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Asus Zenfone 3s Max Review: Zenfone Budget Bro with Big Battery!

If this company releases a few more phones, it would earn a place for itself in the league of Samsung and Lenovo for coming up with phones almost all through the year. Yes, as you might have guessed, we are talking about Asus. The Zenfone 4 is speculated to be around the corner but that has not stopped the company from adding one more to the Zenfone 3 family tree, and this time around it is something that is centered around a bigger than the normal battery. They call it the Zenfone 3s Max. You may ask – but didn’t Asus launch multiple variants of the Zenfone 3 Max recently? Having asked ourselves the same question, we went about discovering what the 3s Max was about. And this is what we found out.

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Looks like a Zenfone… again!

The design of the phone pretty much follows the Zenfone 3 lineup – that ASUS branding on the top makes it clear that this has to be a Zenfone. While its premium cousins have the fingerprint scanner on the back the 3s Max has it on the front below the display – this is clickable but not an active scanner. The unit we got was gold colored and there is also a black variant that will be launched later. The phone fits well into our hands weighing 175 gms and having a thickness of 8.85 mm with the edges being curved for a better holding experience. The phone is slippery though it has that matte finish on the back, which sports the primary camera and a LED flash on the left corner. On the right side of the phone, you can find the power button and volume rockers that felt a little shaky to start with but we got used to its well working tactile feedback. Up top is the 3.5mm audio jack while the other side holds the dual sim hybrid tray. Symmetrically designed mic and speaker grille occupy the bottom portion, with a micro USB charging port placed in-between them. Nothing too fancy or nothing too much to complain about the design.

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We mentioned that the phone is handy, and that is because it sports a 5.2-inch 720p (HD) display – there is no mention of any Gorilla Glass protection. It has a max brightness of 450 nits which comes handy for better readability under direct sunlight, but at lower brightness levels, the phone is a tad hard to read. The edges of the display are 2.5D curved. Viewing angles are pretty good but the touch sensitivity is average at best. There are times when we had to make an additional tap with a little more force to get the input going. This is not at any particular location on the screen and is rather inconsistent. There is a trio of onscreen navigation buttons and no option to turn them off as there are no capacitive hardware buttons on the front.

Powerful battery, not so powerful specs

Now this not so power hungry display combined with a massive 5000 mAh high-density Lithium polymer battery would mean some good numbers on the battery life. ASUS claims that even on the heaviest usage patterns the phone will last well over a day’s usage. Now is that claim true? From our tests that put the phone through various loads, from our findings, we can confidently say – YES! But this is not surprising at all with that smaller screen size and 720p resolution. If the bigger battery ain’t cutting it for you, there are the power saving and the super power saving modes that halt certain things in the background to push the battery for a much longer duration. Even with the heaviest loads, the phone lasted for around a day and a half and on days of moderate or light usage, the phone lasted for 2-3 days. We observed screen on times ranging from 10-15 hours, but this is highly subjective to one’s network conditions, usage patterns and what the phone is doing for you. The phone can also reverse charge your other devices, thus doubling up as a power bank. Sadly, there is no rapid charging going on here and the phone took a good 2.40-2.50 hours to charge up from 10-100 percent. You would most probably end up plugging the phone into the charger overnight.

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The display does not trouble the battery much, and joining hands with it is the rather no-so-powerful-not-so-power-hungry configuration that lies under the hood – a Mediatek MTK6750 Octa-core 64 bit processor clocked at 1.4 GHz coupled with Mali T860 GPU and 3 GB of RAM. 32 GB of internal memory comes on the phone, of which close to 24GB is available to the users. If that is not enough, you can bump up the memory up to 2 TB via the hybrid sim slot. For the synthetic benchmark patrol, the device scored around 35K+ which is a rather low score considering the numbers we see these days on other phones.

A decent performer

While that benchmark score seems to be from an ancient era, the overall performance of the phone is not really that disappointing at all. Oh, while we are at that, we might as well tell you that this phone runs on Android 7.0 out of the box with a January security patch! We don’t mean to be mean (pun intended) to Asus here, but how many times do we see this happening! The Zen UI built off it does well for all day-to-day tasks as long as you keep a check on how much you are loading it with. With an increased number of apps running, the phone started becoming a tad slow and the processor has nothing it can offer that can crank up the power!

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Surprisingly, though, games like Asphalt 8 ran well even with high graphics settings with occasional minor frame drops. However, in the case of Nova 3 where the game kept crashing if we played for more than 15-20 minutes. The device got warmer too, and we had to keep it aside for a while. No, there are no alarming heating issues of note (pun intended, sorry!!) but not many of are comfortable with a warm slab on their palms! Other games such as Candy Crush and Subway Surfer ran with occasional stutters. The OS itself is typical Zen UI loaded with options for themes, gestures and tons of customizations and animations for all those who love these features. Features from Android N such as dual window mode too worked well.

Say cheese happily, preferably in daylight

The 13-megapixel camera with 5P Largan lens and dual LED flash and f/2.0 aperture does very well in daylight. Good close ups, 52MP Super Resolution mode, true to life colors and focusing speeds and overall processing speed, are the key highlights. The dynamic range though needs improvement. The camera app is the standard Zen UI offering again with tons of options such as Low Light, Night, Selfie, Panorama, Time-Lapse and Beautifications. While these options work pretty well, the performance in low light and night has enough grains in them to distract you – but at this price, one cannot complain much. The 8-megapixel front shooter has a wider 85 deg field of view with HDR and low light modes and does a decent job as well. Video output is just OK at best.

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The fingerprint scanner is not one of those active ones we mentioned before and needs to be clicked if the screen is not on already. Given the fact that its surface lies a couple of millimeters below the main surface, and it needs that extra effort from your finger to provide the input, it takes a while to get used to. It works almost all the time though the unlocking time is a tad slow – 0.5 seconds or less is what ASUS claims, and in reality, it’s a little more than that.

Network connectivity on the 3s Max posed no issues and the calls were clear and crisp. There were two occasions at the start of our review, where we heard our own voice echoing back but upon rebooting the phone it never showed up. Jio VoLTE and data too worked fine, so did Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The loudspeaker is not the best and beyond 50-60 percent volume, it shows minor signs of creaking.

Betting on battery, really

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The Zenfone 3s Max is scheduled to launch next week in India and is expected to be priced below Rs 15,000 (Update: It has been launched at Rs 14,999). And with the price tag, it’s going to take on the likes of Honor 6x, Redmi Note 4, Coolpad Cool 1 and others, with most of them offering better value for money on paper. And if a smaller screen is what you are looking at, Lenovo’s K6 Power and Xiaomi’s Redmi 3s Prime are hitting it outta the park with every sale.

With such stiff competition going around, with better features and specifications for a lesser price, we find it truly hard to recommend the Zenfone 3s Max over the others. Of course, it comes with Android N out of the box. Of course, buying it is much easier than the flash sales. But others are catching up in terms of the software and if you wait for a month or so, the hype will come down and so will the rush. For now, we feel that ASUS continues to overprice its phones and even a die hard Zenfone fan will shy away from such pricing.

Note: The review will be updated once the official price is out.