There are few fates as cruel in tech as playing second fiddle to a high profile product. Ask the Zenfone Max M2, which was released as the “third wheel” (to use the jargon of the day) to the Asus Zenfone Max Pro M2. Of course, the M2 with the Pro moniker hogged all the attention, and its plainer cousin got reduced to a rather brief afterthought.
And when you clap your eyes on the M2 and its spec sheet, you understand why. For, while the Pro M2 was the successor of the Pro M1 and laid siege to the Redmi Note 6 Pro and Redmi Note 5 Pro, the M2’s ambitions were far more modest. With a conventional metal build and a 6.26-inch display that is HD rather than full HD+, notwithstanding a notch, and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 632 processor with RAM and storage options starting from 3 GB/ 32 GB, dual 13 and 2 megapixel rear cameras, and a large-ish 4000 mAh battery, the M2 is the sort of device that pretty much conforms to expectations rather than exceeds them (as its Pro cousin attempts to do).
While it is certainly not ugly by any standards, the Zenfone Max M2 is unlikely to attract much attention when seen in your hand or placed on a table – it is smart enough, but it could be any phone from 2016 onwards with its slightly curved metallic back, spherical fingerprint scanner, antenna bands and all. The spec sheet too is a bit on the routine side – yes, the Snapdragon 632 is a pleasant surprise at this price point, but that HD display is a let down when you consider that the Pro M1 brings a better display and processor at a marginally higher price.
And indeed right through our review period of the M2, we could not but help notice that the device was almost always in the shadow of others – be it the Pro M1 or devices from Xiaomi’s Redmi Note series. And the shadows did not always flatter it. Now, make no mistake – the M2 is by no means a bad device. The display is not the greatest we have seen but it is of decent enough quality and suffices for viewing most games and videos. The same can be said of the processor, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 632, which is unlikely to be your vehicle of choice when driving on high definition or high-end gaming roads, but to be fair, never really stutters when handling most routine tasks. Yes, we did sometimes see things slow down a little when we opened too many tabs in Chrome or ran too many applications in the background, but we never ever got a feeling that we were using a device that was inherently slow. The phone runs on stock Android (8.1, though), and while some might miss the bells and whistles that one gets in UIs like MIUI and EMUI, its uncluttered looks also has its charm. Sound quality is not the greatest on loudspeaker but is surprisingly good on headphones.
The two facets of the device that do rise above the routine are the cameras and the battery. The 13 and 2-megapixel camera duo on the rear of the device might not seem too formidable on paper but the main sensor has a large f/1.8 aperture, and well, while it is not the fastest camera we have seen, it definitely does deliver very good results as long as the lighting is good. Colors seem slightly too bright at times and detail could have been better, but if you are targeting your Facebook and Insta feed with snaps, then the Max M2’s shooter delivers more than adequate results, certainly better than those we have seen from the Nokia and Moto devices in its price band, although it loses out to some of the Honor and the Redmi devices in terms of detail and interface.
Then there is the battery – the 4000 mAh battery can get you through close to two days of normal usage and more if you are careful. No, there is no fast charging but then at this price point, that is hardly a deal breaker.
And that somehow sums up the Asus Zenfone Max M2. It is not a deal breaker at any level. Some might complain about the display but hey, it works. Some might feel it does not look jazzy enough, but then the metal frame does give it solidity. It could have had a better processor too, but hey, it still works. The cameras are not the best in class, but hey they work fine and actually are better than many. And so the list goes…the Max M2 just quietly goes on its way ticking boxes. It seldom puts a foot wrong anywhere.
The problem, however, is that at a starting price of Rs 9,999, it finds itself in a zone where it needs to be a deal maker much more than a deal breaker. And it is here that things go wrong. For while the Max M2 does not get too much wrong, it does not deliver top of the line performance or features in any department either. There are phones that look better and perform better than it at a price point that is similar or just slightly above it, and the biggest examples of it are perhaps the Zenfone Max Pro M1 and the Redmi Note 6 Pro. The Zenfone Max M2 does not do too much wrong, but its fault is that it is not exceptional in its zone either. And perhaps it was designed that way – to be someone that props up its Pro cousin without overshadowing it. Or at least that’s how it strikes us.
Playing second fiddle to a high profile product can be such a cruel fate…