Comparisons between those who are very different are unfair, it is said. And if one were to only look at the price tags of the Asus Zenfone 3 Ultra and the Xiaomi Mi Max Prime, this would certainly make sense. On the one hand, you have a phone that is very high-end in terms of price at Rs 49,999, and on the other, you have another that costs less than half of its price at Rs 19,999. But that difference apart, the Xiaomi Mi Max Prime and the Asus Zenfone 3 Ultra seem very similar creatures. Their spec sheets have more than a passing semblance to each other and each tries to be a phone as well as a tablet in its own way. And does it so well that we think that these are perhaps two of the best (really) large screen phones out there. But which is the one for you? Let’s try and find out.

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Round One: Design and appearance

Of the two parameters that most clearly divide these two devices (the other is the last in the list – go to round seven), one is design. Both are large devices but that is where the similarity ends as far as appearance goes. The Mi Max Prime is quite a smart looking device but it still looks nowhere near as premium as the Zenfone 3 Ultra. And this is even when the Mi Max Prime has the advantage of a slightly more compact form factor – it is 173.1 mm long and 88.3 mm wide as compared to the much larger 186.4 mm and 93.9 mm of the Zenfone 3 Ultra. Both devices are impressively slim, but the Ultra at 6.8 mm dips even below the iPhone 7, while at 7.5 mm, the Max seems slightly thicker, but only in terms of comparison.The Ultra’s slightly curved sides and flat metal black (minus any radio bands) also make a better impact than the Prime’s straighter and slightly dual textured sides and antenna band bordered back. Yes, Xiaomi has made its power/display button and volume rocker more accessible to users (Asus has plonked the rocker right on the back and high up there too), but Asus picks up points for placing the fingerprint scanner on the home button below the display and also banding it with metal (a bit like the Xiaomi Mi 5, oh the irony!). While both phones use metal and glass, the “feel” of the Zenfone 3 Ultra is significantly superior. Yes, the Prime is lighter (203 grammes to 233 grammes of the Ultra) and more compact (something that can matter when the phones involved are this large), but let’s be honest: the Zenfone 3 Ultra will turn heads with its design, the Mi Max Prime is more likely to do so because of its size (even though it is the more compact of the two – irony!).

Winner: Asus Zenfone 3 Ultra

Round Two: Hardware

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This is where it gets really interesting. Given its premium pricing and positioning, you would think the Zenfone 3 Ultra is much better endowed in hardware terms than the Mi Max Prime. That, interestingly, is not quite the case. Both phones have full HD displays, although the Ultra has a 6.8-inch one as compared to the 6.44-inch one on the Prime. Both are powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 processor, and both come with 4 GB of RAM. In storage, the Mi Max Prime actually steals a march over the Zenfone 3 Ultra with 128 GB onboard as compared to 64 GB (both can be expanded to 256 GB by sacrificing one of the dual SIM card slots). The Zenfone 3 Ultra, however, has the better cameras – 23 megapixels with OIS and laser focus in the rear and 8-megapixels in front as compared to the 16 megapixels in the rear and 5-megapixels in front of the Prime – and also comes with stereo speakers as compared to the single one on the Prime. But the Prime wins back some ground by throwing in an infrared port (the Ultra has none) and having a surprisingly larger battery (4850 mAh as compared to 4600 mAh on the Ultra). This is a very close round and is really going to be determined by preference – those wanting bigger storage and battery will prefer the Mi Max, while those preferring camera and speakers will love the Ultra. We are calling this a tie.

Winner: Tie

Round Three: Software

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Both phones run on Android 6.0, but that’s where the similarity ends, as they are heavily “skinned.” While the Zenfone 3 Ultra comes with ZenUI 3.0, the Mi Max Prime has MIUI 8. And in terms of ease of use, we must confess that MIUI 8 is streets ahead of ZenUI, providing a cleaner UI as compared to its slightly bloated counterpart. Yes, on paper, ZenUI might come with more apps but many of these seem superfluous and the whole UI does not seem to blend in as seamlessly with the device as MIUI does. This round to Mi then.

Winner: Xiaomi Mi Max Prime

Round Four: Cameras

This is an out and out win for the Zenfone 3 Ultra. The 23.0-megapixel camera on the rear might come with a slightly confusing interface but there’s no doubting that it is one of the best cameras we have seen on any phone with a display larger than 6 inches. No, it cannot really compete with the likes of the iPhone 7 Plus, the Pixel or the Galaxy S7, but it is a clear notch above the more modest 16.0-megapixel shooter on the Mi Max Prime, which is at best a decent performer in good light conditions. The Zenfone 3 Ultra handles colours better and captures more detail consistently. And well, if one can invest time in figuring out the interface, it allows you to do far more than the shooter on the Mi Max Prime.

Winner: Asus Zenfone 3 Ultra

Round 5: Multimedia and gaming

This is again a clean win for the Zenfone 3 Ultra. Yes, both phones have full HD displays but there’s no getting away from the fact that the one on the Ultra seems brighter and handles colors better, although the one on the Prime is no slouch and is actually very good. The Ultra also scores through its twin speakers which allow it to deliver sound that is significantly superior to the one on the Mi Max. The result? Although both phones are equally adept at handling videos and games, the experience just seems markedly superior on the Zenfone 3 Ultra.

Winner: Asus Zenfone 3 Ultra

Round 6: General performance and battery

benchmarks

The Mi Max Prime storms right back into contention here. Both phones are equally good at multi-tasking and in the day to day functions but we really think a more compact size and simpler UI of the Mi Max Prime give it a distinct edge over the larger Ultra. The benchmark scores from both phones were in the same region but we found the battery life of the Max to be slightly superior – it can get through close to two and a half days of normal usage while the Ultra stretches to two. Both have excellent battery lives but we would favour the Mi Max Prime here. As we would in the case of general performance – both phone handle routine tasks well but the Mi Max’s being smaller just makes it easier for typing, handling calls and the like.

Winner: Xiaomi Mi Max Prime

Round 7: Price

The second parameter that most clearly divides these two devices (we referred to it in Round One too) is the price. There is a whole ocean of difference between the two phablets when it comes to price tags – you can actually purchase two Mi Max Prime devices and still have enough cash to buy the 2GB/16 GB edition of the Redmi Note 3 for the price of an Asus Zenfone 3 Ultra. For the record, while the Mi Max Prime retails for Rs 19,999, the Zenfone 3 Ultra is available for Rs 49,999. There is only one winner here.

Winner: Xiaomi MI Max Prime

Conclusion

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All of which leaves us at three rounds to each device, with one tied. So which of the two phablets should you go for? For some people, the question might seem superfluous when you consider the gulf in prices between the two devices – for them, the Mi Max Prime at Rs 19,999 would seem the runaway winner. However, it would be naive to ignore the design beauty of the Zenfone 3 Ultra or the multimedia superiority it commands.

So let us simplify this:

If budget is a constraint, this is a no-brainer – the Mi Max is simply the best large screen phone out there for sub-Rs 20,000.

If budget is not a constraint (and for some strange reason, considering a Pixel XL or an iPhone 7 Plus is not an option):

  • The Zenfone 3 Ultra is the better option for those who value multimedia and want to use their devices as much as a tablet as a phone
  • The Mi Max is the better option for those who want a large screen phone and are not too worried about sound quality and camera.
  • If looks matter, this is as much a no-brainer as in the matter of budget constraint: the Asus Zenfone 3 Ultra looks far more premium than the Xiaomi phablet.

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Editorial Mentor

Nimish Dubey has been writing for more than a decade now (well, Windows 3.1 was around and Apple was on the verge of being finished when he started). He has been published in a number of publications including The Times of India, Mint, The Economic Times, Mid-Day and Femina on subjects that vary from tech write -ups to book reviews to music album round ups. He managed to interview Michael Schumacher once and write two books for young adults along the way.