Asus Zenfone Max, review: once upon a time a battery stuck

How many times has he not left us on the phone in the middle of the day? Or we said that "hey, I'll call you after my cell phone goes off." The battery is a critical pillar of our phones and these are, increasingly, of our lives.

If you also want to spend just enough on a smartphone without too many tricks, but at the same time take decent photos of your family, Asus has thought of you. The Zenfone Max and its 5,000 mAh have passed through our analysis table, and this has been our experience with the phone that lasts three days awake.

Asus Zenfone Max, on paper

When it comes to making a mid-range mobile - or a laptop, the picture is increasingly similar - there is a lot of adjusting budgets and trying to bring the user a good quality / price ratio. But with the great competition there is, you have to look for differentiation in some way or it is easy for your products to become irrelevant.

Asus knows this, and has focused its phone catalog this year targeting different 'niches' by user type. Zenfone Max for those who want more battery even accepting a fatter phone (and they are not a few), Zenfone Laser for those who are looking for a good camera and Zenfone Selfie, well, for the obvious.

In the case of the Zenfone Max, we could say that we found a minimum phone, although with balanced characteristics on those 199 euros of output. What we see is a terminal very similar to the latest Moto G in its 2/16 GB version (which started at 229 euros and now stands at around 200), with the clear exception of that gigantic 5,000 mAh battery. Don't these numbers tell you anything? Let's put it this way: it's more than double the capacity.

As for the rest of the features, we see the same and veteran Snapdragon 410 with just enough, although very well equipped in the connectivity section. Recall that it was already a 64-bit processor for its A53 cores, at 28 nanometers, with an Adreno 306 as graphics and LTE of up to 150/50 Mbps and Bluetooth 4.0.

A single model with 2GB of RAM and 16 internal memory. Good decision with what seems like a minimum manifesto for a decent experience for 2016. Of course, Android 5.0 (Lollipop) as a system version is bad news: it is software from a year and a half ago.

The screen has a 450 nits TFT-LCD panel, a decent brightness a priori, in HD resolution. This at 5.5 inches maybe already starting to fall short. Of course, as a strategy to save battery it does not seem a bad plan and in view of who the terminal is aimed at.

The Zenfone Max arrives decently equipped on its cameras, on paper at least. It is always good to see that innovations such as laser focusing reach terminals like these in ranges that are often forced to cut everything that is expendable. Its rear camera is 13 megapixels with laser focus and its front 5, both f / 2.0. It is more than likely that it is exactly the same combination of sensors that we see in the Zenfone 2.

But it does not stop there, this Zenfone Max is also Dual Sim (micro format cards, and not even the smallest in nano format) and compatible with microSD cards, in case its 16 GB of internal memory is not enough for us.

So far the first ‘setting’ of characteristics, which you can see in table format:

Asus Zenfone Max Size 156 x 77.5 mm Thickness 10.55 mm Weight 202 grams screen 5.5 inch TFT LCD
Gorilla Glass 4
450 nits Resolution HD 1,280 x 720
267 dots per inch Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 410, 28nm and 64 bit
Quad Core Cortex A53 @ 1.2GHz
GPU: Adeno 306 RAM 2 GB LPDDR3 Memory 16GB with microSD slot up to 2TB
(Currently the maximum available is 200GB)
Free 5 GB on Asus Webstorage for life Version Android 5.0.1 (Lollipop)
Updated to 5.1.1 (Lollipop) Connectivity WiFi 802.11n 2.4GHz
Bluetooth 4.0
LTE Cat.4 (150/50 Mbps)
microSIM
GPS and Glonass Expansion ports MicroUSB 2.0
microSD (2TB) Rear camera 13 megapixels with laser focus
Dual tone flash
Objective f / 2.0
1080p video Front camera 5 megapixels
Objective f / 2.0 Battery 5,000 mAh lithium polymer Others Notifications led Starting price 199 euros, [on Amazon] (https://www.amazon.es/dp/B01BY5HZXO/)

Its large battery conditions the design

The Asus Zenfone Max is a phone without too many tricks. His most relevant design decision is also the most obvious: make it thicker and bigger than the rest to make room for a 5,000 mAh (fixed, yes) battery. It is double that of many phones, although not so much when we consider that we are facing a 5.5-inch phone.

u most relevant design decision is also the most obvious: make it thicker and bigger than the rest to make room for a 5,000 mAh battery

On its front it is quite flat, boring, except perhaps for the lower brushed aspect. We cannot say that the front is not nailed to the Zenfone 2. The action buttons (back, start and multitask) of Android are off the screen, so those 5.5 inches will spread as such (in principle, of course). This makes the phone quite long. I would surely have preferred the on-screen buttons and somewhat less overall length.

I am quite used to big phones. I have no problem using many of them and they are affordable even with one hand. I have been using 5.5 to 6 inch phones for several years and I usually reach the notification bar on many of them. In this, for its 5.5 inches, I would say that it is difficult to handle it, perhaps because of the way I grab it.

This phone is thick. We have to go back a few years if we want to get to when phones of more than one centimeter was the norm. But not bad, for 10.5 millimeters, its curved and rough rear gives it a very good grip and touch, between rubber, hard plastic and leather. What gets worse is its 202 grams of weight, which end up tiring something if you use it too often.

Its physical buttons (volume, lock) are on the right side. If you are right-handed, it is surely good news. These buttons are marked with a circular pattern, although it is difficult to distinguish and find them. Also, there is no way to tell one button from another simply by touch.

What it does lose against the Moto G is its lack of resistance to water of any kind. Your cards are accessed by removing the back cover, without any tools.

See complete gallery »Asus Zenfone Max, design (19 photos)

screen

As we anticipated, the Zenfone Max has a 5.5-inch TFT LCD screen, in HD (1,280 x 720). Asus talks about up to 178 degrees of vision for this screen and a maximum brightness of 450 nits.Gorilla Glass 4 coverage is an extra, and remains completely intact after a couple weeks of use where it has fallen to the ground once.

HD resolution is not bad, although it would have been more consistent with a screen less than 5.5 inches

It is a resolution that is fine in diagonals of up to about 5 inches, although it is no more a problem if you are looking for a relatively large screen and you manage browsing the mobile versions of web pages.

The quality of the panel is quite decent. Colors are good and don't get worse with viewing angle like old screens. Of course, part of the brightness is lost, as is normal. And which is not bad: the phone is usually viewed from the front.

In the sun this screen is decent with those 450 nits, although in the midday sun it is more difficult to see the desks. Of course, taking a photo for example or watching a video, the screen is less contrasted than normal and will cost more to see. But this we add that oleophobic treatment seems practically non-existent and that we have high reflexes. So taking a photo in full sunlight, with the screen or dirty hands can be more mission impossible than anything else.

Oleophobic treatment seems practically non-existent and we have high reflexes

For these cases, tools such as the one Xiaomi uses in its latest phones are useful. It enhances the contrast and saturation of your screen when it detects that the phone is under high intensity light to compensate for that image "washing" caused by reflections.

In recent years, even decent phones have also received very decent screens, solving even those with low viewing angles or low contrasts. However, there are a couple of pending tasks that are not fully resolved.

The Zenfone Max lags behind similar terminals in terms of front glass separation with the LCD panel itself. Reducing this separation conveys good feelings, and is something that other phones in this price bracket have resolved.

Lack of sensitivity and high touch latencies are still a problem for phones in these ranges.

On the other hand, with all the economic terminals (and not so much) I find myself with a high tactile latency. This means that when writing or other tasks that we would carry out more quickly, we have to stop until we receive feedback from the phone. Finally, lack of sensitivity is another general problem. Having to press with more determination than expected is especially annoying when we are very still to take a photo and we have to change the position of the hands to press the shutter more firmly (although we can use a volume key for this), or when not 'read' the unlock pattern the first time.

It is a common question on my part in terminals of all kinds (perhaps it is a personal matter). Phones of many brands are generally configured to display large content, not to display more content. In that sense, the 5.5 inches of this Zenfone Max do not seem so many. It would be great to have some kind of slider or adjust to modify this, as we just saw on the Galaxy S7. Although if it is a topic that worries you, it can be edited.

With a few backlit action buttons and its screen with too much minimum brightness, the Zenfone Max will not be for you if you intend to use it in the dark

It is common to use the phone in the dark, such as in bed before going to bed, or to look for a moment if the mobile phone was already sitting quietly in the cinema. If this is your case, I bring a couple of bad news. The first is that the action buttons are not backlit and it is somewhat difficult to find them in complete darkness. The second is that the minimum brightness of this screen is very high, becoming annoying.

On the calibration side, there are those who prefer warmer or cooler screens. For them Asus allows you to configure their temperature, with different color modes or fully customizable. Even if you are one of those who prefers to filter the blue light of the screen to ‘protect the eyes’, although it has not been proven to be of any use.

Contained performance to extend your battery (and contain its price)

About a year ago since the Snapdragon 412 and 415 were announced, SoCs of the same range but somewhat renewed. We have seen them on some device, although not too many. Among those who have decided to push up the performance of their devices has gone to the path of the Snapdragon 615, this yes more powerful - although also, we suppose, even more expensive.

The performance remains intact on a processor that arrived in 2013. And that will be noticed today

With the Snapdragon 410 inside, which we already know that the performance did not improve practically in the CPU section compared to the original 400, although they did change the design of the cores and this reported an improvement. In the graphics section, your Adreno 306 is not much more than a reissue of that 305, so the graphic performance remains identical on a processor that arrived in 2013. And that will be noticed today.

Zenfone Max works well, but in order not to get frustrated we have to know what we are buying before we do it. This is quite similar hardware to what we see in a Moto G, so we should expect similar performance and nothing else. Surely a Snapdragon 615 would have added integers in this phone, although perhaps not so much as to justify a more than guaranteed rise in price, since the difference in performance between the two is not so great, except for the graphic part.

It is not difficult to find concrete situations where obvious deficiencies are palpable

How does this Zenfone unfold in the day to day? We could say that good for most uses, except for some specific situations where obvious deficiencies are felt. I am talking, for example, about when we wake up to the phone from rest - it becomes congested for a few seconds if it has been blocked for a while - or when we come across a website with embedded multimedia content.

Also in relatively basic games I have had experiences of this type. Specifically with the Alto’s Adventure - a beautiful game that you must try -, with which I have had quite notable cases of performance drops.

Benchmarks Asus Zenfone MaxMotorola Moto GAlcatel Idol 3Aquaris E5 4G AnTuTu 25.28322.40629.12320,534 (32bits) Vellamo Chrome Browser: 1,989
Multicore: 844
Metal: 844Chrome Browser: 1,605
Multicore: 895
Metal: 608Chrome Browser: 2,184
Multicore: 1,274
Metal: 880Chrome Browser: 1,844
Multicore: 1,064
Metal: 794

Not only that, but that latency or lack of tactile sensitivity that I mentioned also affects the experience or perceived performance quite clearly. In the end one gets used to it - what a remedy - to press the screen more firmly.

It comes with 2 and 16 GB of memory, which is more than enough to have a few applications open without having to constantly reload them and a few others installed. If you want more internal memory, there is the option to microSD. Although Asus enforces a default memory-enabled app removal feature that will always have RAM available, removing loaded apps. It is what they call 'boosting' the phone, and the effect is more than likely the opposite.

Asus Zenfone Max, performance

Antutu

25.283

Geekbench 3

Single: 497
Multi: 1,493

Vellamo

Chrome: 1,989
Metal: 844
Multicore: 1,446

GFX Manhattan 3.1

Onscreen: 3.9 fps
Offscreen: 1.8 fps

GFX T-Rex

Onscreen: 9.3 fps
Offscreen: 5.2 fps

3DMark

Slingshot 3.0: 52
Ice Storm Utd .: 4,298

PCMark Workbench

3.606

PCMark Battery

18 hours 29 min

Memory

Internal: 115.5 MB / s read, 30.4 MB / s write
RAM: 2,877 MB / s

The Snapdragon are true off-roaders of connectivity in all their ranges. In this case we have from LTE Cat 4 to Bluetooth embedded in the chipset. However, the WiFi connectivity in our Zenfone Max could not have been worse - except not working. Even in places with good coverage, a few meters from the router (and it has been tried in several) it is normal to lose the connection.

Everything indicates that it is a defect in our unit, because even when it detects a decent signal it may not transfer data. However, 4G data connectivity works fine, as expected. The same with GPS, used to record Endomondo practices and compared to a Garmin.

The speaker is located at the rear, with a line of perforations. Removing the cover, we see that the speaker is not a standard size, and therefore the volume is sufficient. Of course, its canned sound is the typical characteristic of cheap smartphones.

The battery of the weekend

The battery is the great protagonist and the one who names this Zenfone Max. 5,000 mAh, which are, as I was saying, easily double that of many current phones that are already over the autonomy day. Thus, this Zenfone Max can extend its life up to 3 or even 4 days without too many problems, as long as we are not too demanding with its daily use.

In my use with test phones I always run an identical one. I install all the apps I use on my main phone, with notifications, Bluetooth always on with my Pebble, and I use Wi-Fi whenever I remember to turn it on. A mixed use of social networks and messaging, web browsing, some photos, and some music or podcasts when I go running. The games are quite punctual.

Probably the average use of a phone is somewhat below. This means that we can disconnect the phone on a Friday morning and that, with enough security, it will come alive until Sunday night. In my case, we repeat autonomy for around 3 days with around 7 hours of screen activated.

This last piece of information can lead to confusion. Of course the Zenfone Max is capable of lengthening those hours of screen considerably more, but it is added that it has to be on hold much longer than other phones. It is not difficult to see how other processes advance the screen in the list of applications due to energy expenditure, and that it appears in third or fourth place with around 10% of the total.

With this phone it is the first time that it happens to me that I put a battery test in the evening and the next day and it is still running until noon. In the PC score Mark takes no less than 18 and a half hours, although this is not a real situation, who would literally spend a whole day in front of his phone?

This battery is the raison d'être of the phone, which allows us to stay away from the plugs for a couple of nights

However, they are useful to compare with other terminals that have passed the same test. We see, for example, the Xperia C5 Ultra, of a similar size and with a battery of almost 3,000 that stays in a score of 5h30 min.

Incontestable that this battery is the raison d'être of the phone, which allows you to stay away from the plugs for a couple of nights. Of course, what you get in return is a phone with entry-level performance.

Although there is Qualcom Quick Charge 2.0 support on the Snapdragon 410, more hardware is required for a manufacturer to implement it. They are not in the Zenfone Max, and that makes charging the Zenfone Max fully take more than is desirable.

With such a large battery and no quick charge we need just over five hours to fully charge it

With such a large battery and an original 1 amp charger, the phone climbs in over five hours to complete its charge. Of course, this almost forces us to go at night to fully charge it. Although seen from another angle, it is not necessary to charge it to more than 50% to guarantee a battery day.

Asus includes within its software tools some add-ons that allow to extend - even more - the battery of this phone. These are energy saving modes that can range from cutting connections when the phone is locked to canceling the entire 'smart' part and leaving us with the basics to make calls and send SMS, which promise autonomy of the order of a week .

Among them is performance mode, which does just the opposite. It does not limit the processor or the brightness of the screen, giving a little extra in both aspects to improve the user experience. This should be the default mode.

Camera

If there are two things that users generally value above the rest in a phone, those are the battery and the camera. A phone is not a good phone today with a mediocre camera. In this sense, the Zenfone Max surprises, perhaps because it expected little from it.

It is a pleasant surprise to see the laser focus on your camera, which gives more than decent photos, always taking into account the price we are paying

The main camera is 13 megapixels with laser focus, which we've seen in high ranges for just a couple of years. This makes the phone focus relatively fast, although not as much as those 0.03 seconds Asus raises, but it goes to a few tenths of a second.

In general, the photos are quite good in most situations, although with excessive processing in some modes such as HDR, which sometimes produces unreal images with excessive contrast. This can be applied to some of the shots, where it is clearly seen that the sharpness has been artificially improved. However, in general we have shots with good white and color balances.

Of course, here comes the typical use of night photography where its capabilities are pushed to the limit, in addition to scenes with some complexity that test the dynamic range. What better than to see some samples:

In broad daylight the photos are usually pretty good

Whether indoors or in decently lit situations, the camera does its job

HDR (right) mode sometimes stiffens the image too much, forcing too high a contrast

Although on other occasions, HDR does really improve the photo

In low light this camera encounters difficulties, like any other

High exposure mode (right) does not seem to be working better than night mode

See complete gallery »Zenfone Max, camera (27 photos)

On the other hand, for me the application with which we take the photos is also very important as the result it yields. In this case we have one of lime and another of sand. I like the Asus camera because it allows shooting in professional mode, with individual adjustment of parameters, and it has many options ... although it is these same options that make its configuration quite chaotic.

Having a professional shooting mode available is a guarantee that the camera takes the photo you want

The camera has a multitude of shooting modes, some of them quite similar, which can lead to confusion. Of course it is welcome that there is a night mode if it improves the conditions of the photo - although it would be better still if it were detected automatically and nothing had to be done - but that there is the ‘Night’ and the ‘Low light’ baffles. The second uses a lower resolution capture, 3 megapixels alone, to increase the exposure of the area. My experience in situations of extreme luminosity has been similar. Although in Low light mode it ends up losing detail, the idea is good, only it does not seem that this Zenfone is of much use, for some reason.

Finally, the Zenfone Max records video at 1080p. This is really a processing limitation, because by resolution you should be able to record even 4K. Without optical stabilization, we see ourselves recording 1080p video if we disable it. If we activate it, the resolution is maximum 720p. I leave you a few clips for you to see for yourself.

Software: much done, much to do (and undo)

Android stock, Google's, is usually appreciated without artifice. It's easy to do it because it works so well. It's simple, yet powerful - more and more - and it has an implicit advantage: Updates come sooner. Or they should, at least.

And it is that this Zenfone Max starts from Android 5.0 (Lollipop), a version that has been with us since 2014 and we hardly see in new phones that are coming out. In the most relevant we see 6.0 Marshmallow, while in many others we see 5.1.

Android 5.0 is too long

On this version we see a layer of Asus with a rather large work on it, although with a rather unpleasant aesthetic and in a rather confusing way. Luckily, on Android we can change almost everything, and Asus allows us to do many of these things natively. It leaves us, yes, with 10.4 GB of free memory as we take the phone out of the box, which becomes only 8.6 GB when we finish updating the applications that come pre-installed.

For starters, Asus has its own theme stores, its own icon packs and, more importantly, the ability to switch to others from within the launcher itself.In general, I am not convinced by those themes that give a ‘futuristic’ aesthetic or a varied theme (nature, bubbles, space, Christmas ...). I prefer to install my own Nova Launcher or similar and configure a simpler desktop to my liking. And so I did.

Still, many options of all kinds. A very useful function is to make double tap on the screen or buttons to unlock the phone, very comfortable when it is on the table. The same can also be done on the notification bar to block it.

Zenfone is anything but Zen.

Another curious function is ZenMotion, which we have also seen from some other manufacturer, which allows you to draw a letter with your finger on the screen to launch specific applications. Thus, if we draw a ‘C’, with the phone locked, the camera will open. If we make an 'S', it will open ready to take a selfie. This is configurable for the letters W, S, e, C, Z and V with the applications that we want.

The Zenfone Max comes with a function developed with the Clean Master engine (which is also installed, with another interface), which is basically dedicated to cleaning memory applications and ‘optimizing’ the terminal. It comes pre-activated by default and does not allow applications to run in the background unless we allow it. This is especially dangerous as there may be people who ignore this and miss important notifications. I don't see much sense in it when you have 2GB of RAM and it's usually plenty left over, perhaps the inverse option (‘prohibit’ a specific application from launching if it detects that, for example, it is consuming a lot of battery) would be more optimal.

Asus pre-installs the Mobile Manager, an application that allows you to follow its power modes (which is itself another application), its automatic startup management, the use of data (in an application that duplicates the functionality of the system) or from which applications they have permission to send us notifications. In addition, there is an audio wizard, with predefined modes, also in the form of an external application, a backup wizard that is another duplication ...

To close, there are the basic utilities of the calculator system, flashlight notes (yes, flashlight also has its own app) and others, with some curious. Laser ruler uses the camera's laser sensor to measure distances of up to half a meter, and does so with relative success, which can be practical. Then we have not one, but three email applications. Gmail, Android's open source email manager and another one from Asus. And if that were not enough, a hub for games and the occasional pre-installed.

Too much software, too. Too many applications, settings, services and disorganization between them.

As you can see, it is too much. Too many icons, settings, apps, and more apps. Some applications that lead to others that duplicate some functions that are in the Android system itself. Others that don't, of course. Someone at Asus should be aware of the extreme confusion this can cause for an average user. It seems that touching a certain setting and returning to it to see if it has taken effect will be an impossible mission. They need to do a back to the basics, rethink what is useful for the user and what is straw. Well, many of these things are completely expendable and can already be found on Google Play if the user needs them.

Certainly too many items - which can be largely removed or disabled, yes, but you have to, and only if you know - for a phone that doesn't seem to be intended for the most enthusiastic user. Despite this, the software does not seem to be poorly optimized, but it is the hardware that sets the performance limitations.

Asus Zenfone Max, autonomy to power

All in all, this is not a bad phone at all. It is very interesting because it solves problems that often border on the absurd. I am convinced that there are not a few who want a phone that works, take good photos and last all day without excuses.

The Zenfone Max is designed for this user profile who, despite everything, wants to spend just enough but has a minimum manifesto on two fronts, that the phone lasts and meets its day to day.

It would certainly be great if Asus bet on another way of approaching the software on their phones, with less artifice and trying to make things simple for the user. Still, it remains a fairly balanced phone in terms of quality or quantity / price.

Of course, if for some reason you work or in your day to day it is impossible to charge the phone. Or if you just call too much, sometimes you sleep away from home or travel a lot, this phone may be for you.

7,3

Design7.5 Screen7 Performance6.5 Camera7 Software6 Autonomy9,75

In favor

  • Virtually infinite battery
  • Pretty decent camera
  • Good screen, although magnet of reflections and fingerprints
  • Dual SIM and microSD

Against

  • No fast charge
  • Confusing, outdated software with many applications
  • Touch sensitivity could be much better

The terminal has been loaned for testing by Asus. Can inquire our policy of relationships with enterprises.

In Xataka | Asus Zenfone 2 review

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