Almost four years ago, Asus had surprised everyone by offering the first Zenfone, the Zenfone 5, at a surprisingly low price. The years that followed saw the Taiwanese company try to move up the price ladder, with mixed results. However, with its latest device, the Zenfone Max Pro M1, the company seems to have returned with a vengeance to its basics – offer a lot at a price that seems surprisingly low, without seeming to cut too many corners. For, let’s get this straight, no matter from which angle you see the Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1 (a relatively simple name by Asus standards), you will definitely not see a device that would generally come with a price tag that begins at Rs 10,999.
In terms of design, the device follows the footsteps of Asus’ Zenfone devices in 2017, which is a good thing. The front has a 5.99-inch display with 18:9 aspect ratio, which gives it the “tall” look that is the rage in tech town these days. The back is flat metal with the sides curving out to meet it, with the dual camera unit on the top left corner. Yes, the top and base of the back are plastic for the antennas, but the phone has a very nice feel to it and looks smart enough – the Asus branding is surprisingly subtle and we almost missed it in our black unit. At 159 mm in length (a trifle more than the big iPhone 8 Plus, which however has a smaller display), this is not a small phone and at 8.61 mm, it is not the slimmest either, but ah, we must confess that our jaws suffered some dislocation when we were told that the frame actually housed a massive 5000 mAh battery – at 180 grams, the Max Pro is actually a gram lighter than the Redmi Note 5 Pro, which has a 4000 mAh battery. Asus has packed in large batteries in budget devices before but never has the result been this sleek and relatively lightweight.
There is some serious hardware muscle in there too. The device is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 636, which is again found in the Redmi Note Pro 5, and comes with 3 GB / 32 GB and 4 GB/ 64 GB variations, with a 6 GB/ 64 GB one expected soon as well. On the rear, the two cameras are a 13.0-megapixel one with f/2.2 aperture and a 5.0-megapixel one for picking up depth of field information, while on the front is an 8.0-megapixel shooter. Asus has also packed in dual SIM connectivity as well as space for a dedicated microSD card slot on the tray – no fiddling around with hybrid SIM slots. There is a fingerprint sensor on the back and yes, face unlock is promised too, although it is not available yet at the time of release. Asus also claims that the sound experience on the Zenfone Max Pro will be superior thanks to a five magnet speaker and a smart amplifier. There’s even what it calls a cardboard Max Box bundled with the device, which amplifies volume by 1.7X – it does increase volume from what we have seen so far, but stay tuned for more. Incidentally, the device is a single speaker one, and there is no water or dust resistance.
But perhaps the biggest surprise that the Zenfone Max Pro packs in is that running all this is stock Android. Yes, this is the first Asus Zenfone we know that does not come with the rather overwhelming ZenUI, which has had more than its share of credits. The phone comes with Android 8.1, and Asus says it will be updating it regularly for a couple of years, even though it is not part of the Android One initiative. Given the company’s excellent track record of late (our ZenFone 3 has been updated to 8.1 and is going to be two years old in a few months), this makes the Zenfone Max Pro a very viable option for stock Android fans. Asus has also steered clear of loading the phone with extra apps, and the result as far as we can see is the most uncluttered experience we have seen on an Asus device since the Nexus 7. But while Asus has not loaded too many apps on the device, what it has brought in is a whole new camera UI, which was evidently developed in collaboration with the good folk from Qualcomm. And while it packs in options aplenty, it does so without seeming overwhelming or exceedingly complex.
The device is currently available in two variants – 3 GB/ 32 GB for Rs 10,999, 4 GB / 64 GB for Rs 12,999. Coming shortly is a 6 GB/ 64 GB variant which will be priced at Rs 14,999. And they will all be available from Flipkart. The prices are sensational but that said, the Zenfone Max Pro will face some serious competition. The most obvious competitor is the Redmi Note 5 Pro which runs the same processor but has a smaller battery and better camera module (on paper, at least). Also in the fray will be Xiaomi’s Mi A1, the rumors of whose demise have been exaggerated, and which also offers Stock Android, assured updates and a very good pair of dual cameras, as well as the massive Mi Max 2, which actually has a bigger battery and display (albeit a lower resolution one) than Asus’ device but is not known for its camera muscle. Lurking on the horizon also is the next generation of the much-loved Moto G, as well as its current offerings.
Yes, it does face some stiff competition, but as of now, we can safely say that the Zenfone Max Pro M1 has pretty much what it takes to shake up the Indian smartphone market – the design, the specs, and of course, the price. And it does feel good to use so far. It just needs to tick the performance box. How well it does that and fares against the competition will be revealed in our review in the coming days. Stay tuned.