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Good performance, stellar battery life, budget-friendly price. Those are the three main characteristics that would come into mind when talking about the old Zenfone Max. And it’s no wonder it became so popular. With the announcement of the Zenfone 3 line up, the Max has undergone a makeover in the form of the Zenfone 3 Max ZC520TL. The question is, was that makeover for the better? Or for the worse? Let’s find out in this full review.

Design

One of the things that I like about this phone is the way it looks. It’s just gorgeous, from the slim form factor, to the smooth curves, and the premium metallic finish. The attention to detail is really evident even on the buttons.

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The 2.5D curved glass covers the 5.2-inch display which further enhances the premium look. Due to the smaller form factor, it fits most standard pockets, and it’s fairly easy to hold with one hand. The back is a little slippery though, so do take extra caution, or better yet, put on a good case.

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The 13MP camera at the back doesn’t protrude unlike in the vanilla Zenfone 3, and is in fact a little retracted. There’s also a fingerprint sensor below it, which is placed where your index finger will land when holding the device, along with some branding, and a speaker which is positioned in such a way that it gets covered when the phone is lying flat on the ground.

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Display

The Zenfone 3 Max has a 5.2-inch 720p display, which sports good overall brightness. It’s not as vivid as the vanilla Zenfone 3, but it’s a decent display with good viewing angles and contrast.

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Still, a lot of the competition and even some cheaper phones have embraced a higher resolution display. So a bump to Full HD doesn’t seem so bad.

Performance

ASUS Zenfone 3 ZC520TL Specs

  • MT6737M Quad-Core 1.25 GHz
  • 3GB of RAM, 32 GB of Internal Storage Expandable via MicroSD Card
  • 5.2-inch HD Display (1280 x 720) with 2.5D Curved Glass
  • 13MP PixelMaster Rear Camera, 5P Largan Lens
  • 5MP Front Camera
  • LTE, Dual SIM
  • ZenUI 3.0 on top of Android Marshmallow
  • 4100mAh Battery

Though the Zenfone 3 Max generally handled daily tasks without any major issues (Email, Social Media, Music, Video, Web Browsing), I did encounter occassional stutters when navigating the UI and in some apps as well. The screen’s responsiveness is also quite inconsistent as there were times when i had to apply more pressure on my touches in order for it to work.

As with gaming, DJ Max Technika ran smoothly at first, but then I noticed input delays in a couple of instances, which can be quite annoying at times. Asphalt 8 is playable, but you’ll definitely have to turn the settings down to medium in order to get the best experience.

Camera

The 13MP camera lacks any form of stabilization, which means you’ll have to have a very stable hand in order to get good shots. When you’re able to though,  it becomes quite rewarding as pictures come out with accurate colors and good contrast. The focus speed is decent but is also a hit and miss as there were times when i focused on a subject, and the picture still came out blurry.

At night, the camera can only take decent shots at best as it starts to struggle with the lighting condition. A lot details are lost so as a considerable amount of sharpness.

You’ll be on Auto mode most of the time, as the interface also lacks Manual mode, which supposedly gives you more control over your shots.

Sound

The speaker at the back of the device can get quite loud. There’s distortion at high volume, but barely noticeable. Details are present, and the amount of treble is just right. One thing that is questionable though is the placement of the speaker as it gets completely covered when the phone is placed flat on the ground, thus muffling the sound.

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ASUS’s audio wizard app works very well here, and offers a slew of options that you can tweak, such as several sound profiles, and an equalizer.

As with headphones, the sound quality is much better, especially when listening to pop tracks. Clarity is there, so as the details, and the bass, which you can further enhance using the audio wizard app.

Software

ASUS’s ZenUI is known to be a resource-heavy skin, and it definitely takes it’s toll on the Zenfone 3 Max as there were a few stutters when navigating the UI. It does however, offer a good amount of customization for the user.

Things like being able to change color of your icon labels, how folders look, being able show or hide the number of unread messages for your apps, and double tap to sleep/wake. As I’ve said before, these are the little things that can either make or break the entire experience, and make the phone more personal.

Another thing to note about is the amount of bloatware present when you turn on the device for the first time. Not only do they eat up storage, but they also slow down the phone unless you disallow them from automatically starting using the built-in app manager. Of course, you can always uninstall some of these apps, but somehow I wish they kept it to a minimum to begin with.

Battery

The Zenfone 3 Max’s signature dish is its 4100mAh battery, which although smaller compared to the older Max, did very well on my test. Playing a video on loop at 50% brightness and around 80% volume, I was able to get around 9 hours of screen time in a single charge. Charging time takes roughly 3 hours from 8% to full, which is understandable given that there’s no fast charging capability involved and the battery is quite big. Still, that’s quite a wait for some people.

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Verdict

There are quite a few things I like about the ASUS Zenfone 3 Max: It sports a premium look, feels like a well-made phone, the software offers a lot of room for customization, and has good battery life. On the downside though, the choice of the processing package and the resource-heavy skin evidently takes a toll on performance escpecially with gaming. The camera lacks any form of stabilization which can be a hassle if you have shaky hands, focusing is a hit and miss, and the position of the speaker at the back where it gets completely covered is really questionable.

Nevertheless, if you are looking for a phone which can handle basic tasks with ease, do some casual gaming, and still have enough juice at the end of the day for a party, then this phone is a good choice. But if you are aiming to use it for heavy gaming or multi-tasking, then you may want to look somewhere else.

The Good

  • Overall Design
  • Fingerprint Recognition is quite fast
  • Big room for customization
  • Battery life
  • Display
  • Sound Quality on Headphones
  • Phone can be used as a powerbank
  • Decent Camera Performance

The Not So Good

  • Gaming Performance
  • Amount of Bloatware
  • Resource-Heavy Skin
  • Speaker Placement
  • No Manual Mode in Camera Interface
  • No Stabilization
  • Hit and Miss Focus
  • Screen Responsiveness

 

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Author

Emman has been writing technical and feature articles since 2010. Prior to this, he became one of the instructors at Asia Pacific College in 2008, and eventually landed a job as Business Analyst and Technical Writer at Integrated Open Source Solutions for almost 3 years.

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