a lot to be desired. This time around, Asus has tweaked the camera a bit and with their PixelMaster 2.0 technology, the Zenfone Max 2016 shoots clearer pictures than its predecessor. The color reproduction is good and so is the detailing, but, transfer them to a bigger display and the details start disappearing and the grain starts creeping in, something that never occurred with the Redmi Note 3. The camera is quite fast in terms of focusing and there is very little to no shutter lag. If you only snap photos to share on social media and arent into serious photography, the Max has you covered.
The front camera is a 5 Megapixel, f/2.0-aperture camera with 85 degree wide-viewing angle. As far as the picture quality is concerned, it is on par with most smartphones and couple that with the Beautification mode and you have quite a nice selfie. As always Asus offers an array of shooting modes to choose from. This eliminates the need of third-party camera apps for most users.
For an asking price of Rs. 9,999 for the 2GB variant and Rs. 12,999 for the 3GB version, the Asus Zenfone Max 2016 is actually a pretty good contender for your money. The excellent battery life combined with the surprising performance, the Max holds its stand in the competition and proves that you don’t need all the bells and whistles to make a functional device. However, the lack of a fingerprint sensor and the mediocre camera mar an otherwise amazing device. The LeEco Le 2 and the Redmi Note 3 look and feel much more premium and offer greater value given their features. If you need a no frills device and aren’t keen on the camera or the fingerprint sensor or need a secondary phone that also doubles up as a power bank, the Zenfone Max will not disappoint.