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Xiaomi has been ruling the budget smartphone market in India since last two years. The company has given some stellar smartphones in sub Rs. 15,000 price-segment that have become a rage among students, office goers and basically for price-conscious buyers. However; their flash sale model is a big bottleneck for consumers who seek an affordable Android device with reliable performance. And the same infamous flash sale model is an opportunity for other brands to establish their products in possibly the most competitive smartphone category in the Indian market.
- Premium and sturdy design
- Vibrant display
- Good battery backup
- Dedicated microSD card slot
- Stock Android 8.1
- Good daylight camera performance
- Audio performance could have been better
- Camera struggles in low-light
Asus ZenFone Pro Max M1 has a chance here. The ambitious budget smartphone comes from a brand that had successfully placed itself in sub Rs. 15k price-point with ZenFone series; however, took a hit in last one year and lost to brands like Xiaomi, Honor, and Lenovo. Asus lost a big market share in India in the year 2017 and is now betting big on the new product.
The new ZenFone is a 'Made for India' Android handset and is designed to take on popular devices from Xiaomi and Honor such as Redmi Note 5, Note 5 Pro, Honor 9 Lite, etc. It brings impressive specs on paper and runs the latest Android 8.1 Oreo in its pure stock Android version, first ever on an Asus smartphone.
To sweeten up the deal and create more troubles for competitors, Asus has also partnered with Flipkart to exclusively sell the handset in the Indian market with a Complete Mobile Protection plan at an introductory price of Rs. 49. Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1 will sell in two variants- 3GB RAM + 32GB ROM and 4GB RAM + 64GB ROM at Rs. 10,999 and Rs. 12,999 respectively. The company also plans to introduce a 6GB RAM variant with an upgraded dual-lens camera module in the coming months.
We tested the 3GB RAM variant of the handset. Can it help Asus to revive the lost success in India? Let's try to find this out with the help of the following review.
Design: Looks and feels slightly better than competitors
Asus has done a good job in designing the ZenFone Pro Max M1. The new smartphone has a robust build and feels quite elegant in hands. Unlike the popular Redmi Note 5 Pro, there's no camera bulge at the rear side on the new ZenFone. The two-tone metal chassis look downright premium and appealing. The smartphone's rear panel follows a very symmetrical look and everything seems to be at its right place. The rear-mounted fingerprint scanner is conveniently placed but it's not as fast as other biometric scanners we have tested in this price-point.
Asus ZenFone Max Pro M1 has a smooth metal chassis and rounded 2.5D glass over the FHD+ display that fills most of the phone's front side. The volume rockers and power button sit on the right side, whereas the triple slot hybrid SIM card tray sits on the left side. The mono speaker unit, USB 2.0 charging port, and a microphone are placed at the bottom.
Overall, ZenFone Pro Max M1 comes across as a much premium device than its price would suggest. It feels solid and looks far better than some glass finish competitors.
Display: Crisp FHD+ screen
Asus has managed to offer the most vibrant display in sub Rs. 15k price-segment. The new ZenFone Pro Max M1 sports a 5.99-inch 18:9 aspect ratio screen that offers a contrast ratio of 1500:1. The better contrast and good pixel density offers slightly deeper color tones as compared to competitors, including Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro; however, Xiaomi's smartphone showed better brightness levels in the similar environment. The screen on Asus ZenFone Pro Max M1 seems slightly dull in direct sunlight when kept side by side with Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro. For anyone who prefers vibrant colors, Asus ZenFone Pro Max M1 is a better option.
Software: Android 8.1 Oreo in its pure avatar
It's a new beginning for Asus as the ZenFone Pro Max M1 marks a paradigm shift in company's product strategy for Indian consumers in terms of software experience. Instead of company's well-known and much criticized ZenUI, the new handset ships with pure Android interface. ZenFone Pro Max M1 runs Android 8.1 Oreo in its stock Android version and comes with a promise of future updates till Android Q.
The new stock Android UI seems like a breath of fresh air on an Asus phone. If you prefer stock Android experience, you will simply love the new Asus phone. If you were a fan of Asus ZenUI, you will feel disappointed.
Clean User interface and no Bloatware
Talking about the performance, the general look and feel of the interface is as clean as it gets in a stock Android device. The phone worked without any glitch and apps opened instantly without any crashes or lags. There are very few non-stock apps on the device, calculator, FM radio and sound recorder. For every other task, you will find Google's stock apps such as Google Photos, Chrome, Calendar, Contacts and more. Asus ZenFone Max Pro M1 also supports software driven face unlocking.
Overall, an Asus ZenFone sans ZenUI can be a game-changer or a deal-breaker for consumers. For us, it just worked better than the company's previous ZenUI powered handsets. Asus has also promised to offer Google software updates for two consecutive generations, which is fair and should be delivered as said.
ALSO READ: Asus ZenFone Max Pro M1 First Impressions
Hardware: Snappy and Efficient SD636
Asus ZenFone Pro Max M1 goes neck to neck with the Redmi Note 5 Pro as it is also backed by the tried and tested Snapdragon 636 chipset. The octa-core CPU and is built on the 14nm node architecture. The SoC features eight Kryo 260 cores in a 4 + 4 cluster also brings long Adreno 509 GPU. In Asus ZenFone Pro Max M1, the chipset is paired with three RAM configurations- 3GB, 4GB, and 6GB.
The combination offers the best-in-class performance of power and efficiency in this price-point. I was able to use the handset for everyday tasks without facing any major performance lags. Photo-editing, web browsing with multiple Chrome tabs and multiple social networking apps worked without any glitch. I would like to tell you that I was using the 3GB RAM variant and the performance will be better on the 4GB and 6GB variants. The handset can even handle some high-end gaming with no major issues. I noticed some minor heating issues while playing games on a stretch and while using the device when it was plugged in for charging.
Audio and Call Quality
Call quality was good and the mono speaker can get very loud; however, the sound is suffered from distortion at full volume. Asus also ships one interesting accessory in the box for audiophiles. It's called cardboard Max Box and is being touted as an amplifier to improve the audio experience. While it's a neat trick to cover the absence of stereo speakers, the max box has its limitations. The base channels audio towards you with a very mild amplifying effect, which is good for music playback or to attend calls, but not for watching videos as the max box only works in portrait mode. You will require earphones to watch movies on this device. Thankfully, the 3.5mm headphone jack in available.
Camera: Impressive camera setup
Asus ZenFone Max Pro M1 has fairly impressed me with its camera performance. At a starting price of Rs. 10,999, the smartphone turns out to be a great camera handset. It sports a 13MP+ 5MP dual-lens rear camera that can create a hardware driven bokeh effect. The camera aperture is not very bright but the sensor works on 1.12 micron pixels that enable 25% more light for brighter images.
Great for Macro shots
Asus mentioned that the bigger pixel size will improve the autofocus speed and prevent blurry shots. Guess what, the autofocus on this handset works really well. I was able to capture some macro shots without any focus shifting issues. The camera quickly locks the subject and you need no or very little efforts to keep it in focus. The new ZenFone Max Pro M1 is a pretty good device for macro photography.
Effective HDR mode
Next is the HDR mode which is also very effective and brings out a lot of information, which easily gets lost in standard photo mode. And while the autofocus on Zenfone Max Pro M1 is snappy, the camera still seems slightly sluggish in the low-light environment. Even after the final camera update, I noticed that you would still need a very steady hand to get a perfect shot. The performance in daylight is at par and even better in many cases than the Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro.
Good Bokeh shots
The bokeh effect is good and edge detection is also taken care of quite well. The camera interface is a bit tricky and needs some refinements to make things simpler. Overall, Asus ZenFone Max Pro M1 offers one of the finest rear smartphone cameras at its respective price-point. If you have a knack for photography, you will love this affordable handset. Sadly, the 8MP front-facing camera on Asus ZenFone Max Pro M1 is not at par with the selfie camera on Redmi Note 5 Pro. A good thing, Asus has provided a flash light for low-light selfies.
Battery and Connectivity
Battery and Connectivity is one department where Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1 easily takes a lead over its competitors. The smartphone is backed by a 5,000 mAh battery unit that is the best-in-class in this price-point. And despite a bigger battery cell, Asus has managed to keep the weight and thickness in check. The 5,000 mAh battery unit easily lasted for a day even with intense usage. If you are not a power user and use the device for light tasks, you can easily manage to achieve a battery backup of more than 24 hours on a single charge.
As far as connectivity is concerned, the Zenfone Max Pro M1 comes equipped with a triple slot hybrid tray that allows you to use two nano SIM cards and one micro SD card at the same time. This is again a feature that Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 series devices fail to offer. Besides, you get all the standard connectivity features such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, FM, Quick charging, etc.
Asus ZenFone Max Pro M1 is the product that puts the Taiwanese tech giant back on the map. For consumers, it's a great value for money Android smartphone. The massive battery, vibrant display, no-compromise connectivity and a capable camera setup at aggressive price-point makes it a great buy in sub Rs. 15k price category. If the brand managed to provide the software updates on time, ZenFone Max Pro M1 can once again set the ball rolling for Asus in the competitive Indian smartphone market.
The icing on the cake is Flipkart's new Rs. 49 Complete Mobile Protection plan that makes the overall deal even more appealing. Now I am eagerly waiting for Xiaomi to come up with an answer as Asus has really won the game this time with the new ZenFone.
Notably, consumers will be the one to receive the utmost benefits in this price-spec war to test the new technology at pocket-friendly price-points. Overall, Asus ZenFone Max Pro M1 is much more than just an alternative to Redmi Note 5 and Note 5 Pro. It's an affordable Android all-rounder with impressive performance and features.