The Zenfone Max (review) is a battery-focussed, affordable smartphone from ASUS, and the brand has just launched a refreshed model that brings better specs. The new model sticks to the same 5,000mAh battery with reverse charging support, which remains its mainstay. The processor has moved up to Snapdragon 615 (from Snapdragon 410), and the internal storage has been doubled to 32GB. The 2016 model ships with Android Marshmallow, in comparison to the older one that utilised Lollipop as base for its ZenUI interface. The other specs remain the same, and include a 5.5-inch HD screen, 13MP/5MP cameras and laser autofocus.
Design: heavy and bulky
The design remains unchanged from the previous model, and includes a gold-finished frame that runs around the sides, a concentric circle pattern on the metallic chin at front, and a removable back panel finished in a non-slip rubberised finish. The capacitive navigation keys at front aren’t backlit, while both the volume rocker and power key are placed on the right. Opening the back cover reveals a sealed battery, a pair of micro-SIM slots and a slot that accepts a microSD card. Overall, the phone is quite bulky and heavy.
Display: no full HD here
We don’t have anything new to report in the screen department as well, since the new model uses the same 5.5-inch, 1,280 x 720 pixel display found on its predecessor. A full HD display would’ve been nice to have, especially considering the asking price. The HD screen though, is reasonably good, with ample brightness and sharp colours. There’s a glove mode to enhance touch sensitivity, and in case you want to tweak output, the display settings offer a vivid mode with customisable colour temperature, along with other modes like a balanced mode, a bluelight filter and a custom mode as well.
Software: ZenUI to the hilt
The new Max comes with ZenUI layered over Marshmallow, and ASUS’ custom interface may come across as too overwhelming initially. It’s loaded to the brim with features and pre-installed apps, and at first boot, you’ll need to contend with a slew of updates… covering the Google suite of apps and those from ASUS. The latter include Do It Later, AudioWizard, MiniMovie, PhotoCollage, and more. A Mobile Manager integrates a power saver, autostart manager, data monitor and a notification manager. There’s even a Laser Ruler app that uses the camera’s laser autofocus to measure distances of objects from the phone.
Software: customisable to the core
As usual, ZenUI is filled with a slew of customisation options if you want to change the look of the interface. There’s extensive theme support, with options to download free and paid themes. An Easy mode is there as well, letting you change the default launcher to an easy-to-understand tile-based UI. The interface also allows you to lock apps, apply icon packs, tweak icon sizes, change scroll effects, and even change the font and icon label colours. Interestingly, one can also switch to a UI which gets rid of the dedicated app drawer and lists all app icons on the home screens, just like MIUI and many other custom ROMs.
Software: gestures and more
There’s support for gestures too, and not only will you find an option to enable double tap to wake, you can even put the device to sleep by double tapping. You can also shake the phone to capture a screenshot, and a new task will be created in Do It Later using the same. A bunch of screen-off gestures are on offer, letting you draw specific characters on the screen to launch apps straight from standby.
Camera: loaded options
There’s no change in the camera setup in the 2016 model when compared to its predecessor, and you get the same 5MP front shooter and PixelMaster tech-laden 13MP primary camera. Laser autofocus makes focussing zippy and you get tons of modes covering manual, low light, GIF, Smart Remove, miniature, depth of field and super resolution. Video capture is restricted to 1080p, but you get modes like time lapse and slow motion to play around with.
Camera: decent image quality
The front camera shoots decent selfies, while the bunch of options available using the primary camera makes things interesting if you want to play around with various modes and settings. Most people tend to use auto mode however, and using that, you get reasonably good image quality, especially for the ones shot in daylight. The close-ups and HDR shots are good, but some images tend to look a little washed out on occasion. The shooter prompts you to switch modes depending on shooting conditions, and the low light mode is especially handy… magically sprucing up low-light stills.
Performance: smooth, lasts long
While the Snapdragon 615 is a dated processor, it does make things smoother in comparison to the older Zenfone Max that utilised the SD 410 SoC. Working in tandem with 2GB RAM (there’s also a higher priced variant that offers 3GB RAM), it offers reasonable performance for the most part. That said, there are other phones in the same price range that offer better performance. The battery life however, is the key highlight. The 5,000mAh battery lasted us about 18.5 hours in our video loop test, and in real life, should give you about a couple of days’ worth with medium usage.
The ASUS Zenfone Max 2016 is a decent phone overall, and for its asking price of Rs 9,999 (for the 2GB RAM variant), offers improved performance over its predecessor and a decent camera too. The batter life is great, is really the biggest reason why you should be considering this phone. However, similarly-priced options like the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 (review) for example, offer better performance. The Redmi Note 3 may not offer reverse charging support, but it does boast stellar battery life, and runs MIUI, which is easier on the eyes as compared to ZenUI, and comes with some solid features too. And this is why we can’t really recommend the Zenfone Max 2016 wholeheartedly. We’d rate it a 6 on 10 overall.